January 18, 2013

Chimurenga master

I have followed Thomas Mapfumo since the mid-1980s. If I am not mistaken he and his band, The Blacks Unlimited, first performed in this country in 1984. In 1986 I saw him - and talked to him extensively - both in Angoulême, where he was performing at the Festival de Jazz et Musiques Métisses, and in Amsterdam. I may post parts of the concert (part of Oko Drammeh's legendary African Feeling series) at the Paradiso, Amsterdam, at a later date. The meetings with Thomas on both occasions were very memorable, for different reasons. But, as I wrote, I may come to those in a future post.

This post is actually of a concert 4 years later. Thomas and the band had not toured Europe for a few years. There had been some changes, particularly in the musical direction of the band. Reggae had been replaced by roots, Zimbabwean roots. Chartwell Dutiro, for example, was playing mbira instead of sax. In 1989 Mapfumo had released songs in which he criticised Mugabe, who two years earlier had abolished the office of prime-minister to become president. A song "Corruption" was even banned in Zimbabwe, and both Mapfumo and his band were targeted by circles around the presidency. The harassments finally led to Mapfumo leaving the country at the end of the 1990s. He now lives in the US.

In my opinion 1989 and 1990 were musically two of the most interesting years in Mapfumo's career. In 1989 he released the album "Varombo Kuvarombo", the first second (1) on his own Chimurenga Music label (part of Gramma). This was reissued a year later by Mango Records as "Corruption", - and now with the (title) song which had been banned in Zimbabwe. Besides this it featured epic songs like "Moyo Wangu" (you may have seen the fantastic live version on YouTube).
The second third album, "Chamunorwa", was even more memorable, with six songs clearly inspired by Zimbabwean traditional mbira music.

These two albums formed the basis of the repertoire which Thomas used for his European tour of 1990. The songs I would like to share with you in this post are from his concert at the Melkweg in Amsterdam during the World Roots Festival (programme) on June 28. A few weeks later he performed at the African Music Festival in Delft, where I managed to talk to him for a short while in a very crowded dressing room. You can hear a short part of that interview after Aboubacar Siddikh's YouTube version of the Melkweg concert, - which by the way includes photos taken (by AS) during a concert a few years later.

The concert featured some remarkable versions of songs which had been recently released on lp. The concert started with fantastic instrumental versions of the - now - classic "Chitima Nditakure" and "Hwahwa".
You may recognise the guitarist as Ashton "Sugar" Chiweshe, who is the star of those videos on Youtube I mentioned above. I particularly like his version of "Nyoka Musango"; his guitar adds a unique twist to this version. "Moyo Wangu" however falls short of the video version.
Remarkable too is the vocal version of "Chitima Nditakure", which unfortunately breaks off. I don't remember if Thomas saved the lyrics for a later part of the song which was not recorded. In any case, the result is certainly a strange version of the song, almost 'dub' like...

The next song (the first on the B-side of the cassette) is again an instrumental; this time a version of "Chamunorwa". This is followed by a song which I have so far been unable to trace. I have gone through my whole collection of Mukanya masterpieces, but have not been able to find another version of this song. An astonishing minimalistic, purely traditional song, - with Thomas dancing and digging deep to evoke the spirits.... I advise you to listen to this a few times; it will grow on you.

The following "Handina Munyama" (from "Varombo Kuvarombo"/"Corruption") was obviously meant to balance the mood. It does so and levels things out for two new songs, which were - certainly in the Netherlands - only available on record the next year. Both "Dangu-Rangu" and "Svere-Ngoma" were released on Mapfumo's third album on Chimurenga Music: "Chimurenga Master Piece" (TML 103). The songs are based on traditionals, but - as Thomas would stress during the interview in August - with the modern mixed in.
Unfortunately of the last song only the first few seconds have been recorded.

Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited at the World Roots Festival (Melkweg, Amsterdam / June 28, 1990)

As a bonus I am adding this energetic video (clip) of the song "Vanhu Vatema" (1993), recorded from Zimbabwean television a year later. The images are clearly taken from the videos I posted earlier, but the editing of this clip is quite good.

EDIT January 19, 2013: The mystery track (track 9) has been identified as "Shanje". No wonder I couldn't find it, as it has only been released on one of the few albums I do not have ("Chimurenga Varieties" - TML 106), - and 4 years after this concert.
Furthermore track 8 is an instrumental version of "Muchadura", which also was released on "Varombo Kuvarombo"/"Corruption". Both Aboubacar Siddikh and myself were torn between "Chamunorwa" and "Muchadura"; and all things considered it could have been either.....
I have corrected this and have re-uploaded the songs.

(1): correction: the first was "Zimbabwe-Mozambique" (TML 100) in 1988.

January 15, 2013


Actually I had planned to post some music by Thomas Mapfumo, but I am still trying to retrieve the title of one of the songs. So this will have to wait for a few days.

But it gives me an opportunity to share with you some more countermeasures in the struggle against the imminent oppression of the people of Mali.

It appears to me that matters have been complicated rather than resolved by the French decision to intervene. From a distance, it may seem like a good idea to send in the air force to bomb the sh*t out of those 'damn terrorists'. But will it work in a country the size of Mali? Anyone who has flown over Mali will agree that there are immense areas of 'much-of-the-same'. And attacking towns, villages and/or random groups of humans in the open field won't do much for French public relations, if you ask me. And I think the islamic rebels (and related insurgents1) are not going to respond favourably to any French requests to stick around in one place, - and preferably away from populated areas...

