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 Reggae had been replaced by roots, Zimbabwean roots.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.


jan duinkerken said...

thank you! the best blog in the world.

Abson Chihota said...

Thanks for the sounds live recording nice to hear music played 20 years still sounding fresh.

Anonymous said...

Thanks as always for a great post, I think this is my favorite era of Mapfumo. For what its worth, I'm pretty sure that last song that is so sadly cut off after 34 second is Bukatiende

Unknown said...

Mr Music, he is the King in Zimbabwe, we miss you Mukanya. This solid perfomance in Holland is simple adds mystic to the young genrations who have never seen this icon perfom.First went to Thomas Mapfumo's show in 1979 Garden Party Kambuzuma when I was 17yrs old, what an experience having grown up in the in a family of uncles who play/ played mbira, this is cream de la cream. Long Live Mukanya

Bali Hotels said...
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kashi said...

Thank you for this. Please check your messages on your youtube account. Might have something you'd like

Gordon Sayre said...

Thomas Mapfumo has lived for many years in my hometown, Eugene, Oregon. I have seen several concerts with him and his band here. One particularly memorable show featured a local guitarist, Paul Prince, who is big fan of African styles and played brilliantly alongside the mbiras. The shows feature roots style as well as an occasional rumba.
I think you could say Mapfumo is a political exile, because I asked him once if he would like to go back to Zimbabwe and he said it would not be safe to do so.

Unknown said...

Thanks Gordon, Paul N Prince here - I had never seen this blog. That song I recorded and used to tour on with Thomas was his Chamunorwa - an amazing song. We recorded it after touring at Gung Ho in eugene and it became a classic in Zimbabwe according to Thoma's guitarist Gilbert Zvaimada/ I still visit him on occasion and we even played some acoustics sitting on his couch. I am excited to say that I will soon be releasing my best music including a song recorded with the legendary and now sadly passed on diva singer from Zimbabwe Ambuya Beauler Dyoko and mbira star Musekiwa Chingodza. That song (Nyamamusango ) aired internationally, on AFROPOP WORLDWIDE IN ABOUT '06/ I HAVE REALLY been working on it and this cd will also feature a duet with mbira legend and old friend Cosmas Magaya. It has some West African pieces I wrote and recorded using an intriguing harp I built. Well thanks for the compliments and glad to update on what I have been upto check paulnicholasprince.bandcamp.com to hear and get some songs from my first cd ocean bells recorded after touring with Thomas in about 99. Best wishes tatenda ( thank you ) Paul

Unknown said...

thanks for the compliment Gordan I did just write a long update but not sure if it posted, not really skilled at blogging techniques, here is a photo from a great gig with THomas maybe this will post
best wishes,

I promise I am not a robot

WrldServ said...

@Paul Prince: I have had to introduce a (mild) form of moderation of the comments, so it may take a while before comments appear on the blog.

This said, your comment is a bit over the edge, as far as (commercially) promoting yourself. But I will allow it, as it does relate to the subject of the post.

Unknown said...

The original cd Mukanya recorded Chamunorwa on, had the magic guitar of Ephraim Kaimura now long departed but one of my favorites - met him when I opened a show for them years ago. He used to play a clear plexiglass guitar. He was one of the masters of zen mbira guitar playing no more than needed but playing with amazing energy and intelligent melodies with a stringy kind of sweet mbira like sound. Then we re-recorded Chamunorwa acoustic version with acoustic guitar and the singers Memory and Rosa in Eugene, when Sampson Mukanga and Joshua Dube were still
around -they are very much missed...