Many young people live with the misguided notion that success in life is synonymous with a fat bank account. Oh yes I will not dispute that having a fat bank account will give you all the luxuries that make life a whole lot more comfortable and easy to go through, but, money is not synonymous with success especially if the money is coming through your hard labour, yet you hate what you do. Happiness on the other hand is synonymous with success. Will Smith may have given us the idea that we are always in pursuit of happiness, which is partly true, but it is the things we pursue in life that determine whether that pursuit is endless or at a time what we pursue is actually realised. I am one of those people who believe in pursuing a career of my choice, a career that I love, that I have a passion for, that I feel I am good at, one that gives me satisfaction, one that gives me happiness and consequently success. Unlike our neighbours, the South Africans, most Zimbabweans do not value art and do not think there is a future in art be it music, dance, poetry or theatre. If a child declares that they want to study art, the parents become distraught. ‘Why won’t you study ‘normal’ subjects just like any other child in this country?’ they will ask, normal being law, medicine, engineering, accounting and all those other subjects that are perceived to be the means to a bigger and better life. Don’t get me wrong- I studied law, and I loved it, and it helped shape the perspectives I hold of life in general and other subjects I talk about, but if I had not made the personal choice to study arts in high school, and if my father had not supported that decision I would be a bored, depressed accountant with a fat bank account today. I was good at it but I hated it. Many other people out there are in this situation because they do not understand that life is more than having a well paying job and success is more than a fat bank account.
Today’s feature is living proof of that old-old and overused adage “Where there is a will, there is a way.” To put it simply this woman made her career choice because she loved it, she worked at it and she made it! I suppose she was fortunate to have a father who taught her what she chose to pursue in her life, a career in music. Her father was an ethnomusicologist, a big word for the study of music of different cultures, and he taught mbira and marimba in the United States where she was born.
I adore her music, her style, her voice, her lyrics, her look. My Ethiopian friend Zemdena Abebe in Addis Ababa and my American friend Max Zalewski in Cairo know this too well. If these two had not loved her music too, they would have endured in sufferance my constant chatter about her. Probably what I think is the coolest music any Zimbabwean artist has ever produced would have been just ‘loud-pounding African drums’ to them, but good for me-I introduced her to them and they both loved her.
Chiwoniso Maraire is a Zimbabwean musical icon. Her stage performance always ignites cosmic energy. Her true fans (and I admit I am one of them) know her as Chi or feisty Chi. Indeed she is feisty but feisty for a good cause. As she says ““Music…It’s an expression of God. All pain, joy, rage, love..wisdom, can be found in music. I am in awe when in the presence of its power. There’s a place from where the music comes. The life essence…”
Chi’s first professional musical performance was with her family when she performed alongside her mother, Linda Nemarundwe Maraire and recorded the song Tichazomuona ‘We will see you again’ when she was only 11 years old. Their whole family also recorded an album entitled Imwi Baba ‘You, Father’ and called themselves Mhuri yaMaraire ‘Maraire’s family.’
Later on Chi joined became a member of the group, A Peace of Ebony comprising American, German, Malawian, Russian and Zimbabwean artists. The group recorded revolutionary rap music in English, Shona and French and won the Radio France International ‘Best New Group out of Southern Africa’ Award in 1994. Between 1994 and 1998, Chi worked with Andy Brown, another Zimbabwean artist in his group ‘The Storm.’
Chi produced her first album “Ancient Voices” in 1996. The album is a unique fusion of jazz, rap, reggae and other genres I cannot identify, since I have no musical expertise but all put together they make Chi’s mbira sounds. Through this album she pasted mbira music on the international charts.
In 2011 Chi launched the musical concept Hokoyo naChi ‘Lookout for Chi’ in which she collaborated with many other Zimbabwean artists and showcased her own extraordinary talent and versatility.
She is not just any musician, but a conscious musician.
