Sept. 7, 2014

Vol. 9, Num. 1

Kalimba Magic NEWS

Chiwoniso 1976 - 2013
Learn Her Song Vanavogwara on Karimba


Last year, a legendary figure in African music left us. Chiwoniso was a shining light, a great singer and a great player of the mbira nyunga nyunga, also known as the African tuned karimba.

Her instrument of choice is of interest to us for two reasons. Andrew Tracey hypothesizes this is the original mbira first made in southern Africa some 1300 years ago. But Chiwoniso had a more personal reason to prefer this instrument - the mbira nyunga nyunga was the instrument played by her father, Dumisani Maraire - or Dumi as his friends knew him.

Chiwoniso's father Dumi studied under Yega Tapera, a karimba teacher first "discovered" by Andrew Tracey in the slums of Bulawayo, Rhodesia in 1960. Andrew set Tapera up to teach at the newly formed Kwanongoma College of African Music. After Dumi learned marimba and karimba (which he called the mbira nyunga nyunga - a name he probably invented) he started coming to Seattle, WA in 1968. He would return many times and eventually got a PhD in ethnomusicology and also taught at the University of Washington. Dumi brought "Kwanongoma-style" karimba music and marimba music to the USA, and is also credited with starting the African "marimba band movement" on the west coast. His life was tragically cut short when he passed in 1999.

You can read more about Chiwoniso in this article about her passing and her life.

Here is Chiwoniso's song Vanavogwara, and her last interview.



Young Chiwoniso travelled back and forth between Washington state and Zimbabwe, and quickly grew into a charismatic musical figure. Of the mbira nyunga nyunga, she said "[it] is like a large xylophone. It is everywhere in Africa under different names: sanza, kalimba, etc. For us in Zimbabwe it is the name for many string instruments. There are many kinds of mbiras. The one that I play is called the nyunga nyunga, which means sparkle-sparkle."

Chiwoniso's life too was tragically cut short when she passed last summer of pneumonia in Harare, Zimbabwe. She had just performed with Stella Chiwesha, a woman who is a wonderful player of the mbira dzavadzimu. Those who were lucky enough to see the two of them perform together will never forget those precious moments.

To honor Chiwoniso and the memory of her music, I have learned the song Vanavogwara. This is the song in the video above, and I have written it out on tablature for you to learn too. If you click the tablature image to the right, you will see the full PDF image for the Vanavogwara tablature.

For the karimba players of the world, we can remember Chiwoniso as one of our musical ancestors, one that has come and gone before us, one who might look over us as we play, one whom we might honor with our dedication to beauty and music and love and life.

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