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Phillippa Yaa de Villiers

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A star has fallen.

The sky is a little darker without the light and life of Chiwoniso Maraire, one of Africa’s outstanding artists, mbira maestro, songstress, griot, poet, visionary. Chiwoniso died before even reaching 40.

I fell in love with her music and her voice long before I was privileged to be included on the bill at Poetry Africa in 2007. There she was performing with Chirikure Chirikure and Comrade Fatso and I was mesmerised. I swopped a copy of Taller than buildings with her and took home a copy of Timeless and just put it on repeat. In 2009 I was lucky enough to be billed at the Berlin Poesiefestival, and this poem came out of a night of ecstatic dancing with a buoyant public that included Keorapetse Kgositsile, Kgafela wa Magogodi, Isabel Ferrin-Aguirre, Flora Veit-Wild and countless other souls who drank of the nectar of her music. May her legacy live on in those who were influenced by her. I wish that all the broken-hearted people are healed by the strength and beauty of her work.

Stolen rivers
For Chiwoniso Maraire

We Africans came to Berlin to sing
and recite poetry. We had an agenda:
remembering our anthems of loss,
galloping, consuming,
the pillage, the cries
like forest fires, like haunted children,
how can we, how can we even
begin to redress?
Enraged, we wanted revenge
and then, Chiwoniso, you stepped on the stage and
you opened your mouth and
every stolen river of platinum and gold
poured out of your mouth in song;
your voice etched us out of the night
and doubled the light in each of us.
You restored all the treasure-houses
from Benin to Zimbabwe, Mapungubwe to Cairo;
Africa moved its golden bones,
shook off its heavy chains
and danced again.
That night I thought
if only
love could purchase bread,
Africans would not be hungry.

Chiwoniso Maraire


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    July 25th, 2013 @10:55 #

    Thanks, Phillippa. I didn't know that Chiwoniso had passed. It's so very tragic.

    She performed at a festival I helped organise in 2004. To this day, I'm haunted by her music - especially her collaboration with Chirikure Chirikure. I'll never forget their rendition of his poem, "Yes Yes". Here they are performing it:

    Here's the poem:


  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Henrietta</a>
    July 25th, 2013 @12:13 #

    That's extremely sad. I remember seeing her Stolen Rivers - very beautiful.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    July 26th, 2013 @20:56 #

    Phillippa, as you know, I loved your poem about her performance so much I put it into an anthology. Thanks to Google, I was able to find out more about Chiwoniso. Then I saw Shailja Patel's searing eulogy to her on Facebook and thought "No, she can't be dead -- she's too young." May her music and your words last.


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