Refreshing Zim Sounds: Sunni Chi comes home with ‘Midzi’ EP


HARARE – It was a befitting homecoming for America-based mbira songstress Sunni Chi as she launched her much awaited debut EP titled 'Midzi' on 7 December at Alliance Francaise in Harare.

Sunni Chi
Sunni Chi

The Dominican Convent alumni and Dartmouth undergrad gathered fellow alumni, Dominican Convent students, media, diplomats, Dartmouth classmates, friends and family alike to deliver a polished performance that had the crowd wondering if she were a reincarnation of the legendary Chiwoniso Maraire. 

The EP was two years in the making, and the journey started at Dartmouth College where Sunni Chi, full name Tanaka Samantha Chikati, is majoring in Music. 

Regardless, for the production of the EP, the songstress came back home and roped in superstar producer Rayo Beats for the three track EP. 

Perfect choice. Rayo Beats' golden touch is evident on Midzi EP, a masterpiece of melody that weaves together powerful lyrics and a soulful, unique combination of mbira, ngoma, marimba, hosho and guitar. No other producer (in the world) could've done it better. 

Such brilliance can never be a one-person effort. While Sunni Chi doubles as vocalist and mbira, JD and Melanie are right next to her playing mbira. Melanie also does the backing vocals, alongside Amelia. The enchanting ngoma drum is played by Waheed Adam. The guitars are strummed by Maestro on lead and Dumi on bass. Kaia completes the team on hosho. Together, they form Hanga naBonga Band.

Hanga naBonga Band
from left - Kaia, JD, Sunni Chi, Melanie, Waheed & Amelia

The intro to the EP is titled 'Hanga naBonga', taken from the band name. Here, Sunni Chi pays homage to her parents, The Chikati's, who nurtured her into the woman she has become. Her angelic voice is accompanied by a combination of scintillating mbira, stirring hosho, and thundering drums that inadvertently force one to close their eyes,  look up to the sky, and just sing along.

The second song, and lead single of the EP is titled 'Unonzani', meaning "Who are you?" in ChiShona. The song is inspired by Sunni Chi's late grandfather's anecdotes that encouraged people to unearth their true essence by asking themselves— unonzani? unobvepi? unoereyi?

The song is a mirror to Sunni Chi's own experiences as someone living outside her native country. Unonzani is a fervent call for all of us to remain rooted in who we are, as defined by those who came before us. 

The EP concludes with a party track aptly titled 'keDezember'. It's been a long year, we've spent so much time apart, and it's now time to come together and celebrate—thats 'keDezember'. You can still hear the mbira, but the song is more upbeat, and a quick and the drums are coming in fast. This is sure to be a good party track for years to come. 

For her performance of 'keDezember', Sunni Chi brought KITH to the stage, the feature artist who is also her 'bamunini'. For someone who didn't really look the part, he delivered a spirited rap performance that left the crowd on their feet, begging for an encore.  

Sticking to the theme of her EP, Sunni Chi wore three different elegant African outfits for the duration of the show, courtesy of experienced seamstress Mai Zuze. 

The crowd got beyond their money's worth as they got to witness a variety of acts grace the stage for Sunni Chi's big night. 

MC for the night, Godfrey Kadzere, did a splendid job, delivering witty punchlines and keeping the audience engaged for the whole show. 

Godfrey Kadzere
MC Godfrey Kadzere

Award-winning Afro-fusion artist Mary Anibal also took to the stage to support her fellow 'Gwenyambira'. Mary proved she is no stranger to the spotlight with her captivating performance that got her a well deserved standing ovation from the crowd. 

Mary Anibal
Mary Anibal

Media personality Nicole Jamu gave the crowd an inspirational 'interlude'. The Classic263 presenter chronicled her journey from her humble beginnings as a news anchor at YaFM to where she finds herself now—booked and busy.  

Nicole Jamu
Nicole Jamu

Backing vocalist and Lower 6 student Melanie took the mic for her own solo performance that confirmed it; she has a blindingly bright future in music.  

In the end, Sunni Chi's mother was almost at a loss of words that all she could do was ask the crowd to sing Catholic hymn 'Handigone Kukutendai' before delivering her appreciation speech. 

