Zimbabwe: Chiwoniso Maraire


Songwriter Chiwoniso Maraire speaks about her personal experiences of music censorship in Zimbabwe. She was interviewed together with poet Chirikure Chirikure, and Book Café’s creative director Paul Brickhill. They explain how music communicates hidden messages and why music is an ‘unstoppable force’ in Zimbabwe.

Chiwoniso Maraire, Chirikure Chirikure and Paul Brickhill visited Denmark in September 2007 to perform and give presentations at a seminar entitled ‘Zimbabwe Uncensored’. They are based in Zimbabwe.

• Chiwoniso Maraire had an international break-through in 1996 with the mbira album ‘Ancient Voices’. Since 2003, she has been fronting her acoustic group Chiwoniso & Vibe Culture with whom she recorded her second solo album, ‘Timeless’. More information can be found at Chiwoniso Maraire’s official home page:

• Chirikure Chirikure
is a poet and a musician.

• Paul Brickhill is Book Café’s creative director and plays tenor sax with the jazz outfit Luck Street Blues. More information about Book Café’s activities can be found at the Book Café’s two websites:

Garowe Online – 28 March 2008:

‘Zimbabwe: Harare’s open cafe culture’

The video was recorded by Mik Aidt assisted by Kristina Funkeson on 24 September 2007.

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7:10 minutes

Click to read more about music censorship in Zimbabwe


‘Music is an unstoppable force’

Transciption of the video interview

Chiwoniso Maraire 
“To beat people, to threaten people, to put a person in a situation where they have to think for the next five hours about whether or not they are going to be okay – is a very very bad thing to do. Like I had a situation when I performed at the Book Café when riot police walked in. All of these things now start to come into your work as an artist, and it puts you in a situation where now you really have to start thinking about what you are saying and what you are doing. So… – dicy!”

Paul Brickhill
“I find it amazing in Zimbabwe that as the crisis has escalated over the last 10 years, so the role of music and musicians, and the number of musicians, and the importance of musicians, has grown phenomenally.”

Chikure Chikure
“You get all sort of dubious characters, employed by ‘the system’, to come and threaten you at your show or to write bad stories in newspapers about a particular musician, and it is an indication that from a legal point of view it is very difficult to put structures which actually controls the musicians voice. So the best way to deal with it (for ‘the system’) is to do all these indirect, crude attacks.”

Chiwoniso Maraire 

“We have a responsibility. We are not bankers, we are not doctors, we are not nurses. We have another part that we play in society that must be done. So, regardless whether the system is going to come in and say: “Cut what you are saying”, going to send riot cops in to your shows, going to come and arrest you and (say) “We are going to try and put you (in jail)…” – it doesn’t matter. We have a responsibility.”

Paul Brickhill
“It was said recently by Chirikure: “Elections come and go, but a poem or a song lasts a century.” And this is really true in our culture. The musicians look for the deeper meaning. In many ways, the creative process, it really is (to be) thinking deeply about what it is that people are doing, ordinary people. Ordinary people’s lives. These are the people’s musicians. That’s it, in our situation. And in so many ways this brings our musicians on a collition-course with agencies of the state, with instruments of the state.”

Chiwoniso Maraire 
“I don’t think the artists are going to stop speaking. If anything, there is going to be more artists speaking. From what I can see, definitely. So long as there’s arrests and everything…. we will keep talking.”

Chikure Chikure
“One thing which has really kept me going is that in any culture music is always there in historical situations. The Bible, for example, talks about the walls of Jerico falling through music. And if song and dance destroyed colonialism in Africa why can’t it handle dictators? It will, eventually. Like we said: Poetry and music will always be there, long after the politicians (have gone).”

Chiwoniso Maraire (sings)

“Wano wanagwana…. ”

Paul Brickhill
“Musicians in our culture have an amazing sense of being able to sing very simple lyrics that touch ordinary people because we are an oral culture. There is no doubt about that. Very simple lyrics that really mean something to everybody, and yet are so profound that you can listen to those lyrics again and again, literally hundreds of times. And it stimulates discussion everywhere, in buses, in homes, in beer halls, whereever people gather. We have a way of talking to each other, of telling stories to each other that is full of proverbs and idioms, and the musicians sing in the same way, actually. And they tell stories that resonate with the day-to-day life of people – but in a deep way.”

Chikure Chikure
“To someone who is in a situation of struggle, of strive, the moment you talk about “I wish I could travel to the village, to Mary, and kiss you, Mary”, it is loaded with meanings. The voice is literally saying: “I have no fuel to drive to the village” or “There is no fuel for the bus to ferry me to the village”, so there is a deeper underlying message about which innocent ministry or goverment officials think… “Okay, they are just dancing (and singing) about their community problems…”. But it is the deeper underlying messages which keep the community going, keep the society going.”

Paul Brickhill
“The simple message and the lesson we have learned in Zimbabwe is that music in particular, in our society, and art in general, and creative expression, cannot ultimately be censored. It cannot be manipulated, it can’t be stopped. It is an unstoppable force. And there have been so many attempts to channel the message of music and the message of musicians to fit one or another political agenda, and yet the musicians have said: “No, we refuse. We sing with the people or not at all!” ”




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