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 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.
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