Mapfumo heading home

Although the musician has not made any official announcement, his Zimbabwean agent Cuthbert Chiromo said they were organizing home coming shows for the Chimurenga music guru.

Mukanya last played in the country in March 2004 and his fans have been anxiously waiting for his return.

“We want him to come home every year because we are starved of chimurenga music shows here. He should always remember his home fans,” said Steven Chadenga an avid Mukanya fan.

Initially Mukanya would stage come home shows every festive season and his first return show after relocating to the US saw the stretchy Boka Tobacco Auction Floors in Harare swelling to capacity in a record attendance.

Indeed people are waiting for the legendary musician who is also known as The Lion of Zimbabwe because of his exceptional talent that has made him one of the most revered African musicians.

His position in his homeland’s musical life is undeniable and his long career history speaks volumes about his expertise.

Thomas Mapfumo grew up in the small town of Marondera, before the family moved to Salisbury (Harare), and as a child he attended a boarding school in 1964.

After school he began to sing with a local band and copied American and English music, such as Elvis, Otis Reading and The Rolling Stones.

But already in the 1960s he was experimenting with translating protest songs to Shona.

In 1973 he formed the folk-orientated Hallelujah Chicken Run Band and began to explore traditional folk music, especially inside his own tribe. The main instrument in Shona folk music is the mbira (thumb piano), and together with the band’s guitarist, Jonah Sithole, Mapfumo transcribed the mbira-tone scale for guitar.

He also moved from ordinary percussion to more traditional drums, the better to express rhythms of the old dance music.

This didn’t go down too well at first, because people were not too accustomed to their own music; modern dance music was expected to be western orientated.

But gradually the situation changed, as did the politics. Mapfumo began to write lyrics in Shona, which best commented on the white minority government in the country.

In 1975 he warned against the coming war in the single Morento and spoke of the struggle for human rights in Ngomo Yarira.

In 1977 Acid Band was formed and released the album Hokoyo that was a success.

Mukanya was by then no longer an innocent musician, but in the process of becoming a troublesome political individual for the white regime, that tried to block the release of his disc.

When this didn’t work, the regime forbade the playing of his music on radio and Mapfumo was imprisoned without trial. This led to violent civil protests and after three months he was released.

As soon as he was out of prison he continued to play what was being called “Chimurenga” (independence music). During this period he produced many singles that reached the public via the “Voice of Mozambique” radio station. In 1978 the band’s name was changed to Blacks Unlimited, and in 1980 he performed with Bob Marley at Rufaro Stadium to mark the independence of Zimbabwe.

After independence, Mukanya’s Chimurenga music peaked and he became one of the most sought after musicians in the country.

He is one of modern African music’s most prominent personalities and among those who have really succeeded in modernising music without vulgarising it.

October 2006
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