Saturday, December 20, 2008

CHIWONISO - Rebel Woman (Cumbancha)

A small ray of Zimbabwean musical sunshine peeps out from the country ravaged by political and economic turmoil. Chiwoniso Maraire has a radiant, optimistic voice even when — as she puts it — she is holding up a mirror to the extraordinary ruptures within her blighted country, although rather than couch her voice in unattractive rock instrumentation as she did on her debut album, Rebel Woman possesses a sound that is eerily reminiscent of the infectious optimism and lively beat of the early work by Chiwonisa’s compatriot Oliver Mtukudzi. There’s a similar brew of bubbling bass and driving percussive rhythm, with fizzy mbira thumb piano interjections that evoke the hope expressed in these songs of female independence and social ills. Blasting horns and choppy electric guitar help place the songs in an agreeably modern setting, and Chiwoniso surrounds herself with funky, harmonious backing singers with a rich, gospel edge. But it’s the ethereal, other-worldly tone of that mbira that underpins it all, the inter-leaving of its melodies redolent of Chiwonisa’s Shona background, and framing her confident, vigorous vocals in a setting that is at once timeless and thoroughly, resolutely of the moment. The handful of English-language songs give some clue as to the poetic nature of Chiwoniso’s lyrics, further proof that this artist has a subtly rebellious yet powerful part to play in the future direction of her country.

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