Monday, July 29, 2013

Zimbabwe’s cultural heritage gift: Chiwoniso Maraire

Stephen Chifunyise

When CHIPAWO staff and arts educators went to the funeral wake for Chiwoniso Maraire at her home in the Bluff Hill area of Harare, they paid their tribute to the mbira legend with a short performance of music and dance. This was a special tribute to Chiwoniso who became a member of CHIPAWO Youth Group briefly in the early 90s when she had already mastered from her father and mother the art of playing marimba and mbira and had already perfected her singing like someone who had spent many years as a professional performing arts practitioner.

The CHIPAWO tribute with music and dance was also rendered as recognition of Chiwoniso’s understanding of the importance of intergenerational transmission of performing arts heritage by ensuring that her children participated in performing arts education programmes that sharpen their inherently inborn talent. Chiwoniso made sure that her daughter Chiedza was enrolled into CHIPAWO arts education for development programme at Masaisai School’s CHIPAWO Centre where she was under the tutorship a traditional dance master, Enock Majeza, who performed a shangara dance to “nhemamusasa” mbira song at the funeral as a member of the CHIPAWO group that performed the classic “nhemamusasa” made popular by Chiwoniso, as well as amabhiza and mbakumba dances and CHIPAWO songs.

Chiwoniso in her short but rich musical career became an epitome of national cultural heritage itself. She performed the most distinctive performing arts heritage of the Shona people clearly as a disciplined and appointed custodian of a mbira heritage with a mature handling of its intricate spiritual elements while projecting an incredibly elderly respect of the essential aesthetics of mbira where the impact of her creative genius was ever evident.
Chiwoniso was a consistent messenger of her late father, Dr. Dumi Maraire’s passion and respect for mbira as one of the most significant symbol of our indigenous creativity. When the late Dumi Maraire returned home from the United States of America, he joined the then Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture, as my deputy in the Department of Arts and Crafts with a responsibility of promoting the performing arts industry. In his mbira promotion workshops with cultural officers in the ministry, Dumi Maraire advocated for Zimbabweans to take mbira music and instrument as a unique cultural heritage that would be a major identifying characteristic of Zimbabwe’s music industry.
In her stage performances, Chiwoniso not only cherished her late father’s passion for mbira music but also his respect for that cultural heritage which she rejuvenated  using English, in many cases, in order to accommodate a wider audience base while consistently echoing the feeling of indigenous mbira sounds. The many young Zimbabwean musicians who have appreciated the lucrative potential in the mbira music renaissance are a vivid representation of the repository of the benefits of Chiwoniso’s passion for mbira and her versatile adoption of that traditional music genre into a viable cultural industry product that remains emblematic of our rich cultural heritage.
It is very easy to take it for granted that Chiwoniso’s father, the late Dumi Maraire, Thomas Mapfumo, Stella Chiweshe, the late Sekuru Gora, Oliver Mtukudzi and David Gweshe, just to mention a few, as elderly musicians would naturally romance mbira music, but when a young person with western education becomes a robust exponent of our traditions entrenched in mbira aesthetics, we marvel at the rarity of such ingenious youth. Chiwoniso was an embodiment of that ingenious youth that possess abundant knowledge and value of a cultural heritage bequeathed to them.  Chiwoniso became one of the most respected custodians of the mbira music genre, on one hand and a consistent promoter of the cultural heritage she was safeguarding, on the other hand.
Chiwoniso demonstrated  how a singing voice that is well grounded in uniquely indigenous vocal texture and potency can be innovatively  utilized to rend songs in English or other foreign languages and musical instruments to produce a clearly identifiable Zimbabwean sound that remains authentic even when handled with  a creativity that benefitted from  wide contacts with other music of the world.
She was a great composer who created meaningful music and songs that carried the message that was intended to be articulated by feature films such as Everyone’s Child and More Time and documentaries made Zimbabwean film makers. It is the intelligence and maturity which she projected in her composition which seemed as if produced by a person who spent many years at colleges, academies or universities of music.
Chiwoniso was a brilliant analyst of mbira music, its cultural and historical context and its uniqueness as a most expressive art of the spiritual dimensions of our performing arts heritage. In her speeches about mbira music and the mbira instrument, she exhibited an incredibly rich knowledge of its functions and value in the traditional Shona society as well as what mbira music meant to her and what role she was playing in promoting its mastery and processes of safeguarding that cultural heritage.  She was a gifted music educator whose major strength was her ability to demonstrate accurately, the skills to be acquired. As a master who had benefitted from observing her father and mother as a member of Mhuri yekwaMaraire, she appreciated the value of clarity in demonstrating a performing arts skill.
Chiwoniso was a well-briefed, obedient and eloquent ambassador of Zimbabwean culture in general and of mbira music in particular, to many countries where she participated in numerous cultural festivals, arts workshops and in music collaborations with musicians of diverse musical backgrounds.
Having listened for five days to several messages of condolence from both the young and the old, which were conveyed on our six radio stations and different social media and contained in several articles in all our newspapers, there is no doubt that all these were vivid and passionate expressions of the fact that Chiwoniso Maraire was a hero of our ongoing struggle for continued respect for and viable exploitation of our rich diversity of cultural expressions.
Cultural legends of this quality are celebrated not just for the value of what they have created but also for leaving behind works that will for generations show the way. Chiwoniso has effectively played her cultural heritage promotion role. She leaves us with the task of continuing where she has left. May her soul rest in peace.