She has performed songs on unrequited love, a theme which many of us can identify with. Her song Wandirasa ‘You’ve deserted me’, is a plea by a woman to her lover who treats her like she is the world to him when they are alone but treats her badly in other peoples’ company. She questions why he has thrown her away.
The song Ndipe rudo “Give me love” directly addresses domestic violence as the woman asks her husband who is supposed to be her friend why he does not give her love and why he does not listen to advise from his family. The woman in the song resolves that since she is still young, she would rather leave him than wait for him to kill her at her tender age. Clearly that song speaks to all the women who stay in abusive relationships hoping that someday things may change. Chi urges them to consider leaving and rebuild their lives.
In her song “Madam Twenty Cents” she explores the theme of poverty because the young boy asks for ‘just’ twenty cents, says his mother is sick and disabled and his father left and never returned. This song speaks to the many street children’s ill fate. Chi’s empathic voice is meant to move us and the world to take action in alleviating the suffering of those less fortunate than we are.
Her song ‘Iwai Nesu’- ‘Be with us’ appears to me to have been a prophetic depiction of the effects of climate change that the world has begun to see in earnest with floods in Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines and raging droughts in Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti, shorter rainy seasons in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique and harsh winters in Europe and North America. That song also speaks to the injustices of the world, the social disparities where those who have, have too much while those who do not have, have nothing at all. She begs God to be with us, His children.
Vamwe vaparara nenzara (As some are dying of hunger)
Vamwe vachifa nekuguta (Others are overfilled)
Kumwe vaparara nemvura (In some places they have been destroyed by water/floods)
Kumwe vachipera nezuva (While in others, they are wiped out by the sun/drought)
Kutungamira nekutungamirwa (In leading and being led)
Tiri vana venyu (We are your children)
Ivai nesu Mwari Baba (Be with us God our Father)
Chi has always been one to give straight talk against government repression, women abuse and other human rights violations. Her 4thalbum” Rebel Woman” predominantly confronts the issues of freedom, equality and justice.
The lilting lyrics in the title track reflect her empathic nature when she says of the woman fighter,
There will be no compensation
It was of your free will
Oh, that you stood on the frontlines
Rebel woman, these are the rules of war
Remember that you fought for your people
I know the freedom has been hard won
It’s been so hard won
But as you weep Rebel Woman
Remember you are strong
Her song ‘One world’ on this same album is one of the most moving songs I have listened to, depicting the role that we, as adults and parents have and should prioritise – to shape the kind of future we want our children to inherit.
Ngatibvisei zvibingaidzo izvo (Let us remove these barriers)
Rusarura neruvengo, zvinoparadza (Discrimination and hatred can only destroy)
Vana vanotarisira rudo kwatiri (Our children expect love from us)
We have only one world, to give to the children
She also sang and performed with the multi-national all-women’s band Women’s Voice consisting of American, Algerian, Norwegian, Tanzanian and Zimbabwean artists between 2001 and 2004. In 2007 Chi became a jury member of the Creole Worldmusic Competition. She has performed in Europe at musical festivals Europe such as the Africa Festival Wuerzburg in Berlin,Germany and the Afro Pfingsten (festival) in Switzerland. She has performed alongside African musical giants such as our very own Oliver Mutukudzi, as well as Salif Keita and Habib Koite of Mali, Ishmael Lo, Youssou Ndour, Manu Dibango, Baaba Maal of Senegal, Achieng Abura of Kenya, and Koffi Olomide of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Chiwo has won quite a number of accolades for her music. Ancient Voices won her the Radio France International (RFI) Decouverte Afrique 98 award. In 1999, she won the UNESCO Price for Arts at the MASA festival in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She was also nominated for the KORA Best Female Vocals of Africa Awards in the same year.
I am pained to see thatdespite her outstanding talent and splendid perfomances, Chi has never won an award at home. It is only befitting that I recognise her as one of the women in my country to whom youths can look for guidance in their chosen career paths and wish to emulate. If I could sing she would be my mentor.