THOMAS MAPFUMO

Singer – songwriter – musician

Thomas Tafirenyika Mapfumo was born on the 3 July, 1945, in Marondera in Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe.  At this time the country was still a British colony known as Southern Rhodesia.  When he was ten years old his family to the high density suburb of Mbare in Harare (formerly Salisbury).

He joined his first band, the Zutu Brothers, when he was sixteen years old and was to subsequently play in various bands including the Wagon Wheels with Oliver Mtukudzi and James Chimombe.  He frequently did work outside music, including chicken farming.  This experience inspired him to name his 1972 band, the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band.  It was at this stage that he moved away from cover material and started to evolve his own concept of merging Shona music with modern rock instrumentation.  Key to these developments was the innovative work he did in transcribing mbira to the electric guitar.  The mbira is a traditional African instrument.  He sang in Shona and English.

Mapfumo, nicknamed “The Lion of Zimbabwe” and “Mukanya” for his popularity and influence, was an outspoken critic of injustice and oppression.  During the racially segregated days of Rhodesia, he overtly supported the struggle against White minority rule giving birth to the style of music known as “Chimurenga”, a term meaning “a little flame”.  This reference harked back to its previous use in an earlier political struggle in the 19th century.  His songs, some of which called for open rebellion and violence drew the attention of the Rhodesian authorities and it was after the release of his 1979 record, “Hokoyo!” (meaning “Watch Out!”) that he was arrested an detained without charge.   Although the government banned the record from the State owned broadcaster, it could not stop it being played in discos, night clubs and other venues or by external radio stations, such as Radio Mozambique.  Large public demonstrations against his arrest were to follow and, after three months, he was released.

At the dawn of Zimbabwean Independence in 1980, Mapfumo performed on the same bill as Bob Marley during the celebrations.  As the years progressed after Independence Mapfumo, who had always supported the nationalist cause and Robert Mugabe, became increasingly disillusioned with the new order.  In 1989 he released an album entitled Corruption which was recorded at Harare’s Shed Studios and engineered by Benny Miller.  The album heavily criticised the Mugabe administration, the result of which was that he started to experience harassment at the hands of government officials.  He was also accused of being involved in corrupt activities.  In the late 1990’s Mapfumo, who had become increasingly uncomfortable with the political environment in Zimbabwe, relocated to Eugene, Oregon, in the United States.

In 2017, after Mugabe’s overthrow, he returned to Zimbabwe and a large concert at Glamis Stadium billed as “Homecoming Bira”.  The date was 28 April, 2018.  Reassured that he was now free of political harassment. he performed many times throughout Zimbabwe and, after four months, he returned to his base in the United States.

Mapfumo continues to tour internationally and still sings out against the problems of Zimbabwe.

Mapfumo’s website may be accessed at: www.thomas-mapfumo.com

(With acknowledgements to Wikipedia).