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U.S-Based Zimbabwean Mbira Prodigy Chengeto Brown Follows Famous Parents' Music Footsteps

Chengeto Brown

Upcoming United States-based Zimbabwean musician, Chengeto Brown, daughter to the late musicians, Andy Brown, and mbira maestro, Chiwoniso Maraire says she is following in her parents and famous grandfather Dumisani Maraire’s footsteps to become a full time musician.

Chengeto is currently polishing a song titled “If I”, an artistic piece that talks about the trials and tribulations of love relationships. "Basically the background would just be a love story where one is saying they wish they could have changed certain situations, and taken back as much emotions as they have invested in the relationship."

Chiwoniso's influence in the song is unmistakable and on being compared to her mother, Chengeto laughed and only said, “Thank you, thank you, I take it as a compliment, trust me.”

The mbira prodigy says she has just completed her high school and wants to pursue studies in music at university level to consolidate her understanding of the career path she has chosen.

The young musician started playing mbira and a guitar at the age of 12 and as for singing, she says it’s in the blood and she was born a singer.

She says it was her mother, Chiwoniso, who taught her how to play the mbira instrument.

Mbira is a traditional instrument of the Shona people in Zimbabwe, and has been played for over 1,000 years at religious rituals, royal courts, and social occasions.

The mbira is like a large xylophone. It is everywhere in Africa under different names: sanza, kalimba. But in Zimbabwe it is the name for many string instruments. There are many kinds of mbiras. The one that Chiwoniso played and taught Chengeto is called the nyunga nyunga, which means "sparkle-sparkle.”

Chiwoniso like her father, Dumisani, was a singer, songwriter, and exponent of Zimbabwean music.

She fronted her acoustic group Chiwoniso & Vibe Culture for several years. Her first album, Ancient Voices, was released to international acclaim in 1995.

Chiwoniso Maraire
Chiwoniso Maraire

​Chiwoniso was honoured by Radio France ("Decouverte Afrique") for her debut album, Ancient Voices (1998), and was nominated in the Kora Music Awards for best female vocals of Africa in 1999. The album entered the World Music Charts Europe three times.

Chiwoniso, like her daughter, Chengeto started singing with her father who passed on the skills to her.

"Dumi was very important in Seattle for his charismatic performances leading his Zimbabwean marimba ensembles and for his promotion of African music," a friend, Larry Israel, wrote in an e-mail to a blog, Intimacy With Zim Musicians.

"His life greatly impacted the lives of hundreds of his students, and his infectious and danceable music was heard and loved by thousands."

Israel and ethnomusicologists credited Maraire with bringing marimba music to Seattle and North America. Maraire arranged or composed scores of pieces for marimba ensembles.

In 1982, he returned to Africa to develop an ethnomusicology program at the University of Zimbabwe. He resumed teaching in Seattle from 1986 to 1990, when he earned a doctorate in ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, then returned to teach at the University of Zimbabwe.

Maraire recorded a number of compact discs, as did his three local marimba bands. He was dedicated to preserving and expanding the traditional music of Zimbabwe.

The marimba which Dumi played is a percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars struck with melklets to produce musical tones.

Chengeto’s father, Brown, was a renowned guitarist and vocalist. She credits him for teaching her how to play the guitar.

Brown, also famed for hits such as Daisy, Fiona and Mawere Kongonya, began his music career with the hugely successful band, Ilanga, in 1986. Its members included Don Gumbo, Busi Ncube and Comrade Chinx.

After leaving Ilanga, Brown pursued a solo career. He formed Andy Brown and the Storm with whom he went on to release more than 10 albums.

He preferred to call his art "world music", because of the fusion of other non Zimbabwean genres. Brown’s song, “Tomato Sauce” recorded in Zimbabwe charted at number five on South Africa’s Radio Metro a week after release.

Chengeto like her famed parents says she does not believe in playing just one genre of music saying she does not want to “box herself up”. She says her music is a fusion of Zimbabwean and American genres.

Meanwhile, Chengeto’s sister, Ammara Brown, has also followed in her father’s footsteps and has already released several hits.

VOA's Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu speaks to Chengeto in an exclusive interview about her life and music.

Interview With Chengeto Maraire
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