Stella Chiweshe ‘Kasahwa: Early Singles’ LP/CD/DIG (Glitterbeat) 3/5

Of the numerous percussion instruments on the African continent, the mbira is one that has attracted the attention of musicians beyond the confines of roots music and ethnomusicologist studies, and you will hear the distinctive sound on 1970s spiritual jazz recordings and on the music of Earth, Wind and Fire from the same era. However, in the case of Stella Chiweshe, it is her favoured instrument of choice and this mini collection of her work groups together hard to find singles between 1974 and 1983. So accomplished a player was Stella Chiweshe in her native Zimbabwe that she became known as, ‘The Queen of mbira’. The music is probably best sampled in small doses because it does tend towards repetition, but it can equally be hypnotic music that maintains a rhythmic beat throughout. Often, the pieces have titles that refer to earthy and everyday activities and that is most certainly the case of the atmospheric instrumental, ‘Rabidzo’. Chiweshe specialises also in wordless vocals and deploys these to useful effect on, ‘Chipindura’. For some welcome variation, the melodic joint vocals on the title track sound by some distance the strongest of the vocal numbers, while the simply layered rhythms and impassioned vocals on, ‘Mayaya (Pt. 1 and 2)’, impress, and reach deep inside the soul. In the post-independence of the 1980s, Stella Chiweshe toured internationally as part of the National Dace Company, and at a later date under her own name as the leader. Her music was regularly championed by DJ John Peel on his famous sessions. These days, Stella Chiweshe is somewhat less active, but it is to be hoped that this revisiting of her back catalogue will spark renewed interest in the musician and kick-start a new phase in Stella Chiweshe’s career.

Tim Stenhouse