When she finally gathered a few words for the crowd, she extended her heartfelt gratitude to the Chikati family for coming together and making it an unforgettable night for everyone. 

Sunni Chi family and friendsfrom left - Mr. Chikati (Hanga), Mrs. Chikati (Bonga) & Waheed

She also thanked the Dominican Convent Group of Schools for the work they've been doing to identify and develop musical talent. 

"What you saw today is because of what Tanaka got from Dominican Convent. All the talent you saw today, the likes of Melanie, they're products of Dominican Convent. As you can see, there's a lot of talent identification and they make sure that our girls realise their potential," she said. 

Faith Charumbira, a Form 2 at Domican Convent, formed part of the marimba band that got a chance to be the curtain raisers for the event. 

She had this to say, "To Sunni Chi, I'd like to say thank you so much for everything. Not just for choosing us to perform at the launch but also for being so encouraging no matter what. She is an inspiration to all of us and we'll forever be grateful for the times we spent together.

I feel like it was an honor to be given the chance to perform. It was exciting to perform on a stage outside of the school yard, somewhere different. And it also just felt great to be asked to bring forth our talents to add on to such an amazing event."

Traditional music teacher at Dominican Convent, Mr Richard Matimba, also formed part of Hanga naBonga Band on the night, playing marimba. Most will remember him as 'Uncle Richie' of the 'Unoshaya kuti zviri kumbofamba sei' skits of the mid 2010's. 

Uncle Richi Sunni Chi
from left - SunniChi, Uncle Richie (Richard Matimba) & Amelia

History will remember him, though, as the man who discovered and honed Tanaka Chikati from her Dominican Convent days into the Sunni Chi she is today. 

"When I met Tanaka, she was very young, but talented and disciplined. This was in 2010, her marimba group was the second group I trained. After doing some auditions, I came up with a group of seven girls(including Tanaka)," Matimba reminisced. 

The prodigies soon became masters in their own right, winning competitions and taking honours until Tanaka finished high school.

He continued, "After training for about a year they started performing miracles. We went to many competitions and they did so well, they even got their Honours at first attempt. It's good to see Tanaka has stayed on that path she started at Dominican Convent."

Matimba spoke highly of marimba, an instrument native to Zimbabwe, and how it forms a core part of our heritage as a people. 

"The first thing that comes to your mind after hearing 'marimba' is always Zimbabwe, not any other country. Marimba are a symbol of our culture. When we play marimba, it shows where we come from and it shows our excellence as a people," he said.

Matimba and his students have received adulation all over the world for playing marimba. 

He concluded, "We've toured the world several times playing Zimbabwean instruments and everyone is always amazed because they themselves cannot play it, because it's our (Zimbabweans) instrument."

Whether it was the nostalgia that comes from living away from one's homeland, or Mr Matimba's lessons, or a distillation of Sekuru Chikati's wisdom, what Sunni Chi has done on Midzi EP is nothing short of remarkable. 

It's even more remarkable how someone raised in spaces that generally look down on Zimbabwean tradition delivered a project so in touch with our authentic, pre-colonial identity. 

We can go back in time right now and play 'Unonzani' to Changamire Dombo of the Rozvi Empire and the monarch would probably shed a tear of joy. 

Midzi EP is the soundtrack to our conscious awakening as Zimbabweans. It serves as a powerful reminder of who we are, urging us to hold onto our identities and heritage, amidst the unstoppable influence of globalisation through the internet. 

Sunni Chi Midzi EP
Midzi EP out on all platforms now

With her undeniable talent and infectious sound, Sunni Chi has the potential to become Zimbabwe's next mbira superstar. Perhaps the Stella Chiweshe or Chiwoniso Maraire of our generation. 

From playing marimba at Dominican Convent to a powerful debut EP, the journey has been long for Sunni Chi. 

As for the crowd at Alliance Franchaise on 7 December, though, they witnessed just the beginning. Using her voice and her mbira, Sunni Chi will awake minds, shape discourse and alter the course of history. 

Listen to the Midzi EP, available on Spotify. You can also watch the lyric video for lead single Unonzani here.  

Post a Comment