We are thrilled that Zimbabwean Mbira Superstar, Millicent Chapanda has agreed to join us for OUTSIDELEFT's Millicent Chapanda Week. Millicent is a cultural leader, Mbira player, storyteller, dancer, percussionist and an events facilitator. Millicent is also a Creative Director at Afrikan Fusion, the founder of Mbira Blues, Associate Lecturer at Bath Spa University, Assistant Programme Manager at Celebration Sanctuary Birmingham, a steering member Midlands World Music Consortium. And, she is currently a Nominee of Zimbrirs 2020 for Female Musician of the year. Our massive conversation with her begins with her beginnings in Zimbabwe; style tips, favorite records and so much more are coming along throughout the week, folks.
And, at the end of this week, on Feb 1st, Millicent will be appearing live at the OUTSIDELEFT NIGHT OUT, in Bearwood in the UK, a show which also features Haitian Folk boundary breaker, the superb, Germa Adan - more information can be found here.
OUTSIDELEFT: As a child, growing up in Zimbabwe, whereabouts did you live? In an urban or suburban area? Were you involved in music as a child?
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: I grew up in Harare, the capital, in the Meyrick Park suburb, which meant I also went to a 'group A' school, a multi-racial school - (before independence, through the racist educational system, these would have been meant for whites only, as these areas were not meant for blacks or the natives). Now I'm here, some English people say, 'you speak good English' … Learning the coloniser’s language was mandatory and spelling games would help remember that as Shona, my vernacular, is a phonetic and tonal language. You see, my father, Fabian Munaro Chapanda was somewhat of a brainbox and landed himself a scholarship, so his formal education was acquired in mission schools, enforced by the missionaries - group B schools were for the blacks/natives and these were in townships/locations and reserves (reserves are the areas where the natives were resettled or displaced in the less arable lands by the settlers). Group B schools/government had basic facilities and had very little resources, but were culturally). After this fine education my father managed to land himself a job with ACE engineering which was a subsidiary of LONHRO (London Rhodesia) as a fitter and turner engineer. My mother, Hilda Chapanda was a secretary at the Agricultural Finance Company. So, we could afford the lifestyle. I have to say despite Zimbabwe being a British colony, we were allowed to live in these areas as we were able to pay the school fees.
Growing up in Zimbabwe, I was constantly surrounded by music, the day was never complete without it. All social gatherings were immersed in vibrant sounds and creativity and even doing the chores around the home... Music had been a major part and the rhythms of the broom stick walking, speaking etc.
OUTSIDELEFT: What motivated you to come to the UK? What I mean, can you remember your first impression of England when you got here... My father-in-law who came from Barbados in the 60s recalled how utterly grey England was when he arrived! How did you end up in Birmingham? Of all places!
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: Back in Zimbabwe I worked as a travel consultant and through airline and hotel rebates this afforded me the chance to visit various countries, and I had been to the UK on several occasions on holiday and I had a friend who lived in Willenhall. Eventually I moved here, mainly for personal reasons, I lived in London and joined Batanai Marimba pan African band. Later I moved to Peterborough when my then 4yr old daughter came to join me as it was clear music would be my career. There is less hustle and bustle in Peterborough when bringing up a child. However, when I parted ways with the band, childcare became an issue so I moved to Walsall near a friend who coincidentally had a child the same age and we could assist each other. We toured the length and breadth of this county including the Channel Islands, sharing the stage with bands like Hear’Say and Mbuya Stella Chiweshe and played at prestigious venues like WOMAD and The Barbican Arts Centre to name a few.
The UK we read about in books, magazines and saw in TV and its people was a total contrast to the reality when I got here. Because we thought all British people were highly educated, eloquent like the royal family....most of all accommodating of other races and ethnicities, least of all racist. The lifestyle that was presented by the settlers in my country was what I expected to find.
OUTSIDELEFT: How did you get into mbira, what seems like a traditional music, which might in some respects from a younger person's perspective be seen as 'fogey-ish'! And... American pop music is so globally pervasive after all. Was there a steady diet of Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Madonna... And also Zimbabwean showband types...
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: I began playing and singing professionally in 1999 when I joined Batanai Marimba, a pan African band and World Music Makers delivering workshops in educational institutions, building awareness of our cultural practices and heritage. Coming to the UK I found there was a huge gap and disconnection among most diaspora, and more specifically the Zimbabwean community who somewhat suffer an identify crisis through educational indoctrination. This diaspora and even those at home viewed the traditional music and instruments with much disdain. As a mother seeing this, I did not want my daughter to be lost and lose her identity and have nothing to be proud of in her heritage. As a custodian I felt it was my duty to learn more, teach and perform, raising awareness of our culture and traditional music and instruments.
OUTSIDELEFT: Can you tell us a little about your performances, you play as a solo artist and also as a duo with Anna Mudeka, as Sisters In Mbira...
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: In performance I play the mbira music on our traditional mbira instrument in my vernacular language as I feel it is an important identity marker. When it comes to music its beauty and potency to connect and engage, language is not a barrier because of its power to touch the soul. When you bring music you bring emotions, history, tradition, identity, context, understanding, perspective, differences that are surpassed by similarities. Creating an ambiance that is able to get the audience in a certain emotional and mental space. Music shrinks the world. Mostly I perform solo however I also collaborate with Anna Mudeka as Sisters In Mbira duo. As you know is very fluid and I do not like the boxing of music and especially the out music is called world music. In that my rich repertoire allows me to collaborate and perform in different ensembles.
OUTSIDELEFT: Are you working on any material for maybe an album or other releases? Working with any other artists? Do you mainly write your own material or draw directly from mbira's rich heritage...
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: I am working on a single and a few confirmed collaborations the first to be performed on the 7th of February with 3 other talents beautiful female musicians. I am excited. This is a collaborative project organised by Ideas of Noise and Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham. My music draws directly from mbiras rich heritage for now.
OUTSIDELEFT: Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham (CSB), is a significant organization here that you are part of?
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: I work part-time at Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham (CSB), I love this job as it does not feel like I’m working as it, encompasses everything do and love. CSB works through the arts to celebrate and raise awareness of the contributions that refugees make to Birmingham and more widely the UK. Its mission is to empower local artists in exile though various events. CSB helps celebrate and support refugee talent. This affords a reflection on the diversity of Birmingham as a city and in supporting the professional development of artists we're affirming the message that sanctuary is a human right.
Later this week, more from our interview as Millicent discusses political consciousness and music and later... Style, and her favorite records too!
Millicent Chapanda Week is coming to OUTSIDELEFT
MILLICENT CHAPANDA WEEK: My Music, My Life
MILLICENT CHAPANDA WEEK: Mbira Music Starts Here
MILLICENT CHAPANDA WEEK: You Can Hear What I Hear
Outsideleft Night Out with Millicent and Germa