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Chiwoniso Rebel Woman Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Attractive and persuasive in equal measure.

Michael Quinn 2008

Zimbabwe's Chiwoniso Maraire returns to the fray, a decade after her international debut with the three-years-in-the-making and unambiguously titled Rebel Woman. And as you would expect of this likeably feisty artist, Chiwoniso sets about confronting a range of issues around the notions of freedom, equality and love.

That said, there's little of the anger or angst you might expect from an album coming out of a country in turmoil, Chiwoniso's default position is defined more by compassionate empathy than by passionate outrage. Beauty of sound is pre-eminent, with the title track, paying homage to the role of women caught up in Zimbabwe's struggle for independence, a lilting love song in all but name.

Backed by some of southern Africa's leading musicians – sometime Hugh Masakela guitarist Louis Mhlanga, Oliver Mtukudzi’s veteran percussionist Sam Mataure, and superb keyboardist Charles Eller not least – Chiwoniso and producer Keith Farquharson deliver an album that is as polished and perfectly proportioned as the finest cut-glass crystal.

Chiwoniso moves easily and eloquently between English and Shona (and is no less expressive on the thumb-plucked mbira) on tracks that variously celebrate the healing power of elders (Vanorapa), commiserates with the plight of the working man (Matsotsi), and hymns Zimbabwe's mountainous regions (Gomo).

While you have to go looking for the ''defiant strength'' touted in the press release and can't be certain of finding it – this is no rousing call to arms – Rebel Woman nonetheless pleases in oh so many ways and Chiwoniso's obvious and seemingly unquenchable optimism ultimately proves attractive and persuasive in equal measure.

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