Stella Chiweshe does not command the same level of respect as Thomas Mapfumo to the world outside of Zimbabwe. The outspoken artist, however, is still a legend in her home country. Kasahwa: Early Singles is her first release in over a decade and contains 8 tracks, made between 1974 and 1983, all previously unreleased outside of Africa.
This is an exciting release for anyone who follows Zimbabwean music; Stella was a serious force to be taken seriously. She became the starlet of mbira and an unlikely one at that. It was no easy feat being a female and a musician in the terribly brutal and backward British colony of Rhodesia. But Stella did, and by the 1980s, she was a household name and a symbol for women’s rights in the new country of Zimbabwe.
This is a collection of important and relevant songs, especially today. They move very smoothly between each other. Stella’s delicate touch on her 28-keyed mbira instrument leads her powerful voice through most of the album, creating a minimal sound that carries as much emotion as many other albums that contain far more noise and production.
However, from an artist who can produce so much emotion, we only really get a taste of Stella’s voice at its feeling-full best on the final track, with a stretch of note that portrays all the struggles of her country and life at the time. The song is called “Nhemamusasa / Cutting branches for a temporal home” and is under three minutes long. But, it contains enough raw feeling to make the opening sound of Stella’s voice last for a lifetime.
The rawness of these early releases is undoubtedly one of the most redeeming features about this album; it is a simple sound that resonates with you for a long time. Is it a collection of the best work Stella Chiweshe has ever made? Probably not. And is it a comeback for the sleeping giant? Again, probably not. But, it is certainly an album of significance to Zimbabwean musical history and certainly has a place in everyone’s record collection.