World Music Central interviewed in October 2006 Stella Rambisai Chiweshe, one of the first African women to play the male dominated mbira (thumb piano). Currently, Chiweshe has become of the most famous mbira performers and is now passing the mbira tradition to new generations.
When you started, how difficult was it for a woman to learn how to play the mbira?
It was hard to find a teacher and the instrument as well. Nobody agreed with me, especially that I was a woman
When and how did you transition from playing at ceremonies to playing concerts?
I had joined the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe as a dancer, but it took me two years to agree to play on stage.Has the situation improved for female musicians in Zimbabwe?
Yes very much, sometimes I think I am dreaming.
How did selling a gold album in the 1970s affect your career?
People started to know me and that frightened me to be known by people I did not know. For some months I went to hide myself in the countryside, but my mother gave me courage to face it.
Is your musical style different from your predecessors?
Well, nearly every player has his/her own style of playing which comes automatically.
Who manufactures your mbiras?
Different people, Chris Mlhanga, made mbiras for me which I played for years. Garikai Tirikoti also made an mbira for me. The one I am playing was made by Dan Pauli. My first mbira was made by an old man who passed away, and I only knew him by his totem “Nyandoro”. He was the first to agree to make mbira for me as a woman.
Are your mbiras different from traditional mbiras?
It is only the shape of the wood and some keys which I added up to help my right hand that was searching for keys which were not there. So I have two rows of the small keys, and now it is again searching for more keys. So, to please my right thumb and index finger I have to have more keys again.
Where can one find good mbiras?
So far I am dealing with Garikai Tirikoti and Dan Pauli, but there are quite a number of good mbira makers around.
Are there many mbira makers left?
There are a lot now compared to when I started to play.
Do you ever go back to Zimbabwe?
Yes, several times, home is best. I was there in September and October this year 2006.
Who are your dance and mbira students?
They are a lot. I do lots of workshops and have taught many people to play, dance and sing.
Is it mainly Germans or do you also teach Zimbabweans?
I teach all over the world.
What projects are you working on?
I am working on a new record and also an mbira workshop and festival which will take place in Zimbabwe next year in October.
Where were you born?
I was born in Zimbabwe.
What is your favorite meal?
Sadza ne nyevhe ine dovi. Sadza= maize brae, nyeve is a kind of vegetable only found in Zimbabwe and dovi is peanut butter
What music are you listening to lately?
I am listening to Zimbabwean music from the early eighties from various musicians.
What kind of movies do you like?
It is rare for me to switch on my TV, I don’t like watching it.
What do you like to do during your free time?
I make beads and I am writing the story of my life.
What country would you like to visit?
I would like to visit the Pygmies and Brazil
Which is your favorite city?
Harare, the Capital city of Zimbabwe.
What was your best moment?
When I got the Masters Degree in Arts and my first meeting with the Maori people of New Zealand.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
When I was stuck in an elevator for 20 minutes at moment when a voice had said: “Now! Please welcome Stella Chiweshe on stage.
What was the first big lesson you learned about the music industry?
That the record companies also get money from my music.
For additional Stella Chiweshe information and discography, read her profile.