Chaka Zinyemba’s family has long had connections with Canada. His parents lived in the famously-cold North American country in the 80s, and his four sisters live, work, and study there. So moving to Canada after his A Levels was almost a given for the young Zimbabwean. Now an artist and musician currently living in Edminton, Chaka draws on his Zimbabwean roots and family as, for inspiration for his work.
“IT WAS A NATURAL PROGRESSION”
Life in Zimbabwe was good for Chaka. The only boy in a family of five children, he was the Headboy at St.George’s College in 2007. “I’m a Georgian through and through”, he says, having donned the red blazer since his primary school days at St. Michael’s. It was at high school that Chaka first got interested in art. He took it up as a subject at O Level, and although he didn’t take it further than this, his love for art continued, even after he left school. As grateful as he was for all that St. George’s, and Zimbabwe, had taught him, Chaka wanted a change of scenery. “I was looking for something new, a new environment to start afresh.” So it was off to the University of Alberta, where he graduated with a BA in Human Geography and Music.
“I SAW AN OPPORTUNITY, AND I GRABBED IT”
Chaka learnt how to play the mbira during the gap between the end of his A Levels, and the move to Canada. However, it was only when he went to Canada that he started taking mbira seriously. He has his new city to thank. Thanks to an oil boom, Edmonton is becoming an economic and cultural hub, and Chaka wanted in on the action. “If you have an idea, chances are you are the only one having that idea.” With his art and his mbira skills, Chaka fit right into the Canadian city’s art life, but he does also work with Zimbabwean artists. He’s just produced a CD with the help of two people: his cousin Free (“zvese zvese anobata!”), and Peter Muparutsa (“he’s a mdara”). Recorded at Shed Studios, the production was really a cross-Atlantic effort: Muparutsa worked together with a Canadian producer to produce the album. Recorded in Zimbabwe, and sold in Edmonton, Chaka was able to successfully the two communities he knows and loves to create his own distinctive sound.
Even though he studied human geography and music at university, Chaka never forgot about his art. Eight years after he dropped Art, he picked it up again, with his fiancée’s (now wife) encouragement. “From the time I was born, I’ve been surrounded by women.” This female presence extends to his artwork. Dominated by strong, colourful portraits of different women, Chaka’s learnt to find his own style of painting, choosing not to get any formal training. “As much as I respect institutions,” Chaka explains, “the fact that I’m not formally trained gives me more freedom.” Having produced and sold several paintings, Chaka’s making a name for himself, and he hopes one day to come back home and show Zimbabwe how far he’s come. “It’s always great to go back home and show ‘hey, this is what I’ve learnt and developed’.”
“I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT EVERYTHING I DO”
Hardworking and resolute, Chaka’s drive and creativity mirrors the efforts of many Zimbabweans living abroad. “MaZimbo, takawanda!” He says, laughing at how even in Edmonton, there is a small but growing Zimbabwean community. He’s glad that he can contribute to his country in any way he can, whether it be his with music, a paintbrush, or his geographic skills. “We can tell our own story. We have the tools and technology at our fingertips to create our own narrative.” So Chaka sits, thinks, and he creates.
Facebook Page: Chaka ne Mbira
Twitter: Chaka Zinyemba @Chakanembira