Posted in Artist Profiles, Zimbabwe

A Piece of Ebony

A piece of Ebony 1991 Chiwoniso met two young hip-hop artists Herbert Schwamborn and Tony Chihota, and formed Zimbabwe’s first Afro hip-hop group A Peace of Ebony. They recorded an album From the Native Tongue in 1992 in Keith Farquharson’s studio, with Keith contributing much of the music and production.

Herbert began his career as a radio host on Zimbabwean radio (Radio1) while he was still in High School, the radio show “Young Zimbabwe” targeted teen related issues. During his early years in radio Herbert began experimenting with music production and formed one of Zimbabwe’s first Hip-Hop groups “Lethal Language” the group was featured in the USA based magazine The Source. In 1992 Herbert formed the group “A Peace of Ebony” which went on to break radio chart history in Zimbabwe with a song titled “Pretend it never happened”. In 1994, Peace of Ebony won the the Best New Group out of Southern Africa award in the Radio France International Discovery contest. P.O.E’s entry ‘Vadzimu’, a song they composed specifically for the competition, was a potent mixture of the Shona, English and French languages riding over a heavy mbira-laced hip-hop rhythm. Vadzimu appears on the Putumayo ‘African Grooves‘ compilation.

The success with A Piece of Ebony, led her to join Zimbabwe’s leading band, Andy Brown and The Storm. It was at that time that her talents as singer and musician blossomed. The Storm achieved huge success both in Zimbabwe and abroad. They played various concerts in Europe and Africa, including performances at the SADC Music Festival in Zimbabwe in 1995 and The Masa Festival in Ivory Coast, in 1997. At the same time, Chiwoniso continued to write her own music, and performed alongside other artists with the support of The Storm. She also embarked on the 2 year General Certificate in music course with the Zimbabwe College of Music and studied sociology as well. She believes that the artist has to flow with the times, otherwise the public turns away to follow the latest craze. Keeping with that belief, Chiwoniso took up the challenge of learning and playing percussion including the mbira, an African thumb piano indigenous to the Shona people of her country. When Zimbabwean music history will be told, one name is most likely to be mentioned –that of Keith Farquharson. He is the lanky white guy who thumps the piano in Cde Chinx early music videos as Barrel of Peace. He took Chioniso Maraire into the first ever Zim hip-hop group, Peace of Ebony, when she returned to Zimbabwe from the US. The group they formed was a multi-cultural outfit which, for some years, ruled the roost with the song From a Native Tongue.

A Piece of Ebony Music Review

A young man, who later became Zimbabwe’s most celebrated key-board player, songwriter and producer, operated a home studio in one of Harare’s suburbs. Keith Farquharson’s studio, Barrel of Peace, was not sophisticated as other studios but it enabled him to lure other youths that had music in their blood. First to come was Herbert Schwamborn who was introduced to Keith by another great musician, the late Joey Steblecki. Next came Tony Chihota and later Chioniso Maraire who was 16 years at the time such that Keith had to seek permission from her father, the late Dumisani Maraire, for her daughter to come to the studio.

With this grouping, a studio project later named Peace of Ebony was born in 1992 with Keith as the leader of the multi-ethnic cast. The name showed the composition of the group that would later have two Zimbabweans, a German, an American, a Russian and a Malawian. The group was undoubtedly the first to play rap music using mbira and marimba as the basis of their beat. It also defined and refined what is now the internationally recognized African rap music ‘Where local languages are used since their music was in English, Shona and French. Their first recording was the internationally acclaimed album titled From The Native Tongue, a blend of hip-hop dance groves with mbira and marimba that was recorded in South Africa under the Teal Tone’ label.

A top South African producer, Devereux Harris, whose company was heavily involved in the formation and running of the immensely popular Channel 0, made the video for the song From a Native Tongue. Off this album were two immensely popular songs, Don’t Slow It Down and Give It All Up that caused quite a stir especially in South Africa while the title track left a mark in Zimbabwe. Soon after the release and the success of the From A Native Tongue, Phiri and the former Miss Zimbabwe, Karen Stally, joined the group and were involved in the recording of the track “Vadzimu” in 1994 that was written for the Radio France International Discovery Competition. The Zimbabwean group Peace of Ebony shows off a bit of slick rapping and Afro-pop influenced heavily by the Paris scene, and Hardstone reuses a Keith Sweat track as a base for some capable rapping. In 1994, Peace Of Ebony won the the Best New Group out of Southern Africa award in the Radio France International Discovery contest. P.O.E’s entry ‘Vadzimu’, a song they composed specifically for the competition, was a potent mixture of the Shona, English and French languages riding over a heavy mbira-laced hip-hop rhythm. Vadzimu appears on the Putumayo ‘African Grooves‘ compilation.

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