Stella Chiweshe

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Stella Chiweshe
Chiweshe in 2012
Stella Rambisai Chiweshe

(1946-07-08)8 July 1946
Died20 January 2023(2023-01-20) (aged 76)
Harare, Zimbabwe
SpousePeter Reich[1]
ChildrenVirginia Mukwesha [fi] Charity Mapuranga nee Mkwesha Edit this at Wikidata

Stella Chiweshe (also Stella Rambisai Chiweshe, Stella Rambisai Chiweshe Nekati, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe, or Stella Nekati Chiweshe; 8 July 1946 – 20 January 2023) was a Zimbabwean musician. She was known internationally for her singing and playing of the mbira dzavadzimu, a traditional instrument of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. She was one of few female players, and learned to play from 1966 to 1969, when other women did not.[2]


Chiweshe was born on 8 July 1946 in Mujumi Village in Mhondoro.[3] She learned to play the mbira from 1966 to 1969, at a time when there were social taboos against women playing the instrument,[4][5] as well as colonial British prohibitions on cultural activities.[6][7] She was taught by her great-uncle, after being refused by many teachers.[8] During this period Chiweshe also performed forbidden Shona spiritual ceremonies.[6]

During the 1970s her music supported nationalist and women's rights causes.[9] Her career as a recording artist began in 1974 with the release of the single 'Kasahwa' (Teal Records).[10][11] In 1981 she joined the National Dance Company of Zimbabwe, playing the mbira, and toured with them internationally.[10] During the 1980s, to continue a revitalisation of mbira music, Chiweshe amplified her mbira and introduced electric instruments to her supporting band.[12][13][14] In 1985 she formed her first band The Earthquake.[15] In 1988 Chiweshe recorded two black liberationist songs, 'Chimurenga' and 'NeHondo'.[16] She also helped to form the Zimbabwe Musicians Union.[10] During this period she also played the titular role in the film Ambuya Nehanda, which portrayed the life of Mbuya Nehanda, an anti-colonial resistance leader.[8]

Chiweshe performed numerous times in Germany and also participated in the WOMAD festival (1994 in the United States, 1995 in Australia, and 2006 in Spain). In 2004 she toured England with her daughter.[1] She was known for her spiritual presence on stage, and for often taking snuff while performing.[15]

Chiweshe died of brain cancer on 20 January 2023, at the age of 76.[3] Her husband was Peter Reich, a German citizen.[1] She also lived in Germany for several years.[17][18] Her daughter is the mbira player Virginia Mukwesha [fi], whom Chiweshe trained from a young age.[12][19]

On 21 January 2023 the government of Zimbabwe offered financial support for her funeral.[20]


  • Billboard Music Award (1993)[10]
  • Zimbabwe Music Silver Jubilee Awards – Female Most Outstanding Contribution to the Music Industry of the Past 25 Years (2005)[11]
  • Zimbabwe Music Silver Jubilee Awards – Best Mbira Artiste of the Past 25 Years (2005)[11]
  • National Arts Merit Award (2006)[3]
  • National Arts Merit Award Lifetime Achievement Award (2020)[3]
  • National Arts Merit Award Legends Awards (2021)[3]


Chiweshe is considered a ground-breaking Zimbabwean musician, not just for her skills, but for the path for women mbira-players that she forged.[4][21] She was also admired for the humanism in her music.[22]

During her career Chiweshe was criticised by some for combining sacred and commercial music.[23] Her work was sampled by many artists, including The New Vets, a Zimbabwean activist rap group, who campaigned for land reform using a track Chiweshe sang on.[24]

Chiweshe featured in Panashe Chigumadzi's 2018 work These Bones Will Rise Again.[25]


  • Ambuya? (1987, reissued 2021)[26]
  • Ndizvozvo (Piranha, 1988)[27]
  • Chisi (1989)[27]
  • Kumusha (1990)[27]
  • Shungu (1994)[15]
  • Healing Tree: Best of Stella Chiweshe (1998)[28]
  • Talking Mbira: Spirits of Liberation (2002)[29][30]
  • Double Check (2006)[31]
  • Ndondopetera (2007)[32][27]
  • Chakandiwana – Stella Chiweshe & Michele Longo" (2014)[33]
  • Kasahwa: Early Singles (2018)[34]

