Prudence Mabhena hopes to bring attention to needs of disabled people in the Third World

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By BA Haller
© Media dis&dat
(Photo by BA Haller)

Prudence Mabhena (pictured) thrilled the Maryland Film Festival audience May 9 with her unexpected Mother’s Day performance, after the screening of the Academy Award-winning short documentary about her, “Music by Prudence.”

She is an illuminating presence on stage and a versatile vocalist. She performed with percussionist Jason Baker and a beatboxer Shodekeh and it was fabulous.

The documentary, which will air on HBO2 May 12 at 8 p.m. (EST), is a cinematic joy, filled with music and breathtaking scenery. The beauty of Zimbabwe glistened. The film gives a rare glimpse into the charming village life in Zimbabwe by visiting Mabhena’s maternal grandmother, who is one of the few family members who accepted her.

Even with the many hard times described by Mabhena in the film, it exudes a kind of joyfulness throughout. And Mabhena had horribly hard times – – She was abandoned by both her father and her mother by the time she was 4 and later her stepmother starved and belittled her.

But as she says, music fed her soul, and when she finally made it to the King George VI school for disabled children in Zimbabwe, she created her own “family” with the other disabled children she met who shared her love of music. They formed the group, Liyana, which is gaining recognition globally.

Mabhena, who is about to embark on a speaking tour for Human Rights Watch, discussed her life after the making of the film. She hopes her work with Human Rights Watch will bring attention to the needs of people with disabilities in the Third World.

She says when Liyana performs in Zimbabwe, the audience truly embraces them now and asks for more and more songs. But things aren’t perfect yet, she adds.

“The negative mind people have about us disabled” is still there, Mabhena says. But she thinks some acceptance of people with disabilities is happening.

She enjoyed the documentary filming process, she says. “I felt as if I was in a dream. It was grrrrrrrrrreat! I felt like a diva,” she explained with a big grin.

Roger Ross Williams, the director/producer of the film, allowed Mabhena and other members of Liyana to tell their own stories through interviews, and Mabhena did some narration of the film. It’s truly a wondrous experience to see a film in which people with disabilities tell their own stories from their own perspectives.

Mabhena says she has forgiven her family for their mistreatment of her, and she has a positive outlook about the good her music is doing.

Most of all, she wants to spread the word about how everyone should help promote more independence for people with disabilities around the world. As she says, “being disabled is not being inhuman.”

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