Thomas Mapfumo – ‘the Lion of Zimbabwe’
“Chimurenga” means “struggle”, and as much as the chimurenga music, Thomas Mapfumo stands for struggle. It is the struggle of a nation in the southern part of the African continent to be free. Throughout years of struggle, Mapfumo has been an important revolutionary figure – fighting with the power of music. “My music stands for freedom and justice”, he told the web based American newspaper Kentucky.com
Thomas Mapfumo was born in 1945 and grew up in Rhodesia – the country that is today called Zimbabwe. When Mapfumo was a child, his family lived on the countryside, southeast of the capital Salisbury (today called Harare). When he was ten years old they moved to a Salisbury township.
Music had always been an important part of life in Zimbabwe, playing the role of an oral newspaper. There were different kinds of music for different occasions – music to encourage people working in the fields, music for funerals and music for parties. Mapfumo’s music was a part of the revolutionary struggle: “We would write songs that would encourage fighters, those who were fighting from the bush, fighting for freedom. That type of music actually motivated them to fight fiercely”, he told The Leopard Man’s African Music Guide.
Apart from Mugabe’s government, Mapfumo was also unhappy about the harassing of the white people living in Zimbabwe. He wanted to unite the people of his country and he tried to do so through music.
Another controversial Mapfumo track described by Time Magazine is “Timothy”. It’s the story about a fool endangering children, and coincidentally Zimbabwe’s president goes under the nick name T.I.M. – meaning “That Idiot Mugabe”.
The state-owned radio still bans Mapfumo’s songs – and once again radio stations in neighbouring countries are used to keep him and other banned artists on the air-waves. But the regime has started to fight back in a similar way, engaging popular singers to make propaganda music.
The problems of today
“We sing about the problems that the world is facing today. As you know there are so many disturbing situations we hear about like the situation back in Zimbabwe, the situation in Palestine, these kinds of situations are all over the world. There are a lot of people who are not very free in this world. They don’t have their freedom. They don’t have a voice. We as musicians, through our music, we can be their voice.”
Thomas Mapfumo is one of the censored musicians of Zimbabwe.
Shona, a Bantu-language, is one of the native languages of Zimbabwe. Although English is the official language of the country – Shona is the language that the majority of the population speaks.
Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, was a pro-independence campaigner who became the first black leader when the white minority lost control of the country during the free elections in 1980. Zimbabwe was one of the most rich and prosperous nations in Africa, but during the rule of Mugabe, the country’s economy has been shattered. Zimbabwe is in a crisis of poverty, crime and unemployment and the nation’s fortunes are tied to Mugabe. According to an article in BBC News – Zimbabwe’s inflation has now reached 15,000% but other sources say “only” 7,000%.
The press and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are under severe control by the Information Ministry. The two main newspapers as well as the broadcasters transmitting from Zimbabwean territory are state-run and accordingly pro-government. Private publications criticising the government are under severe pressure, risking prosecution and bans. The punishment for “publishing false news” is imprisonment.
Find the music of Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited at:
Thomas Mapfumo’s MySpace page
Kentucky.com – 4 November 2007:
‘If he had a hammer: music for Zimbabwe’
BBC News – 20 September 2007:
‘Country profile: Zimbabwe’
Wikipedia – 27 November 2007:
Time Magazine – 23 February 2003:
‘Singing The Walls Down’
The Leopard Man’s African Music Guide – 7 January 2003:
‘Thomas Mapfumo: Voice of the revolution’
Related reading on the internet
Interview with Thomas Mapfumo – March 2002
Thomas Mapfumo – Profile written by Banning Eyre
|Related reading on freemuse.org|