Thursday, May 24, 2007


Thomas Tafirenyika Mukanya Mapfumo was born on July 2nd 1945 near the town of Marondera in Zimbabwe. Even though his parents where staying in the capital city of Salisbury (Currently known as Harare), Thomas stayed with his grandparents in rural areas. Both his grandparents where avid traditional musicians. Thomas learned Shona music at an early age. His grandmother insisted on bringing him to some of the beer parties she was invited to play and sing. Shona music is participatory music. Unlike western music where a few musicians perform for a large audience, the Shona concept is one of every member participating in their own capacity. Mapfumo learned by playing and singing with the traditional masters.

As a young boy in the village, Thomas did what all youngsters in the rural areas do, graze cattle and goats, help grandparents in the fields, perform domestic chores and all activities that make living in the village an unforgettable experience.

Thomas later moved in with his parents in Salisbury a.k.a. Harare where he attended school. In contrast to life in the village, he was now exposed to radio, and television, media that he had no access to living in the village. Through these media, Mapfumo was exposed to other kinds of music. He was able to listen to music from South Africa, Zaire, USA, UK and many other parts of the world. Before long Mapfumo had a list of favorite regional and international musicians: Franco, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Frank Sinatra and many others.After school Mapfumo would spend time practicing cover songs of his favorite musicians. He particularly idolized Nat King Cole and Elvis Presley.

His upbringing had given him enough exposure to explore a new direction in his career. A local African comedian who called himself, Charles Dee Ray Tiger had recorded a Shona song called Shungu Dzinondibaya in which he made fun of a rich man who lost his wealth overnight. Mapfumo took this song very seriously. He liked it so much that he decided to record it. Without any recording equipment or recording budget, Mapfumo recorded the song on tape. The tape fell in the hands of an entrepreneur who made it into a single on vinyl. To his amazement, Mapfumo heard his own voice on record while visiting a record store in Highfield, outside Harare. The record was very successful. This was Mapfumo's endorsement that he can succeed as a Shona musician.

In 1972, Mapfumo moved to a mining town and started a band called the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band. The band got paid for entertaining the miners, but had to work day jobs as well, including tending chickens in a "chicken run," hence the name.

Mapfumo songs decried alcoholism, AIDS, domestic violence, and people's devotion to foreign things-all prices that Mapfumo felt Zimbabweans had paid for abandoning their ancient culture. In the late '90s, Mapfumo increasingly focused his ire on the country's leaders, who he felt had failed the people. The state radio briefly refused to play critical songs from his 1999 album, Chimurenga Explosion, notably "Disaster".

In April 2000, the government received an electoral setback with the election of a substantial number of opposition candidates to the parliament. Among their reactions to this were threats against Mapfumo, and trumped up charges that he had bought stolen cars. A few months later, Mapfumo quietly moved his family out of the country to Oregon, where they currently reside. Mapfumo continues to record incendiary music, to have it banned. He would return to Zimbabwe and play for his loyal fans, risking arrest and harassment each time. However, as of 2005 he realized the situation to be dangerous and has not been to Zimbabwe.

Thomas Mapfumo Calabash Music
Thomas Mapfumo Real World Records

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