It’s midmorning and Chiwoniso is running late for a round of interviews to support her new album, Rebel Woman. She apologizes, explaining that she was rehearsing with her new band until 3 a.m. “It’s a beautiful band,” she says.She’ll say “beautiful” almost a dozen times in the next half hour, describing everything from her sister’s marriage to her friend’s poetry with the casual air of someone who truly does see beauty all around her.
From the very beginning, there has been music in Chiwoniso’s life. Even during her home birth in Olympia, Washington, her father and uncles welcomed her with drumming. Her parents, both musicians, filled their house with artists, doctors, healers, thinkers, midwives, and fellow musicians. “People who were not only able to make music, but who understood what the music meant,” she recalls.
It seemed only natural that Chiwoniso, too, would become a musician, playing the mbira (a traditional Zimbabwean instrument) and singing. “Because the music was around all the time, it became like breathing,” she says. “You start to hear the notes in your head and you don’t even think about it; it just comes out.”
Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Chiwoniso moved with her family back and forth between the US and Zimbabwe, her parents’ homeland. She calls her time in Zimbabwe “profound” and she has spent the last 16 years living there, relocating to the US only this month. The move is partially due to an upcoming tour to support Rebel Woman, but it is also a temporary reprieve from Zimbabwe and its political upheaval. Living in Harare, Chiwoniso has experienced first hand the struggles, oppression, and violence that plague her country.
“I reflect on what’s going on,” she says. “If I’m walking down the street and I hear passing conversation about people struggling, not having enough money, being frustrated with the direction the country’s taking. I’m passing a message on… It’s what I was meant to do.”
And for Chiwoniso, whose music blends the sounds of many cultures and many times, this is a beautiful thing indeed.