The Sunday Mail
“THERE was something that kept telling me it was the last conversation. It was strange, I had so many tears and it prolonged the sadness.” This is how Chengeto Brown describes how she felt six years ago on the eve of her mother’s death.
The death of Chiwoniso Maraire, a gifted mbira maestro, is still etched in her daughter’s mind. Chiwoniso, queen in her own genre, died on the 24th of July, 2013, at the age of 37.
The songstress was privileged to have played for diverse audiences, from those in the remote parts of Zimbabwe to those in plush world capitals.
On the fateful day, Chengeto says she vividly remembers her aunt Tawona calling her around midday on top of her voice.
“Before she could say any thing, I knew
something was wrong.
I dashed without knowing where I was going,” she recalled.
The news of her mother’s death only dawned on her after half an hour.
“It was hard to accept because I had lost my father (Andy Brown) a year before. This now meant I had to play the sister’s keeper to my sibling Chiedza, that was a huge task for me at that time,” narrated the young musician.
Chiwoniso shared a strong bond with her children. Their healthy relationship was built on a foundation of friendship.
Chengeto remembers how she longed for her mother’s love and guidance following her death.
“It was really hard at first. Losing my mother is the scariest thing I have gone through, she was supposed to guide us through life,” she revealed with great sorrow written all over her face.
Chengeto remembers how her mother’s family and friends helped her cope with the loss.
However, she regrets not having been in her mother’s life for the last two years of her life.
Amongst Chiwoniso’s friends who stood by Chengeto is Chido Musasiwa, her best friend. She became more like her family.
Said Musasiwa: “Chi and l met long back at some event when we were in our teens. We automatically clicked and experienced life’s ups and downs together. With time, our families also became close as we graduated into adulthood, marriage, parenthood and even divorce together.”
And Chengeto appreciates the support she got from the people who cared for her mother.
“It is good that I came home afterwards and got to be around all the people that were around my mother. I got to know her more, although she was no longer there physically.
“But l was angry because she died when I was still very young. She left me with a young sister who looked up to me for guidance. I frequently asked myself if I was ready for that.”
As a result, the sisters – Chengeto and Chiedza – became very close.
“We would often communicate through body language and facial expressions without anyone else getting it,” she narrated with teary eyes.
Chengeto recalls their shared grief at their mother’s funeral, including the 10-minute hug they had without uttering a single word as emotions tore their hearts apart.
But as fate would have it, Chiedza commited suicide two years later.
She was based in the USA, where she lived with their aunt Tawona.
Chengeto feels her sister left with a part of her.
“When I think of her, everything that occurred and how it all happened, I have bitter sweet memories. She was all I had but in way I’m happy that Chiedza, mom and dad are all together now.”
Before Chiedza’s death, the Brown siblings were planning to relocate to Cape Town, South Africa.
“I was broken, it was the darkest moment of my life because I never saw it coming. I even quit my job and went away for two years to self-introspect.
“I travelled to so many places and it helped me rediscover the beauty of life because I had completely lost it,” said the mother-of-one.
Tribute to Chiwoniso
Chiwoniso Mararire was an icon who was recognised more internationally than by her own people, a trend that followed her even in death.
The mbira music sensation had three internationally acclaimed albums – “Ancient Voices”, “Timeless” and “Rebel Woman”.
She had five international accolades, with only two local awards received posthumously.
Chengeto revealed that a special tribute to honour her mother is in the pipeline.
“I want to celebrate my mom, the artiste, the gwenyambira, activist and social rights worker. For long, I have pondered on the idea and feel that a tribute for Chiwoniso has to be done right. I need to be spiritually ready and well-resourced,” she said.
Chengeto’s wish is to capture the traditional, international and spiritual aspects of her mother’s music.
Although she was away at the time of her mother’s death, Chengeto revealed that at that time, her mother’s spirituality had reached an intense level.
Chengeto wants Chiwoniso’s tribute to reflect that spiritually.
“It will take a lot of time and effort to put it together but that is the idea. However, I do not intend to imitate my mother. I want to be myself, just the way she taught me,” she said.
Chengeto is pursuing hip hop music and plans to merge that with Chiwoniso’s mbira sound.
At the time of her death, Chiwoniso had several unreleased songs. Chengeto is polishing them up and will release them on the night of the tribute concert as a special gift to the audience.
The spiritual mbira queen
Chiwoniso Maraire had a closed casket funeral and her fans, friends and colleagues could not say proper goodbyes.
The casket was not even allowed into her Bluffhill home.
At Chakohwa village, Chimanimani, where her remains were interred, the Maraire family also refused to allow her casket into the house.
Although the family gave several reasons for their actions, sources revealed that because of her spirituality, the family believed that the gwenyambira was possessed by evil spirits.
Even during the course of her life, Chiwoniso’s spirituality saw her being classified as a family outcast.
“My mother was very spiritual. I remember at one show at the book cafe, she picked up her mbira and started playing the song ‘Chaminuka’. She fell into a trance. Chiedza and I were in attendance, we were speechless,” she narrated, noticeably uncomfortable with the subject.
Chengeto feels that her mother’s musical journey was spiritually guided, hence her success at the age of 37.
“When she played her mbira, some people would cry. There was a presence beyond her physical self, I always felt it,” revealed Chengeto.
She added that she believes Chiedza also possessed that spiritual connection and would have fit perfectly in her mother’s musical shoes.
Chengeto revealed that Chiedza was already a phenomenal mbira player at the tender age of 10.
Andy Brown factor
Andy Brown and Chiwoniso Maraire divorced after a few years of marriage and Brown went on to remarry.
The couple was blessed with two daughters – Chengeto and Chiedza.
They had worked together under the band Storm.
In August 2011, the estranged couple shared the stage at the Book Café for a gig dubbed “Hokoyo na Chi”.
That was the only memorable performance the couple had together following their divorce.
In March 2012, Brown took his last breath.
Chengeto revealed that she does not have many memories of her parents together.
“My parents separated when I was young so I do not many have memories of them together. I only remember the day before I went back to the States (USA) alone. I think I was 13. It was awesome, he (Brown) came home, we had a family dinner, chatting and laughing together.
“We did not sleep until the next morning, playing games by the fire. I could tell that my mother was happy and l know that she died loving him.
Chiwoniso’s best friend concurred: “Many people never knew that Chi loved Brown until she died, she never stopped and it was so transparent.”
But that evening, that Chengeto cherishes so much, was the last time for this family to spend time together.
“Sadly, that was the last time I saw him alive,” Chengeto said.
“And the last time we spoke, he was in Sweden. I just helped him sign up for Facebook and we had a chat,” said Chengeto.
When The Sunday Mail Society met Chengeto for the interview, she was clad in a blue dungaree with a cigarette lighter in her hand. Her trademark ginger tinted dreadlocks were dangling on her shoulders.
lndeed, Chengeto is a female version of the late guitarist from Mberengwa. She takes after Brown, who many affectionately called Mzukuru, in so many ways.