Upbeat, entrancing and intoxicating Zimbabwean dance music. With more guitar licks than the Bhundu Boys and full drum kit, turn this music up loud and dance dance dance whilst celebrating 13 years of music from Chartwell Dutiro, Max De Wardener and Chris Morphitis who together form Sweet Talk Mbira.
I first met Chartwell in the green room at the Musicport Festival in 2006 Chartwell and Sweet Talk Mbira were honored with being the festival opener. We talked later in the dressing room, beads of sweat still breaking on his skin as he was “coming down” from the performance, drawing me in to the secrets and the spiritual significance of the mbira in his life. Stories of how he would play for hours and hours even until his fingers bled, without ever feeling any pain.
Chartwell lives and breathes mbira. He started to play at the age of four and would later tour for nearly ten years as part of the Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited. With these credentials and on the strength of his first class performance I fully expected our paths would cross at some green field festival or concert hall or other but I wasn’t to hear from him again until this album arrived on my doorstep.
It’s going down a treat at GondwanaTowers and ever keen to know more about the music, I opened the sleeve notes, which for thirteen years of music you’d think would be bursting at the seams with information, anecdotal stories but alas no. The inside front, details the tracks and gives the usual spiel about how music engages people and crosses cultures but the nuggets and the lessons to be learned are written on the back page and they make uncomfortable reading for the “world music” community.
Opening with the statement that the trio have gone through a lot of what might be called bad human behavior – mostly in terms of experiencing double standards and being patronized.
Chartwell goes on to catalog some of these, being asked how his music has changed by playing with white people, being asked if it is still African music. Doubting the integrity of his mbira music because his other musicians are white? The fact that a promoter in Holland was shocked after thinking his band was full of Africans. How a booking was terminated by the University of Bologna when the names of the band were mentioned, “we can’t have your band the festival is an African music festival. Do you know any African bands?” inquired the organizer.
Yes Chartwell knows African bands of course …. as he says, “ I know of African bands with black British and black American musicians who play music that I would not call African music but they play very big and well known so called “World Music Festivals” around the world and have publicity in world music magazines and world music radio stations, world music distribution labels and record companies.”
In the sleeve notes Chartwell precedes the last statement with, “few festivals still invite me to perform as a solo act and will not even mention the name of my band.”
All of this leads him to conclude that the white people in charge are segregating the white people in his band in the way in which he grew up in the apartheid system of the country then named Rhodesia. The band make light of it and Max (bass) suggests that they do photo shoots wearing black masks to which Chartwell jokes that he’ll go back to Zimbabwe and get some leopard and zebra skins, spears and shields for his costume.
In a reversal of the Jam’s lyrics, fortunately, the public don’t get what the public want. There are no masks, no animal skins.
I’m glad the sleeve notes have been used to make us think and to highlight some of the hypocrisies, narrow mindedness and rose tinted spectacleness in the world music scene that are just plain unnecessary. I grew up in a world where white punks bounced to dub and black dreads pogoed along to the Ruts, where music was either good or bad. Sweet Talk Mbira have produced an album of great music in Dendere Ngoma ( Music Nest ), turn it up, bounce, pogo, dance and as Chartwell concludes…..Enjoy the journey.
More information from www.chartwelldutiro.co.uk
Author: Jill Turner
Jill Turner contributes to Songlines Magazine, World Music Central and is on the fRoots critics albums of the year panel. Her radio show GondwanaSound broadcasts on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM to the fourth largest city in the UK and is carried on both Radio Groovalizacion and African Internet Radio.