It is not very hard to understand why the French have decided to 'come to the rescue'. As a former colonial power France has over the decades tried to keep some level of influence in its former colonies, with different degrees of success. Even in colonial times Mali was never at the center of French interest, and after independence Mali has done little to 'nurture' the ties. And French efforts to keep in touch have been half-hearted at best. Even before the fall of president Moussa Traoré in 1991 the French appeared to have given up on Mali, and since then others have stepped in, notably Chinese, Arabs and Libyans. These new friends proved to be more valuable and more effective than the French had been over all those seemingly countless years. The Arabs built hotels and a great bridge in the capital Bamako. The Chinese have set up projects to revive Malian agricultural capabilities2. And the Libyans, or at least former president and 'our man' Muammar Gaddafi, they made themselves hugely popular by providing the (satellite) communication facilities that opened up the entire continent and can in a lot of ways be seen as the biggest revolution for ordinary Africans in the last century (if not in history..).

In the meantime too, it has become clear that Mali may have some economic possibilities. During French colonial rule the focus was mainly, if not exclusively on agriculture. The Office du Niger was set up to provide the French textile industry with raw material, - regardless of the effect the growing of cotton would have on the sparse arable soil. Since those days French governments have done little to ascertain the needs of Malians. In fact, subsequent French governments have done their utmost to retain a level of dependency of 'grand frère' France, particularly by the monetary system, while ignoring polite requests to really help out.

Personally I don't believe that altruistic motives play any part in the French attempts to intervene. Geo-political motives: yes. France wanting to restore its waning foothold in the African continent, after French pawns (like Houphouet-Boigny) in other former colonies have disappeared from the scene: yes. But 'coming to the rescue': nahhhh!

Please excuse my digression. I am awaiting reports 'from the frontline', but could not restrain myself any further. I have actually managed to control my urges slightly, as I haven't even started about the very dubious role of (who else but) the US in this issue.

Getting to the music I would like to share with you, you may ask what this music has to do with the present conflict. Well, this music is about the strenght and the resilience of the Malian people, and above of all of the women of Mali. During my visits to Mali I have experienced many many times that while the men talk, and claim to have the solution for all problems, the women are the ones that actually keep the country going. And I am sure that they will continue doing so come what may...
This resilience and this force of character can hardly be more apparent than with this singer, who already featured in an earlier post in this blog. For Ami Diarra not only had to overcome polio herself, but she managed to set her own handicap aside to help others.
This cassette is from the late 1980s or early 1990s, but I have heard that she is still active.

I am almost sure that the ensemble accompanying Ami is the same Ensemble Balemaya from Kayes as in the video, and it may even be that the recordings of the cassette and the video are the same.

SS 49

1 More details on the conflict on the site of Al Jazeera.
2 More about the Chinese in Mali in this article

January 04, 2013

Pamba moto

Among my resolutions for this new year is one which may prove to be somewhat challenging: for I intend to post more music from East Africa.
The challenge lies not so much in the music, but in 'peripheral' matters.

This post is a good example of this. For although I had copied the music, I had done so in a time when even a copy-shop (or any other facility where one could turn to to produce a photocopy) was a veritable rarity. In fact, it must have been around the time when this record was released. Luckily I recently received digital copies of the sleeve, so I can now share the record with you.

This post is also intended as an encouragement for the Tanzania Heritage Project (see their website), a project which aims to restore and preserve the archives at Radio Tanzania.
This video from their website gives a short introduction:

Compared to a similar project which involves the conservation of (a large part of) the archives of the RTG in Conakry, Guinea, and which is carried out by just one (1) person, i.e. my good friend Graeme Counsel, I am impressed by the size of the team. I hope this will be reflected in the results of the project, - which for now seem to focus largely on the project itself. But I remain optimistic......

In all the discussions about rights and 'infringements' an aspect seems to have been overlooked. When dealing with African music issues of rights (which in any case are mostly the rights of - often dubious - producers) are insignificant compared to the far, far larger issue of the irretrievable and absolute loss of enormous quantities of unique and irreproducable musical recordings.
You may have read my earlier posts where I 'moan' about the 'limitations' in the (digital) reproduction of Franco's impressive oeuvre. To be honest I have to add that these limitations are almost trivial compared to the reproduction of the works by others, like for example the Vijana Jazz Orchestra.
And I hasten to add that Stern's have just over a year ago released a very recommendable CD, which you can still obtain from their site.
Music by Vijana Jazz has also appeared on a few compilations, but I think we are still a long way from a structured and integral disclosure of their musical legacy.

When it comes to biographical information I was surprised to find there is even an entry in the wikipedia dedicated to this illustrious Tanzanian formation, which like others (see here and here) has its origins in a public (i.e. linked to the state) organisation.

I suppose this album can be seen as the peak of the career of the late singer Hemedi Maneti with two of his greatest hits: "Mary Maria" and "Tambiko la Pamba Moto". I love the wonderfully intrusive guitar (and matching bass!) and the great vocals, both the lead and the chorus.
If you ask me, both of these tracks don't only deserve a place in the Heritage of Tanzania, but should also at least be nominated for a place in the World Heritage List (and especially if you see what is actually on this list...).

AHDLP 6004

OFF-TOPIC: I have started a page on Facebook, where I will occasionally post links to 'matters of interest'. Don't expect any profundity though....