Thomas Mapfumo

Like the Bhundu Boys I first heard Thomas Mapfumo on BBC radio 1 with John Peel. The album "Chimurenga for Justice" was released in 1986 and was one of the first Zimbabwean albums to find a major audience in the UK.

Not much later, on my first Zimbabwe trip in 1988, I made sure I would see Thomas perform at the garden of "Queens Hotel" in Harare. I was told the crowd there was often a bit rough, but I had no trouble and it was an unforgettable experience. Thomas and his band performed for several hours and most of the time he seemed like in a trance, looking like a witch doctor performing a magic ritual, which is exactly where his music originates.

Thomas is one of the most senior performers in his country. During the civil war of the 1970s he was one of the first artists to take pride in Shona music. In 1979 he was arrested by the white settler regime of Ian Smith for singing songs that were considered rebellious. I was told that he was released after claiming that the combative Shona lyrics of his songs were just translations of British military songs... After Zimbabwean independence he was harshly treated by ZANU, the new ruling party and has always remained fiercly independent, criticizing corruption and abuse of power under the new regime.

Thomas Mapfumo
Thomas was one of the first artists to use electric guitars to replicate the sound of the mbira (thumb piano) used by traditional witch doctors during their ceremonies. When people listened to American and European music and showed little respect for Zimbabwe's indigenous music, Thomas took pride in his roots and helped to bridge the gap between traditional and popular music without ever drifting off into commercialism.

Thomas has always taken good care of the over a dozend musicians who make up his band, the Blacks Unlimited. Unfortunately, some of them died much too early.

  • Ndangariro came out in 1983. My favourite track on it is Nyoka Musango
  • Chimurenga for Justice (LP), out in 1986, was the first album I heard of Thomas and is still one of my favourites. I wish I could buy it on CD.
  • Chimurenga '98 appeared on CD in (who would have guessed ;-)) 1998.
  • Live at El Rey appeared on CD in 1999 from AnonymousWeb ( In time for Thomas' 50th birthday (same vintage as Bob Marley and Burning Spear), it's almost like an "unplugged" version, more sparse in it's instrumentation than most of Thomas' performances. In my opinion such haunting pieces as Hwahwa, Pfumvu Paruzevha and Mahrororo are good candidates for any "Best of Thomas" collection.
  • Chimurenga Explosion is out now at AnonymousWeb. I will review it as soon as possible!

Hot off the press:


June 30     SummerJam Festival, Koln, Germany
July 1      DeMontfort Hall, Leicester, UK
July 2      Concert Hall, Blackheath, UK
July 3      Band on the Wall, Manchester, UK
July 4      Roots Net, Oxford, UK
July 5      Fiddlers, Bristol, UK
July 6      Arts Centre, Norwich, UK
July 8      Larmer Tree, Salisbury, UK
July 9      Cactus Festival, Brugge, Belgium

July 13     SOB's, NYC, NY
July 15     Hot House, Chicago, IL
July 16     Chicago Folk and Roots Festival
July 22     GrassRoots Festival, Finger Lakes, Trumansburg, NY
Aug 2       Grand Emporium, Kansas City, MO
Aug 3       1st Avenue, MPLS, MN
Aug 5       African Rhythms Summer Festival,
                Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall, Detroit, MI
Aug 8       Zephyr Club, SLC, UT
Aug 9       Ashkenaz, San Francisco, CA
Aug 10      Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA
Aug 11      Palookaville, Santa Cruz, CA
Aug 12      San Jose Jazz Festival, San Jose, CA
Aug 13      Taste of Portland, Portland, OR
Aug 17      Zimfest, WOW Hall, Eugene, OR
Aug 18      Richard's on Richards, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Aug 19      Afrikadey, Calgary, Canada
Aug 20      Showbox, Seattle, WA

See also:
See also: Thomas' latest albums
See also: Solomon Murungu's excellent Thomas Mapfumo page

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