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Photo by Catherine Heising

Mai Chi Nemarundwe Maraire

Zimbabwean musical spirit


Linda Nemarundwe Maraire, better known as Mai Chi, died in her sleep in Portland, Oregon on January 23rd, 1997. She was 44. Musician, teacher, entrepreneur, and mother of five, Mai Chi had led an energetic, joyful, and creative life.

Linda Nemarundwe was born on November 25, 1952 in the Ngundu area of southeastern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. (Mai Chi, the name she preferred, means mother of Chiwoniso, her eldest daughter.) Brought up with her six brothers & sisters by parents who believed strongly in education, Linda attended primary school away from home in Masvingo and later the Luveve Secondary School outside of Bulawayo. In 1975 she married musician Abraham Dumisani (Dumi) Maraire and moved to Seattle, Washington, where he had been teaching and performing Zimbabwean music on marimba and mbira.

Over the next fifteen years Mai Chi brought up their five children, performed with the Maraire Marimba Ensemble, and earned a Bachelors degree from Antioch University in Early Childhood Education. During the mid-eighties the family lived in Zimbabwe for four years, during which time Mai Chi worked for the Save the Children Fund, and came back to the U.S. at the end of 1987. When Dumi finally returned permanently to Africa in 1990 to take a position at the University of Zimbabwe, Mai Chi remained in the U.S., making her home in Portland, Oregon where she developed her renowned love of cooking into a catering business.

Mai Chi was a multi-dimensional musician -- vocalist, marimba player, drummer, and dancer -- and involved herself deeply with the African music community in the Pacific Northwest, sharing her musicality freely and openly. In recent years she taught singing to many students of traditional Zimbabwean music in the U.S. and performed both on stage and in the studio. Mai Chi coached and recorded with a number of groups including the Portland Girls Symphonic Choir, marimba ensembles Boka, Dandaro, Kudana, and Shumba, and the electric band Mai Chi and Kubatana. Off-stage she worked as an adviser for the African Student Union at Portland State University and helped to found the Mutare-Portland Sister City Association. She produced concerts for such groups as Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, the Bhundu Boys, and Loketo, and took a principal role organizing the 1994 Zimbabwe Music Festival in Portland in spite of failing health. She was rallying to produce another such festival in 1996 but was unable to continue. Her dreams to found a school of Zimbabwean music and a musician exchange program were never realized.

Mai Chi died at the rehabilitation center where she had been residing for several months after a stroke left her unable to live on her own. Her declining health, which began with kidney failure three years ago, worsened rapidly with the discovery of a brain tumor a year ago while she was returning to the US from a visit to her home in Zimbabwe. This was soon followed by the stroke, brain surgery, and other complications in her final months.

Mai Chi is survived by her father Michael Nemarundwe, her children Chiwoniso, Tawona, Ziyanai, Rusununguko, and Dumisani Jr., and her siblings Laura, Ruth, Mickey, Alma, Marcel, and Appel.

— Paul Novitski & Claire Jones

A resource for Zimbabwean music & culture worldwide
Copyright © 2000 by Paul Novitski. All rights reserved.
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