Zim musician wins top vocal competition

HARARE - Highly-rated Zimbabwean singer and instrumentalist, Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa, came second out of 21 contestants from all over the world who took part in this year’s edition of the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition hosted by the University of Kentucky last week.

For coming second in the vocal contest, the largest singing competition of its kind in the world, Tawengwa won $8 000, tuition waiver and graduate assistantship at the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Centre for the Arts.

Tawengwa, who plays the cello and mbira, told the Daily News that she participated in the competition so as to enable her to pursue a Master of Music degree in Voice.

“I was invited to compete for the scholarship and cash prizes. I came second in the graduate category and that entitles me to a stipend, full tuition, a graduate assistantship and a cash prize,” she said.

Tawengwa was quick to point out that her success in America would not dilute her identity as a Zimbabwean artiste.

“I am a proud Zimbabwean singer and composer based in Philadelphia. My productions have been staged in New York and I have collaborated with other successful Zimbabwean artists such as actor-playwright Danai Gurira, musician-producer Tendai “Baba” Maraire of Chimurenga Renaissance and Shabazz Palaces and acclaimed visual artist Nontsikelelo Mutiti.

“Currently, I am a touring, featured soloist in the American Spiritual Ensemble, whose mission is to preserve the Negro spiritual,” said Tawengwa.

The talented artiste, who is a former student of the legendary Princeton University, has made a name for herself on the American arts scene.

Late last year, Africa My Beautiful — a musical she co-created with award-winning South African musician Thuli Dumakude, was a major success on the prestigious Broadway.

In 2014 Tawengwa, who called the late mbira queen Chiwoniso Maraire her mentor, held a well-attended memorial concert for Chiwoniso in New York where she shared the stage with US-based saxophonist and vocalist Max Wild.

The rising musician, who plays a unique brand of Afro-jazz gospel fusion, began singing at the age of four before joining a church choir a year later.

“Every time there was a family function, all my uncles would ask me to sing and throw money at me,” she told the Daily News a couple of years ago.

With family and friends encouraging her to make the most of her singing talent, Tanyaradzwa started piano lessons at Dominican Convent School at the age of nine before graduating to the cello three years later.

At the time music was not Tawengwa’s career choice.

“When I was much younger, I just really loved singing, but I was really good at other things too.  I was really smart in school and I really loved sciences. I did maths, physics and chemistry at “A” Level.  I thought I would sing a little, and eventually become a doctor.

“It was only when I went to the US that I realised that music could be a viable profession.

“Since I have come back and produced my CD here, I realised that Zimbabwe was definitely an option to do good things. I look at Aunty Pru (Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana) and all she has done and I really admire that,” she said then.

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