Thomas Mapfumo recently performed a series of concerts in his homeland, Zimbabwe. This is Africa spoke to the iconic musician and social commentator.
In December, Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo, the influential Zimbabwean Chimurenga musician and songwriter, who is now based in the USA, performed in several cities across Zimbabwe as part of his Peace Tour. This is Africa caught up with Mukanya, who has lived in self-imposed exile for 14 years, to talk about his music and experiences, why he left Zimbabwe, the prevailing political and economic issues in the country, and how his African roots and cultural background has influenced his music.
The armed struggle for freedom in Zimbabwe, called “the second Chimurenga” (“Chimurenga” is the Shona word for “revolution” or “struggle”), was led by various political formations, while individuals contributed greatly to the fight for independence through different means. Through his music, Thomas Mapfumo contributed immensely to the fight against colonial rule in Zimbabwe.
In the mid 1950s, when Mapfumo was barely a teenager, he was exposed to the harsh realities of colonial brutality perpetrated against his own people. This later inspired him to start his own style of music, which soon became known as Chimurenga music. Mapfumo’s songs reflected the concerns of the people, the hardships of rural life and the fight against colonial rule.
The iconic musician was a strong critic of the Rhodesian government and was imprisoned without charges under the white-dominated regime for his critical and political lyrics.
After Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, Mapfumo continued to speak out on the prevailing issues: His music focused on fostering unity and development but he also spoke out on social and cultural issues, emphasising the value and preservation of our various cultures and African identities.
His music grew increasingly critical of the Robert Mugabe-led government, which was marked by corruption, mismanagement and misgovernance. “The looming corruption, grinding poverty and the decaying rule of law blighted a promising Zimbabwe, saddening hopeful masses and inevitably pushing him to compose more lyrics as missiles for protest against his own government,” reads his biography.
Mukanya left Zimbabwe for America, and he continued making music in exile. He believes that music plays a huge role in the development of society.