Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meet Prudence...

The music of Prudence Mabhena is a powerful sound that echoes out of a country in crisis: Zimbabwe. Her success is all the more extraordinary because Prudence is physically disabled. In Zimbabwe, that can be a death sentence.

Prudence story is a tale of abandonment and neglect by her parents and stepmother, and then of a new home at Zimbabwe's King George VI School for the Disabled. Her stepmother despised her. "I felt like nothing; I felt useless. ... I really agreed with her, 'cause at the end of the day I would find out that, yeah, for real, there is nothing that I can do for myself. I ended up believing in whatever she said."

Fearing witchcraft, adults in Zimbabwe often see their children's differences as a sign that the family has been cursed. Mabhena was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that deforms the joints; it has cost her both of her legs, and makes it difficult for her to use her arms. When she was born, her father's mother advised her mother not to nurse her. After her parents abandoned her, she was cared for by her maternal grandmother, a rural farmer who kept Mabhena at her side as she worked.

Her grandmother taught her to sing. She would carry her out to the fields with her, and she would lay her in the fields as she worked in the fields. ... She would sing to Prudence, and Prudence learned to get comfort from music.

Music by Prudence is a 2010 short documentary film directed and produced by Roger Ross Williams. It tells the uplifting story of Prudence as she struggled to overcome poverty and discrimination. All other seven members of Prudence's band "Liyana" are also disabled. Music by Prudence won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject).

Watch Prudence deliver a rousing rendition of 'Ipi Ntombi' (Where's My Lady) during VSA's opening ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in June this year.

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