Chiwoniso Dead at 37. That was the headline of a local paper. It was a shocking headline for Zimbabweans today. When l was a kid in Dangamvura Chiwoniso lived next door to us. She stayed with her grandmother l think after her dad died. We would always buy her gogo’s banana’s as an excuse to see the girl who had lived in America. We hardly saw her and as kids we took offence, especially my older cousins who didn’t understand why Chiwoniso never came out to play. We thought she was a snob, she kept to her self. I didn’t understand at the time what it was like to have stayed in Washington DC and then move to Dangamvura Mutare. Must have been a major culture shock for a young girl. We understood later when we got older.
Chiwoniso Maraire (5 March 1976 – 24 July 2013) was an accomplished singer, songwriter, and exponent of Zimbabwean mbira music. She was the daughter of the late renowned Zimbabwean mbira player and teacher Dumisani Maraire. She spent the first seven years of her life away from her homeland, Zimbabwe, as her father had moved the family to Washington State in the U.S. in 1970 to pursue a degree in Ethnomusicology. On her return to Zimbabwe she attended Mutare Girls’ High School.
Chiwoniso played a role as one of the most revolutionary mbira players crossing all musical borders with the instrument inspiring young Zimbabweans to play the mbira in a more modern and contemporary way. She did collaborations with countless musicians and artists from across the world.
Taking on her dad’s legacy must have been a daunting task to say the least. But she rose to the occassion and showed the way for many aspiring musicians. her blend of mbira and english sent the french people into a frenzy when she released “Ancient Voices” in 2001, got an honours degree and Kora award nomination for her efforts.
I attended a lot of her concerts, my last being at the Book Cafe when she performed with Chikwata 263.That was one of the best concerts l have ever been to. They say life begins at 40, so l will be bold enough to say we will never hear her best work.
She died of suspected pneumonia, just a year after the death of her ex-husband, Andy Brown, also a prominent musician. The pair leave two children.