Perhaps one of the most important American musicians of the past 30 years is Michael Franti, formerly of the Beatnigs, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, the wonderful Spearhead, and most recently a solo artist. After meeting someone who felt the same way at a rooftop party in Long Beach, CA, I almost fell through the skylight while enthusing about the beauty and sadness of Michael Franti’s Music and Politics. They are inseparable. And so too with Millicent Chapanda, her music, life and politics are endlessly entwined...
OUTSIDELEFT: Can you talk about or mention some of the musicians you admire? Are there mbira players/combos our readers should check out on Spotify... Wherever..?
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: I admire Mbuya Stella Chiweshe who has earned herself the title of Mbira Queen. Mbuya Chiweshe and the late Mbuya Beulah Dyoko, started playing mbira and popularised mbira female players during a time when female musicians were viewed of loose morals (even to date it is not a favourable career for women compared to male counterparts) and the playing of mbira was considered to be uncivilised or demonised. There are a lot of unsung heroines Patience Chaitezvi, Mbuya Nyati, Irene Chigamba. Of the younger generation, I’m inspired by the late Chiwoniso Maraire, Anna Mudeka and Hope Masike. The late Chartwell Dutiro was a maestro mbira player who popularised mbira and its fusion with Thomas Mapfumo. Chartwell Dutiro was a singer songwriter, lecturer and author and who toured the world over. He demystified the mbira and made it acceptable among other western instruments. The late Oliver Mtukudzi who had 66 albums had his own signature music called Tuku music and believed that one can make a living through what you love. As he always said, “music gives hope and healing to the broken hearted”.
OUTSIDELEFT: Can you help us all by perhaps suggesting 5 great Mbira albums we should check out?
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: There are so many great recordings, but your readers could begin with these:
Talking Mbira by Mbuya Stella Chiweshe
Chivaraidze by the late Dr Chartwell Dutiro
Shona Spirit by the late Dumisani Maraire & Ephat Mujuru
Shona Ritual music by Mbuya Nyathi
Rebel Woman By Chiwoniso Maraire
OUTSIDELEFT: Your politics are, it seems, intertwined totally with your life and work. And also, you are keeping a culture alive, I suspect. Is that a weird thing for you ever? Do you ever wonder, well so often, African musicians, maybe all black musicians, maybe all working class musicians if they raise their profile, they are expected to be role models and voices for their community. Unless they actually are voices for their community, then the pressure it to simply shut up and be an entertainer... Do you ever just want to simply be an entertainer!
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: I am an edutainer-musician although we are not aligned to any political groups/affiliations. We are the voice of the people. We play and talk about what is happening - broadcasters’ teachers motivators, educators through metaphor - sending that message. As a result, you may be forced to sound political intentionally or unintentionally...
A good example is Chimurenga music by Thomas Mapfumo. I do not see myself as just an entertainer, More perhaps and champion for women musicians more so from Zimbabwe, from other countries where women are marginalised.
It is everyone’s responsibility to keep their culture alive in whatever way they can be it storytelling, food, dress, in song... The list is endless. I believe this must be done with pride, and unapologetically. Using the medium of music is a universal language. In my opinion if one has no culture to lean on, people can find themselves without an identity especially in a multicultural country like the UK.
It is heart-breaking some Zimbabweans in the diaspora and back home eschew culture and tradition with much disdain, and disassociate from their traditional culture through educational indoctrination. We have been westernised. Not sure who said this famous quote, “To colonize a people’s mind, you must first demonize their culture then their traditions…”
OUTSIDELEFT: Zimbabwe seems from the news headlines to be verging on disaster. Is that something you can talk about? What do you feel optimistic about?
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: Yes, Zimbabwe is constantly on the news and unfortunately most of the time it is the BBC that reports from their own propaganda viewpoint and the message they want to portray of Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole, sometimes negating the real truth and how Zimbabwe got to where it is today. I am not saying things are not bad... No they really are bad. But lest we forget Zimbabwe is a very young country of 39 and only got independence in 1980 from the British settlers/colonisers. As a Zimbabwean, because you don’t have to be in Zimbabwe to feel the pain – as they adage goes, you take me out of Africa but you cannot take Africa out of me
As a musician I do what I can on different platforms to raise awareness of some of the situations that require help and of the misconceptions and problems that there are. It’s true that like any country, Zimbabwe has had its own shortcomings, but they are not helped by the propaganda put out by the media.
OUTSIDELEFT: Feminism is an important part of your work. Can you see whether there is a tangible generational improvement in equality, or as a society we have negligently allowed a drift backwards to occur... It's horrific and it's sad that women are not free or safe to walk alone in the UK at night.
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: We preach or fly flags about equal rights, but there is no country or place that can say women have 100% of the privileges of men. Maybe until men can give back. Some developed countries are slowly changing their ways and women are becoming less oppressed.
OUTSIDELEFT: Some of the OUTSIDELEFT readers I know personally take great interest in fabric design and style, I told them I would ask, if I wanted to dress like you how would I go about it?
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: Wow! My style is just personal I guess. I love to dress in something comfortable to play, move and dance, most importantly with much dignity as the sacred mbira music commands, and also to bring out my identity and individualism. My dressmaker lives in Walsall and she is always up for any challenge when I come up with in various styles. I love colour and I think mbira music embodies that in the different emotions with which it affects its audience and participants. I get my fabrics as presents from friends and family, and sometimes I buy at various African fabric shops in Brixton. I've found things in festival stalls too, so there is not a specific place. I always keep a lookout for anything that catches my eye.
OUTSIDELEFT: A new decade is getting underway and it’s a time for looking forwards and for looking back. So, first of all, do you have any career highpoint so far you might care to mention...
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: Yes! performing solo at Moseley Folk festival and Shambala, Sankofa stage was the highlight of the year, reaching new audiences and exposure on my part.
OUTSIDELEFT: And 2020. What are you looking forward to?
MILLICENT CHAPANDA: I look forward to the growth of my music through old and new collaborations, playing in new venues, and bigger venues, and festivals, and building networks and growing audiences and listenership.
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