Mapfumo heading home after decade in exile; first show lined up for April

African musician Thomas Mapfumo from Zimbabwe and his band The Blacks Unlimited perform Chimurenga music of Zimbabwean protest and struggle at Central Park SummerStage, New York, New York, Sunday, July 19, 1992. CREDIT: Photograph © 1992 Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Celebrated Zimbabwean veteran singer Thomas Mukanya Mapfumo has announced that he will be coming back to Zimbabwe.

According to his spokesman Blessing Vava, Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited will be performing in Zimbabwe on the 28th of April 2018 in Harare.

“We are excited that Mukanya will be performing in Zimbabwe after more than a decade’s absence,” statement issued said.

On his behalf and CMC I will be giving you updates with regards to Mukanya’s Welcome Back Bira.

This month Mapfumo was accorded the World Music Award, for music that has made impact in his country and abroad.

The ceremony was held in the US New York and his manager Austin Sibanda collected the award on his behalf.

“We are elated by this global recognition and it is a testimony of the impact and illustrious artistry work of a career spanning four decades. Undoubtedly, Mukanya has endeared himself as one of the finest musicians to come out of Zimbabwe,” his management team said in a statement. 

The team said, “Mukanya dedicated the award to the people of Zimbabwe for their resilience over the years despite the difficulties they have been going through.”

Over the years Mukanya’s compositions could be interpreted with narratives predicting the future of Zimbabwe.

Mapfumo, has been in a self-imposed exile in the USA for many years amid claims that Mugabe’s agents were threatening his life mainly because of his anti Mugabe songs and criticism is on his way back to his roots. Now that he believes the country is being ‘fixed’ he feels safe to come back.

He rose to prominence in the 1970s when his inspirational music became critical of the Smith regime. He rose to prominence in Rhodesia during the war of liberation from white oppression of the black masses.

The music identified with the political climate of the time. Thomas championed the plight of the rural masses by singing protest songs, which criticised the Smith regime. “Hokoyo” released by Teal Record Company in 1977 sent shock waves throughout the country, while “Pfumvu Paruzeva” released the following year depicted the deplorable plight of the rural people who were facing the cruel hands of white soldiers at a time when freedom fighters were in battle with Ian Smith’s soldiers.

As a result of these releases, his music was banned from airplay by the Smith regime and he was arrested and jailed without trial. After his release, the next album was less political and it received significant airplay.

With the advent of independence in 1980 Thomas Mapfumo received official recognition when he was asked to perform at a Zanu-PF rally in front of Zimbabwe’s future Prime Minister, Robert Mugabe.

This was followed by the release of “Congress” a song which was written in anticipation of Zanu-PF’s first annual congress. After independence, Mapfumo was beginning to enjoy recognition from the new black government led by Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.

Previously, the Smith regime authorities had declared Mapfumo’s music as subversive. They had banned it from air-play, asked Teal Record Company to stop releasing any more of his music and Mapfumo had been subsequently locked up at Chikurubi for 90 days.

However, Teal Record Company, a white-owned organisation, managed at the time by Tony Rivett and John Grant, were equally defiant and continued to release Mapfumo’s music as he had become their cash cow. When he came out of prison, Teal released more singles as Mapfumo had proved to be a money spinner for them. After several “Chimurenga” singles, the album “Hondo” was released next.

Between 1990 and 2001, Mapfumo released five albums which included Chimurenga Hits Volume 1 and 2, Chimurenga Explosion and Chimurenga Rebel.

In the year 2000 the Chimurenga Explosion album became an instant hit especially with the singles “Mamvemve” and “Disaster” which according to reports that circulated, did not go down well with the government and the songs, it is claimed, were consequently banned from airplay by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

The general rhetoric in these two songs is the argument that today’s leaders have become corrupt, self-serving, and intolerant of dissension and as such have abandoned the interests of ordinary people.

After the release of this album, Thomas claimed that he was being harassed by state agents. He lost three of his cars which he said were confiscated by the Government on what he claimed were botched-up charges of him having received stolen property. After this incident, Mapfumo decided to take his family to the United States where he chose to live in exile.

He came back to Zimbabwe briefly at Christmas 2001 to stage some concerts with one concert at Boka Auction Floors having been attended by over 8 000 music fans.