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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Finally this hour, music that spans continents. The singer who goes by her first name, Chiwoniso, is a rising star in Zimbabwe. She was born in the United States. But when she was 15, she moved to Africa. Chiwoniso's new CD called "Rebel Woman" shows off that mixed cultural background. And our reviewer, Banning Eyre, says it's one of the year's best African releases.

(Soundbite of song by Chiwoniso)

BANNING EYRE: Chiwoniso grew up to a soundtrack of Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, and even Mozart. But her ethnomusicologist father made sure the songs of their forebearers, Zimbabwe's Shona ethnic majority, were also in the mix. As her own talent emerged, Chiwoniso chose to make African music her focus. But when she unleashes her fabulous voice on a Shona melody today, she brings an assertiveness and style that no other female singer in Zimbabwe can match.

(Soundbite of song by Chiwoniso)

EYRE: The iron-pronged mbira heard in all of these songs is believed to call the spirits of ancestors in Shona religion. It's the sort of unique element that has long distinguished Zimbabwe's popular music. What distinguishes Chiwoniso is her confidence in borrowing from other genres, especially American ones. Listen to the pumping, jazzy brass work and vocal scatting on this song "Gomo."

(Soundbite of song "Gomo")

EYRE: Chiwoniso's confidence extends to her lyrics as well. She experienced Zimbabwe's recent economic and political decline up close. On "Rebel Woman," she stands up for children, the poor, and a common sense approach to development. She once sang in support of Zimbabwe's controversial land redistribution policy, and she still backs its ideals today. But in the song "Kurima," Chiwoniso laments that the seized land was given to political cronies rather than farmers. Understated, but deeply felt, "Kurima" gets to the heart of things, both thematically and musically.

(Soundbite of song "Kurima")

CHIWONISO: (Singing) Kurima, kurima, kurima...

EYRE: For all the cross-cultural currents in her music, Chiwoniso maintains a distinctly personal style and outlook. And "Rebel Woman" establishes her as one of the most compelling young voices in today's African music.

(Soundbite of song by Chiwoniso)

BLOCK: Banning Eyre is senior editor at afropop.org. He reviewed the album "Rebel Woman" by Zimbabwean singer Chiwoniso. You can hear her song "Kurima" at nprmusic.org.

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