Print this Page

World Music CD Reviews Africa


By Michael Stone
Published February 17, 2006

Talking Mbira: Spirits of Liberation

Zimbabwean singer, mbira (thumb piano) player and percussionist Stella Chiweshe is the descendant of a famous freedom fighter the British hanged for resisting colonial rule. A musical path-breaker, she is the first female mbira players of her native Shona tradition, and nationally, the first woman to lead her own band. Talking Mbira superbly illustrates the polyrhythmic, polyphonic character of sub-Saharan musics, whose call-and-response principle weaves individual pitches and rhythms into a complementary, interlocking performance, a textured, sonically complex whole. The music's cyclical, open-ended patterns, built by continuously repeating and improvising upon short suggestive melodies and rhythmic figures, comprise its dynamic foundations. Chiweshe also propagates the prevailing aesthetic quality of a dense, buzzing sound, achieved by attaching bottle caps or snail shells loosely to the mbira resonator, and through the use of gourd rattles. Both acoustic mbira, vocals and marimba settings and the amplified ensemble (adding magnificent vocal harmonies, electric guitar, bass guitar, percussion and drum kit) illustrate these principles diversely, in an exquisitely meditative recording whose subtle nuances emerge more powerfully with each newly evocative hearing.