OneBeat 2016: Zvinorema

“… that is why people enjoy performances, because your mind is put at ease. You’re taken on a journey of your own emotions — not the emotions of the singer or instrumentalist, because the singer or instrumentalist is just connecting with what you’ve got in you — so when that happens, you find peace for a while.”

— Kirby Chipembere, OneBeat 2016

“Zvinorema” is a Shona word which connotes hardness, heaviness and burden. Perhaps fittingly, its exact meaning is “difficult” to translate admits Zimbabwean singer and OneBeat 2016 fellow Kirby Chipembere. Searching for a desolate location to record the song while on tour with OneBeat, Kirby settled on the frame of an abandoned structure in Southwest Chicago. A formidable dancer and choreographer in Harare, Kirby performs “Zvinorema” here nearly motionless in this industrial space, singing of a protagonist faced with hardships that “the world doesn’t understand and will never appreciate”.

“Zvinomera” was created as a collaboration with two Brazilian musicians: cellist Felipe Jose and producer/engineer Luisa Puterman. The warm sweeps and swells of Felipe’s trio string arrangement, which feature violinists Elena Moon Park (Brooklyn) and Kyla-Rose Smith (Cape Town), are a dramatic counterpoint to Kirby’s soaring vocals and restless mbira plucks. Luisa’s ambient echoes and warped timbres maintain a ghostly presence, bubbling to the surface during the song’s middle section as the visuals switch to footage shot on the group’s trip across the Southeastern U.S.

Though the mood is inescapably melancholy throughout, the final refrain in “Zvinomera” rings hopeful. Translated, the aphorism roughly reads as: “All that you say shall never be a lie / but it’s hard / just so hard.” It’s a sentiment that’s not worlds apart from the popular Zimbabwean song “Hakuna Zvinorema” (“Nothing Is Impossible”), a cathartic number about overcoming odds. Still, Kirby’s interpretation suggests a more equivocal view of redemption in the face of impossible odds. Perhaps one less concerned with denying them and more determined to acknowledge them fearlessly.

Filmed by Ora DeKornfeld and Souki Mehdaoui