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Netsayi Chigwendere

Netsayi is a singer/songwriter from Zimbabwe who currently lives in London, England. She was born in London when her parents were in exile from Southern Rhodesia. The family returned to Zimbabwe after independence in 1980 when she was 7 years old. She started writing poetry and performing as a soloist singer around this time.
She is the only professional musician in her family, but with a grandmother, and father with great singing voices, an aunt reputed for her story-telling and a sister who sang in various Harare bands, Netsayi would describe her family as informally musical.
Netsayi explains: “As a child growing up in Zimbabwe, we never had a TV, so I spent my time painting or listening to the radio and singing around the house. Hilton Mambo and Comfort Mbofana were my favorite DJ’s and they introduced me to the sounds of folk, blues and soul like Joan Armatrading, Nina Simone, Lou Rawls and Sade and also jazz and gospel greats like Ray Phiri, Hugh Masekela, Rebecca, Tananas, Southern Freeway, Dollar Brand and Anita Baker.”
Growing up in the 80’s in Southern Africa, you couldn’t avoid bubblegum like Chimora and Chico from SA, Zimbabwean pop like Deverangwena Jazz Band and Ilanga, the funk/ soul of Evelyn Champagne King and The Gap Band, roots reggae and kwasa kwasa from Zaire. It was inspiration for free.
Because of the variety in her taste, from an early age Netsayi fantasized about constructing a sound that was made up of all the musical components she most loved: “I loved singing with lots of people and going to the Roman Catholic Church, traditional ceremonies and gatherings because I was always moved by the layers of melodies and polyphonic rhythms created by voices, hosho and ngoma”.
After training and working in film (one film she starrred in was Idrissa Ouedraogo's Kini and Adams) and TV for 10 years, Netsayi left Zimbabwe in 2000 to do an MA in film producing at London’s National Film and Television School. But after a year she decided to drop the course to take music seriously.
Her childhood best friend, Rujeko Dumbutshena, who is a dancer, choreographer and musician herself, put Netsayi in touch with her uncle, Chartwell Dutiro, who was teaching mbira at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Chartwell encouraged Netsayi to learn mbira.
“This was the deeper understanding that I needed of things like time signatures, and phrasing and the infinite patterns that exist in both Shona and Western music to discover how to put the nuts and bolts of creating my own musical “innovations” together. In my mind, I could only be inventive once I

photo: © Uzo Oleh

understood the conventions of traditional music.”
Netsayi has toured in the USA and
Australia with Chris Berry’s Afro-funk big band, Panjea, and with Chartwell’s Dutiro’s band Spirit Talk Mbira as a backing vocalist and joined Idris Rahman and Rob Hopcraft’s band, The Soothsayers, as a vocalist and co-writer.
Since captivating audiences with her breath-taking solo performance in the Vagina Monologues at the Royal Albert Hall in 2002, alongside Dannii Minogue, Beverley Knight and Isabella Rosellini, Netsayi has continued to work with award-winning pianist, Zoe Rahman, to develop her own sound. It is best described as a combination of jazzy vocals over mbira-inspired grooves; sometimes with the subtle lilt of a reggae baseline or the sudden crack of a hip-hop rim. Her inimitable sound is at once playful as it is emotionally intense and sultry.

Netsayi has made numerous live appearances on BBC Radio, has performed at the London Jazz Festival, the ICA, the Royal Festival Hall, The Barbican and at WOMAD in Reading. She worked with Nitin Sahwney on the Bristol Aftershock Project and has co-written and performed with Herbert Schwamborn, George Phiri and Ian Hillman on their Migrant Souls project for Pyramid Music in Germany. Netsayi wrote the music that accompanies the audio book version of Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling series, ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’. Freeness Volume 1
is a compilation to which Netsayi contributed the track ‘Hondo’. Her debut album Chimurenga Soul (July 2006) received excellent press reviews. On her second album, Monkey's Wedding (2009) on World Connection, the 12 fresh songs cover themes of identity and emotions.
In 2009 Netsayi supported Ladysmith Black Mambazo on their extensive UK tour throughout October and November.
For Netsayi's up-to-date news, visit her web site