The renowned Zimbabwean “Queen of Mbira” Mbuya Stella Rambisai Chiweshe, has died. The inimitable Mbira music legend passed on in the early hours of Friday 20th January 2023 at her Kuwadzana home in Harare at the age of 76.
The sad news of Mbuya Stella Chiweshe’s passing was first conveyed and confirmed to state media by a close relative, Rector Kandemiviri.
“She wasn’t feeling much well of late, coupled with age. The last time she came kumusha [home] she was saying her days are almost up and as such, she needed to settle back home.”
Speaking on the cause of her death, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) said that Mbuya Stella Chiweshe succumbed to cancer of the brain, and that she died “peacefully” at her place of residence.
NACZ director Nicholas Moyo relayed this news, “It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of NAMA [National Arts Merits Awards] legend Mbuya Stella Rambisai Chiweshe .
“Her daughter Virginia Mukwesha-Hetze informed me that Mbuya Chiweshe died peacefully from cancer of the brain at home in Harare this morning.”
Born in Mujumi Village, Mhondoro, Zimbabwe on 8 July 1946, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe’s immortal legacy is deeply and inextricably embedded in her spiritual mastery of the Mbira—the traditional musical instrument of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
An enigmatic creator, she went on to achieve international renown for playing this instrument (specifically the Mbira DzaVadzimu - “the Ancestors’ Mbira”) and with her international success, Zimbabwean music and cultural heritage were proudly put on the map.
She was one of the few females who spearheaded the proliferation and widespread acceptance of Mbira music/Zimbabwe Shona traditional music nationally and internationally at a time when it was stridently male-dominated.
Venerating her gift to play the Mbira instrument as a spiritual calling from her ancestors, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe fine-tuned her professional acumen from 1966 to 1969—it is during this time that she learned the Mbira when few women dared to play the instrument.
In her lifetime and professional music career—her spiritual journey holistically—she created a massive discography and she widely toured Zimbabwe, the region, and the rest of the world as she spread Zimbabwe’s mbira music. She performed on several occasions in Germany—and participated in the WOMAD festival (1994 in the U.S., 1995 in Australia, and 2006 in Spain). Alongside her daughter, she toured England in 2004.
Speaking on her vastly rich legacy, NACZ director Nicholas Moyo had high praises for the late icon.
“Born on the 8th of July 1946, in Mujumi Village in Mhondoro, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe was undoubtedly Zimbabwe’s Queen of Mbira and one of the country’s foremost cultural exports. With her swooping vocals on the mbira, she brought traditional Zimbabwean Shona music to the international stage.
“With a career spanning over 40 years, Mbuya Stella Chiweshe was a recipient of various local and international awards, including the Billboard Music Award (1993), the NAMA (2006), the NAMA Lifetime Achievement Award (2020), and the NAMA Legends Award (2021). May her soul rest in peace.”