Thomas Mapfumo

Thomas Tafirenyika Mapfumo, born in 1945 in Marondera, Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe, began his musical career playing covers of American rock and soul music before joining Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, where he began adapting traditional music of the Shona to modern instrumentation and techniques. This process included transcribing the scales and sounds of the mbira to electric guitar.

He invented and popularized Chimurenga music - literally "struggle" in Shona - which was often overtly political. In addition to his modern incarnation of traditional music, his lyrics were sung in Shona. In the late 1970s singing in Shona instead of English was a political statement in and of itself. In Mapfumo's case, it was specifically critical of the white ruling class of Rhodesia. The government, underestimating his popularity, eventually banned his records and imprisoned Mapfumo without charges in 1979. After a series of large protests demanding his release, he was set free three months later.

Though he initially celebrated the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, he became increasingly disillusioned with the regime of Robert Mugabe. This was, again, reflected in the music he produced throughout the 1980s; mostly as Thomas Mapfumo And The Blacks Unlimited. His lyrics often addressed issues of poverty and social development. After a campaign of government-sponsored harassment, he emigrated to the United States, where he continues to live.

Links To Peel

Peel first heard Mapfumo's music in the early 80's through the Earthworks record label and saw him perform live under the name Thomas Mapfumo & The Blacks Unlimited in Zimbabwe when he visited the country with his wife, the Pig, in 1988, as part of the work for the BBC World Service. On his show from 10 December 1993 (BFBS), Peel described the gig in Zimbabwe:

"I've only been to Zimbabwe once, but if I wasn't so frightened of flying, I'd be there on an annual basis. ... I went to see Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, the Pig and myself, to see them playing away out in the bush somewhere, and we were the only white people who were there. And we could not have been treated more generously. We walked in there and they didn't make us pay or anything. No guest list, just walked straight in, a fella came up to me and said "You've not been here before. Here, you have this beer and I'll go and get myself another one". And I thought, that would not happen to you if you turned up in a venue in London, I very much regret."
In 1998, Peel curated Meltdown and invited Thomas Mapfumo And The Blacks Unlimited to perform for the festival on 30th June 1998.


  1. Recorded: 1998-07-07. Broadcast: 11 August 1998
  • Dai Pasina Satani / Chickende / Mukadzi Wemukoma / Usatambe Nenyoka

Other Shows Played

Thomas Mapfumo - Hanzvadzi

Thomas Mapfumo - Hanzvadzi.wmv

  • 09 February 1987: Chauya Chirizevha (Rural Life Is Back) (LP - The Chimurenga Singles 1976-80) Earthworks
  • 10 May 1988 (BFBS): Pidigori (12" - Hupenyu Wangu (All My Life)) Rough Trade ‎– RTT 190
  • 22 March 1990: Nyamutamba Ne Mombe (v/a CD - Spirit Of The Eagle (Zimbabwe Frontline Vol. 2)) Earthworks
  • 26 March 1990: Nyamutamba Ne Mombe (v/a LP - Spirit Of The Eagle (Zimbabwe Frontline Vol. 2)) Earthworks
  • 07 April 1990 (BFBS): Nyamutamba Ne Mombe (v/a CD - Spirit Of The Eagle (Zimbabwe Frontline Vol. 2)) Earthworks
  • 01 December 1990: Taireva (album - Shumba (Vital Hits Of Zimbabwe)) Earthworks
  • 11 August 1995: 'Hanzvadzi (CD-Froots #5)' (Folk Roots) (JP: 'What a nice noise that is.')
  • 04 December 1997 (BFBS): 'Buka Tiende (Compilation CD-The Rough Guide To The Music Of Zimbabwe)' (World Music Network)
  • 11 December 1997 (BFBS): 'Buka Tiende (Compilation CD-The Rough Guide To The Music Of Zimbabwe)' (World Music Network)

See Also

External Links

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