Contributing artist

See also


  1. ^ a b c Herald, The. "Mbuya Stella Chiweshe dies". The Herald. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  2. ^ "Stella Chiweshe obituary". the Guardian. 30 January 2023. Retrieved 2 February 2023.
  3. ^ a b c d e Zimbabwe, New (20 January 2023). "Updated: Mbuya Stella Chiweshe dies". Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  4. ^ a b Salawu, Abiodun; Fadipe, Israel A. (31 May 2022). Indigenous African Popular Music, Volume 1: Prophets and Philosophers. Springer Nature. p. 379. ISBN 978-3-030-97884-6.
  5. ^ Mangena, Fainos; Muwati, Itai (8 February 2016). Sounds of Life: Music, Identity and Politics in Zimbabwe. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-4438-8856-1.
  6. ^ a b Chitando, Ezra (1 April 2016). African Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa: Emerging Trends, Indigenous Spirituality and the Interface with other World Religions. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-18420-1.
  7. ^ Offenhäußer, Dieter, Walther Ch Zimmerli, and Marie-Theres Albert. "World heritage and cultural diversity." UNESCO. 12 (2010): 05–13.
  8. ^ a b Hickson, Jim. "Stella Chiweshe: "I ignored men, I ignored women, I ignored the government, I ignored the church, because I wanted to survive. That's how I started to play" , she was influenced by the emerging feminist attitudes of the time that purported that women were not allowed to play mbira music. Shona tradition is littered with history of female heroines & other playing mbira during bird's and pungwes". Songlines. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  9. ^ Demissie, Fassil (5 December 2016). Colonial Architecture and Urbanism in Africa: Intertwined and Contested Histories. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-95053-4.
  10. ^ a b c d Carl, Florian (2004). "Review of Talking Mbira: Spirits of Liberation". The World of Music. 46 (2): 195–197. ISSN 0043-8774. JSTOR 41699581.
  11. ^ a b c "Celebrating International Women's Day | Celebrating Being Zimbabwean". Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  12. ^ a b Kirkegaard, Annemette (2002). Playing with Identities in Contemporary Music in Africa. Nordic Africa Institute. p. 38. ISBN 978-91-7106-496-7.
  13. ^ Berliner, Paul F. (31 January 2020). The Art of Mbira: Musical Inheritance and Legacy. University of Chicago Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-226-62871-4.
  14. ^ Berliner, Paul (1993). The Soul of Mbira: Music and Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-04379-1.
  15. ^ a b c Jones, Claire (1 June 2008). "Shona Women Mbira Players: Gender, Tradition and Nation in Zimbabwe". Ethnomusicology Forum. 17 (1): 125–149. doi:10.1080/17411910801972982. ISSN 1741-1912. S2CID 143721457.
  16. ^ Turino, Thomas (20 June 2008). Nationalists, Cosmopolitans, and Popular Music in Zimbabwe. University of Chicago Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-226-81696-8.
  17. ^ Chitando, Ezra (2002). Singing Culture: A Study of Gospel Music in Zimbabwe. Nordic Africa Institute. p. 44. ISBN 978-91-7106-494-3.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Kirkegaard, Annemette (2002). Playing with Identities in Contemporary Music in Africa. Nordic Africa Institute. p. 35. ISBN 978-91-7106-496-7.
  20. ^ Herald, The. "Govt grants state-assisted funeral to Mbuya Stella Chiweshe". The Herald. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  21. ^ Makore, Susan. "Women in music: Some notes on Zimbabwe." Sounds of change: Social and political features of music in Africa (2004): 47–56.
  22. ^ O'Brien, Lucy (1 January 2002). She Bop II: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul. A&C Black. p. 350. ISBN 978-0-8264-7208-3.
  23. ^ Duane, Orla; McConnachie, James (1999). World Music: Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Rough Guides. p. 708. ISBN 978-1-85828-635-8.
  24. ^ Falola, Toyin; Fleming, Tyler (15 March 2012). Music, Performance and African Identities. Routledge. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-136-83028-0.
  25. ^ Chigumadzi, Panashe (14 June 2018). These Bones Will Rise Again. The Indigo Press. ISBN 978-1-9996833-1-3.
  26. ^ "Ambuya!'s back baby!". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  27. ^ a b c d Romero, Angel (6 December 2017). "Artist profiles: Stella Chiweshe | World Music Central". Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  28. ^ Pareles, Jon (29 January 1999). "CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; A Global Heartbeat On CD's". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  29. ^ Margasak, Peter (30 January 2003). "Stella Chiweshe". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  30. ^ "Zimbabwean Albums – The Essential 10". Songlines. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  31. ^ "Stella Chiweshe – Double Check". Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  32. ^ Berlin, Digital in (2 April 2017). "Stella Chiweshe". Digital in Berlin. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  33. ^ "Stella Chiweshe". Music in Africa. 3 July 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  34. ^ Dalton, Stephen (11 October 2018). "Stella Chiweshe – Kasahwa: Early Singles". UNCUT. Retrieved 22 January 2023.
  35. ^ McKinney, Raymond. "The Rough Guide to the Music of Zimbabwe". AllMusic. Retrieved 30 December 2013.

External links