Rambisai Chiweshe is Zimbabwe's Queen of Mbira and is the great
grand daughter of Munaka, the resistance fighter who was hanged
by the British during their occupation of Zimbabwe. Mbira is
so much a part of Stella's life that she is almost synonomous
with it! How did she come to acquire that status? Right from
the first time she heard the captivating sound of mbira, the
traditional 'thumb piano', Stella was determined to learn how
to play it so she'd be able to hear it all the time, even though
it was almost unheard of for women to play mbira.
The iron keys of an mbira are mounted
on a wooden board which can then be put inside large gourd resonator.
Stella likens the 23 keys of her mbira to 23 voices.
In the Shona culture of Zimbabwe there
are special ceremonies during which mbira sounds connect with
spirits of those who have died. The unwritten lyrics of the
songs in Shona can come through dreams and visions and are so
deep that few people can understand them. To begin with, before
independence in Zimbabwe, Stella attended these 'underground'
ceremonies at night and then during the day worked as a maid.
After independence she soon assumed a leading role as mbira
player and dancer in the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe.
With her outstanding abilities Stella directs the Mother Earth
Trust - Network of Female Artists in Zimbabwe and helped form
the Zimbabwe Musicians Union.
sings and composes, leads her own
band, Earthquake, has had
a very successful
career internationally and was based
in Germany for a number of
years. Many of her relatives, including her daughter, Virginia
Mukwesha, play mbira too. Stella was the first recording
artist of the Piranha label (www.piranha.de)
in 1987. Her CDs available are Ambuya (1987), Chisi
(1990), Shungu (1994), Talking Mbira - Spirits of
Liberation (2002) and Double Check (2006). In
the notes with the Talking
Mbira CD Stella tells 3 stories
about mbira and its effects on people.
Double Check is special
because it is Piranha's 100th album and as the name suggests
it's a double album: CD1 is Trance Hits and CD2 Classic Hits
are 10 new titles and 12 re-releases).
The photo above was taken in London at
the Spitz in 2002 at one of Stella's solo performances, during
which you can tell she is also an actress. She is very dignified
and completely engages her audience with the beautiful flowing
sound of mbira, making spontaneous observations, special use
of the microphone and sound effects.