African-American R&B has been an influence all over the African continent. From Miriam Makeba in South Africa to the late Fela Kuti in Nigeria, the popular artists of Black Africa have found a variety of ways to incorporate R&B elements. And up in Arabic North Africa, young artists from Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco have found funk rhythms useful. R&B and Zimbabwean pop are a powerful combination on Ancient Voices, the first solo album by female singer Chiwoniso Maraire. The expressive vocalist, who goes by her first name professionally, is hardly the only artist who has combined Southern African elements with R&B. But unlike other contributors to Zimbabwe's pop scene, Chiwoniso wasn't born in Zimbabwe -- she was born in Olympia, WA and lived in the U.S. until she was 15. So, Ancient Voices isn't just R&B-tinged -- it's R&B-drenched -- and Chiwoniso's sweetly girlish phrasing makes the listener think of Deniece Williams, Minnie Riperton, and Gwen Dickey (of Rose Royce fame). But Chiwoniso (who sings in English most of the time on this CD) has obviously mastered the rhythms of Southern Africa; in fact, Ancient Voices illustrates her proficiency with the mbira, one of Africa's various thumb pianos. African pop and R&B aren't her only influences; Chiwoniso also incorporates everything from blues to reggae and Afro-Caribbean music on this uplifting and consistently rewarding CD.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson