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Chiwoniso: Mbira queen with unique voice

The death of mbira songstress Chiwoniso Maraire last week has thrown the Zimbabwean music scene into deep mourning.

Report by Silence Charumbira

She died on Wednesday evening at South Medical Hospital where she had been admitted for pneumonia.

Vivid flashes of encounters that many had with Chi, as she was affectionately known, are bound to appear as friends, fellow musicians and fans struggle to come to terms with her untimely death.

I am one of those who had a chance to interact with Chiwoniso.

Chi became a darling for me when I was a school boy at Oriel Boys High. Back then I lived in Mabvuku and we would be mesmerised by the sound of her voice with my peers.

She brought a different edge to all the forms of music that we had grown up listening to.

Despite my admiration, it was only at the burial of her former husband Andy Brown at Mazvihwa, Mberengwa that I had my first encounter of her.

We had met several times before, but it is at funerals that most people pour their hearts out.

She arrived just before burial in the afternoon weeping.

She went into the room where the casket was housed wailing.

She embraced Andy’s casket and kissed it. It was evident that an abyss had been created in her bossom.

The way she went on around the coffin one would think she was a drama queen.

As there were many relatives at the funeral there was not much we could talk about.

We were to meet once again in Gweru at a food court on our way back to Harare.

On sight of me she crumbled into my arms and cried.

“Andy waenda shamwari (Andy is gone my friend),” she said sobbing.

I consoled her and she calmed but still there was not much she could say. She remained a disturbed soul.

It was in November that we last had a close encounter at Jazz 105.

We laughed at some gentlemen who had tried to court Andy’s sister in whose company were.

She teased the men about asking for cigarettes and we all laughed at her guts.

But that was Chi.

She would not care whether you were angered; she would throw in jab after jab.

Several things have been said about her drinking behaviour lately.

Some said she had reduced herself to a drunk but those around her knew she was always jovial and lived a full life.

Before Andy’s death in March 2011 she had been rumoured to have had a fall out with then Andy’s wife Nadine at his home in Cranbone.

Both parties denied it and we also laughed about it.

Her talent was undisputed and whenever she stepped onto the stage everyone knew they would be in for a treat.

At the Harare International Festival of the Arts this year she dazzled thousands of revellers when she stepped onto the stage at Baaba Maal’s instigation.

A simple improvisation did it. She worked with numerous world artists in her several tours of the world affirming her as a queen of the genre.

Her place on the Zimbabwean musical scene can never be filled by anyone else and she will always be remembered for hits like Wandirasa and Mai Fambai Zvakanaka among others.

She leaves behind two daughters Chengeto and Chiedza.

She will be buried at Chakohwa Village 60 kilometres out of Mutare on Monday morning.

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