Monday, December 17, 2007

In Review--Stella!


Stella Chiweshe (Zimbabwe)
Double Check
(Two Sides of Zimbabwe's Mbira Queen)
Piranha Musik

Formerly posted on Cranky Crow Whole Music

I am currently reading about the medieval woman mystic Hildegard von Bingen so I find myself drawing comparisons between the German prophetess Hildegard and the contemporary Zimbabwean Queen of Mbira, Stella Chiweshe. These two women share many commonalties including hearing songs or possessing a knowingness during their respective childhood. Both women encountered life-changing experiences around the age of 8 and both women pursued paths forbidden for the women of their time or culture. In the press notes for Stella Chiweshe's 7th recording, Double Check, on the German label, Piranha Musik, Chiweshe wears the label of mystic and the words, "spiritual" or "inspiration" pop off the page when others attempt to describe her. Which only proves you can't keep a good woman down and as history would prove again and again, both women and men are enraptured by the music and teachings of these powerful women mystics.

The folks at Piranha Musik were certainly impressed with Chiweshe's musical talent. She was the first artist signed to the label in 1987 and has released several albums since that time. Her latest 2-CD recording marks the 100th recording released on the label's 19 year tenure. And why not make something special out of this recording by a remarkable woman who set out to do her own thing based on a rhythm she carried inside since her childhood? If only more of us had such courage!

According to the press notes, "When the British colonizers tried to stop mbira sessions in what is now known as Zimbabwe, the police were so enchanted by the music that they lost track of their mission." This story appears in Chiweshe's song, Kusenini. Chiweshe also compares the sound of the mbira to the sound of water, while noticing its familiar healing effect. "It is a total form of therapy." And on this 2-CD set, Double Check the first disc features mbira trance music, not to be confused with the type of pseudo trance music played at raves and dance clubs. The music here causes spirits to float out of the body and soar to great heights. The trance music represents the healing power of music.

The second disc features urban classic hits with added guitars and marimba. Chiweshe walks between worlds, that of urban contemporaries in need of healing, and the world of sacred trance music performed at rites of passage ceremonies. Although these two forms have crossed boundaries when Chiweshe, (dubbed a cultural ambassador of Zimbabwe by some), brought the sacred music to the stages of concert halls. While some people might have a problem with that concept, everyone everywhere needs to hear the healing power of music so why now start with mbira trance music?

Besides, people often look to traditional India or traditional Africa for healing music, even if healing music exist within our own backyards. The music on the disc can best be described as bubbling over with joy. The combination of tribal drums, mbira (thumb piano) and vocals on the first disc takes listeners for an inward journey. And the second disc, which leans towards Afro-pop with its guitars and sprite arrangements, but still clings to an ethereal realm, brings us to the present moment and our feet which ache to dance. Chiweshe's Double Check is highly recommended. Piranha Musik