The poet and performer Chirikure Chirikure was born in Gutu, Zimbabwe in 1962. He studied history, Shona (the national language) and religious studies at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. He was employed for seventeen years as an editor at a major publishing house. Involved with poetry readings and performances since his adolescence, the author is among the most prominent representatives of the literary scene in Zimbabwe.
Chirikure’s work belongs to the oral tradition in Shona literature, which was a vehicle to express oppositional ideas during the colonial era. After achieving independence in 1980, songs were often written in the Shona tradition, praising the struggle for freedom and the new régime. In contrast, Chirikure adopted a critical position and a satirical tone. As he writes in the foreword to his first collection of poems, »Rukuvhute« (1989; tr: The umbilical cord), he understands his verse as a means to »acknowledge society’s cracks in order to prevent our dream crumbling«. Through highly symbolic imagery, as simple as it is haunting, Chirikure evokes the collective cultural tradition using syntactical and lexical repetition, ideophones and alliteration. At the same time he denounces – in a range of tones from taunting to enraged – abuse of power and selfishness, attesting to the importance of community. The title poem of his second volume, »Chamupupuri« (1994; tr: The whirlwind), alludes to Africa’s postcolonial distress, to that storm which grew out of the »wind of change« after the liberation of the continent. In his third volume, »Hakurarwi – We Shall Not Sleep« (1998), Chirikure brusquely calls on his countrymen not to yield to the overwhelming pressure of the régime.
Chirikure often performs his poetry to the accompaniment of the Mbira (kalimba), the traditional Shona instrument. Since his earliest performances, he has worked alongside different musicians. He regulary performs with musicians like Chiwoniso Maraire or Okay Machisa.The ensemble DeteMbira, which he co-founded, released the album »Napukeni« (tr: The napkin) in 2002. He is working on a series of cartoons based on the traditional motives of Shona children’s stories and has also published children’s books, educational materials and plays, presented a radio show focusing on young Shona writers and ran newspaper columns.
Chirikure received an honourable mention from the Noma Award committee for his first collection of poems. His third collection was chosen as one of the 75 best Zimbabwean and one of the five best Shona books of the twentieth century. All of his collections of poems have been given first prize in the annual Zimbabwean Writer of the Year Awards. An honorary fellow of the University of Iowa, USA, Chirikure lives in Harare and is currently a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program.
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