As part of our series of introductions to African Leadership Academy’s 2018 cohort, we introduce you to a passionate arts performer, Mpiwa Gwindi from Zimbabwe…
“It is your passion that got you to where you are now, and it is what will carry you further. You must just keep pushing.”
Seventeen-year-old Mpiwa Gwindi aspires to one day become the Secretary-General of the UN, and open up her own prestigious African Arts Festival. She believes that hard work pays off, and even when faced with adversity, you should never lose hope in yourself.
Music wasn’t an obvious career choice for Mpiwa, “I was in primary school when my friend invited me to join an instrumental ensemble, The Marimbas. I was skeptical and didn’t understand the purpose of playing an instrument but, once I heard the sounds they were creating from these unfamiliar instruments, I was hooked.”
The Marimbas grew in popularity and so did Mpiwa’s interest to perform on stage. The group wowed audiences at the Harare International Festival of Arts, the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee Awards and landed a studio recording for an artist.
Coming from a highly academic oriented culture, Mpiwa did not always have her parents’ full support of her musical aspirations and, as high school ended, The Marimbas split up.
“My first year at secondary school was very discouraging as there was an influx of academic expectation. We were all expected to be A+ students and this pressure led to me forget my passions and interests and most of what I had started to build. That first year, I was just trying to fit in and stay sane.”
However, in her second year, she did her first Marimba performance at school and it was the jolt she needed. “I saw a need for us to keep our culture when it comes to music. People were astounded with the performance and all that passion came back. I knew I needed to pursue this more. We have to get rid of the misinformation and stigma around our traditional instruments. Like the Mbira, which is thought to call spirits of the dead. I chose to ignore that and just pick it up and play. People loved to hear these instruments that they hadn’t heard in a long time, and it was a way for them to keep in touch with their culture, which I was happy to provide. It felt as natural as brushing my teeth.”
With a renewed passion for the performing arts, Mpiwa was drawn to poetry. “It helped me express the emotional difficulty I was going through,” she says. She also joined a drama class and started dancing.
In 2017, she auditioned at the Zimbabwe Championships of Performing Arts for a chance to go to Hollywood. Her audition comprised of an acting piece, a Mbira piece as well as a contemporary dance piece – she was immediately offered a place to join the team.
Training was hard and as the reality of the trip sunk in, Mpiwa’s excitement dwindled.
“Honestly, I was scared. We started signing papers and attending training for things that I was previously just doing in my room. Being trained and learning like a professional performer meant working ten times harder. I felt intimidated, daunted and discouraged. When I’d wake up in the morning, I’d have to remind myself that this is what professionals go through and if I wanted to grow myself this is what I needed to do.”
Performing in Los Angeles was very intoxicating, “I got to see such a wide diversity of people and cultures and clothes and skin tones which were so different from where I’d grown up. The conversations I got to have and people I got to meet, including professional performers, was inspiring.”
Although the competition was hard work, Mpiwa felt like it was where she was meant to be. As the first Zimbabwean to make it to the finals she describes the experience as being, “…golden. It was what I imagine stars tasting like. I could feel it on my skin – like all the fruits of my hard work was paying off. It was such a privilege.”
So how did this star performer end up at ALA?
At secondary school, Mpiwa was unsatisfied with the student leadership and she wanted to do better, make a difference. She longed to be in a space that would allow her to mix her music, academics, as well as learn about leadership. ALA seemed like the perfect fit.
“I knew that I would learn something special, extra and different, from coming to ALA,” she says.
Mpiwa is currently an intern at the Sauti Afrika Student Enterprise and she’s a member of the art society, The Fourth Choice. One of her highlights thus far has been performing at the end of year gala.
“I love how free people here are in their expression and it is encouraged by the staffulty who are not repressive but very receptive.”
It is through consistency and dedication that Mpiwa plans the become the next Secretary-General of the UN. “I am passionate about International Relations and I would be so happy working in the UN.”
She also wants to open up her own prestigious African Arts Festival where students from all over the continent can come together and connect with their peers.
To anyone who might be struggling to express themselves, having trouble meeting other people’s expectations on their academic outcomes, or not having support from your family, Mpiwa advises to, “…remember that it is your passion that got you to where you are, and it is what will carry you through – you must just keep pushing.”