Mbira music icon Stella Chiweshe dies aged 76

HARARE – Legendary songstress Stella Chiweshe, who pioneered and popularised the mbira music genre, has died.

She was 76.

Born Stella Rambisai Nekati Chiweshe, the musician passed on at her Kuwadzana residence in Harare Friday after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Affectionately known as the Queen of Mbira, Chiweshe was born on July 8, 1946 in Mujumi village, Mhondoro, about 110 kilometers from Harare.

She was married to Peter Reich, a German national who assisted her in popularising mbira music in Europe, Australia, and North America, where she toured with her daughter.

Her music career began in 1966, during the colonial period, when the traditional mbira instrument was outlawed by the Rhodesian government as an unholy and unchristian instrument.

During the colonial era between 1970 and 1973, Chiweshe became a popular musician within the indigenous black masses who recognised her music prowess in outlawed traditional ceremonies.

Despite facing imprisonment for performing in prohibited cultural activities, Chiweshe excelled at playing the mbira instrument with mystical artistry that left audiences clammering for more.

Before independence, she released over 20 singles of Mbira music, the first of which, Kasahwa, went gold in 1975.

After Zimbabwe’s independence, Chiweshe was invited to join the original National Dance Company of Zimbabwe, where she quickly rose to prominence as a leading Mbira solo player, dancer and actress.

Chiweshe’s solo work has established her as one of the most innovative artists in the contemporary African scene, utilising popular music to demonstrate the depth and power of her traditional spiritual music both at home and abroad.

In 2020, UNESCO inscribed mbira music on the Representative List of Humanity’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

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