One of Zimbabwe’s most respected artists, mbira musician and vocalist Chiwoniso Maraire died on Wednesday, July 24th, 2013 at South Medical Centre in Chitungwiza, a town south of Zimbabwe’s capital. Chiwoniso had been hospitalized for the past ten days suffering from chest pains and a lung infection. Although the cause of death has not been determined yet, pneumonia is suspected. She was 37 years old.
Chiwoniso was a groundbreaking artist. Her music crossed musical borders, blending traditional music with blues, jazz, pop, hip hop and reggae. Chiwoniso was one of the first female mbira performers. Her mbira style was fresh and innovative.
Chiwoniso Maraire was born March 5, 1976 in Olympia, Washington (United States), where her famous father Dumisani Maraire lived and taught traditional Shona music between 1972 and 1990, and was a renowned stage performer along with her mother, Linda Nemarundwe Maraire.
Chiwoniso spent most of her adolescence in both Zimbabwe and the United States. “Musical instruments were a core element of my childhood. By the age of four I was playing mbira; Tichazomuona, my first recording with my parents, was released when I was nine,” remembered Chiwoniso.
In 1991 Chiwoniso formed Zimbabwe’s A Peace of Ebony. They recorded an album titled From The Native Tongue. The group won the Best New Group out of Southern Africa award in the Radio France International Discovery contest. A track from the album, ‘Vadzimu’ appears on the Putumayo ‘African Grooves’ compilation.
The success with A Piece of Ebony, led her to join Zimbabwe’s leading band, Andy Brown and The Storm. At the same time, Chiwoniso continued to write her own music, and performed alongside other artists with the support of The Storm. She also embarked on the 2 year General Certificate in music course with the Zimbabwe College of Music and studied sociology as well.
Chiwoniso recorded a first solo CD, Ancient Voices that won the International Discovery Competition (Decouverte Afrique 98) award presented by R.F.I. (Radio France International) and the French Foreign Office. Ancient Voices was a tremendous success and brought critical acclaim to the young musician.
Chiwoniso fronted her acoustic group Chiwoniso & Vibe Culture for several years. From 2001 to 2004, she was also a core member of the multinational all-women’s band Women’s Voice, whose original members hailed from Norway, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, America, Israel and Algeria.
In September 2008, Chiwoniso released her fourth album and first international album in over ten years, Rebel Woman on the Cumbancha label.
She is survived by her two children, Chengeto and Chiedza.
Read more about her biography and discography at Chiwoniso Maraire