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Music

Strumming to Fame

Tariro Negitare, Zimbabwean singer Nairobi
Tariro Negitare, Zimbabwean singer Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Zimbabwean singer, songwriter and guitarist Tariro Negitare performed her first show in Nairobi during the Women In Music concert series at the Goethe Institute in Nairobi last Wednesday.

“I am privileged to be on this platform that provides an exciting opportunity for women from around Africa to showcase their skills,” said Tariro of the monthly event.

Tariro charmed the packed Goethe auditorium with her acoustic guitar and soaring vocals on a selection of songs from her two albums: her self-titled album released in 2013 and the follow up “Chipo Changu (‘my gift’ in Shona) of 2016.

“I recorded the first album only because I was going on tour and had not put out any music but by the second album I had understood that my music was a gift, hence the title,” she says. Tariro is Shona for 'hope' while Negitare means 'with the guitar'. “I thought: ‘how do I distinguish myself from every other Tariro which is a popular name in Zimbabwe. Every time people would see me they would say ‘there goes Tariro with her guitar’ and the name stuck,” she explains.

The self-confessed ‘fun loving adrenalin junkie’ was born in Harare in a family of five. Her main inspiration came from 1990s neo soul star Lauryn Hill and when her music teacher in high school offered guitar lessons for 10 students, Tariro quickly signed up.

“I picked up the guitar because my brother played the instrument at home, and I enjoyed strumming it but I never once thought that it would end up with me playing professionally,” she says.

Her big break came almost a decade ago when she played guitar at the first anniversary of the Sisters Open Mic event in Harare.

Among the stars in attendance was popular Zimbabwean bassist Edith Weutonga who invited Tariro to join her band.

“I was like ‘yeah, sure.’ Look where I am a few years later.”

She has the legendary Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi to thank for mentoring her. “The first time he saw me, I was still playing in Edith’s band and he said ‘well done, but next time, remember to tune your guitar.’” “Since that day he has literally taken me under his wing and has been a father figure for me and other artists in Zimbabwe.”

As time went on she fell in love with the acoustic sound and branched out on her own through an event called the Acoustic Night, which allowed the audience to enjoy the music in an intimate set up.

“Music is a way of story telling and I love telling stories because that’s how I wrote some of my songs,’’ she says. “I would love to sing purely in Shona but I also want those who don’t understand the language to be involved in the process of enjoying the music and the message that I am expressing,” she explains. Her music is categorised variously as Afro Soul or Afro Jazz, but she says, the style of music reflects her emotions at a given time.

“One day I feel like reggae, another day its salsa, or Soul. Musicians are a mixed bag just like life itself and the idea is to get people to identify with a part of who I am and hopefully that will edify them,’’ she says.

She channels her own experiences, the joys and setbacks of life into her music. “Uripi” is a song she wrote just after her divorce and in the lyrics, a woman asks her husband: ‘it is midnight, where are you? You are supposed to be here with me” It was one of the songs that established Tariro as a solo star in Zimbabwe because, according to her, many women could relate to that situation that she sang about.

Rap was a big part of her childhood and she wanted to express that in her music so she drops a few rhymes in “Uripi” and the gospel flavoured “Zuva Nezuva.”

This visit to Nairobi may have been brief but there was an opportunity for Tariro to sample a flavour of the different musical vibes in the city. On Tuesday night she had a night out watching Edward Parseen and the Different Faces band playing at a venue in the city.

“Parseen called me up on the stage and we jammed together. Later I also watched a rumba band at another spot. The love and passion for music is something I am taking back to Harare.”

The new political dispensation in Zimbabwe has provided a ‘blank canvas’ for comedians, musicians, to tell the story of what their country is really all about. “I am very excited because after a long struggle, it is just good to have some form of change,” says Tariro.

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