Legendary Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo thrilled an audience of over 200 people at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on April 12th. Mapfumo’s visit to U of I was part of a three-city Midwest tour organized by African Studies programs at Indiana University, Northwestern and, our own Center for African Studies.
The ”Lion of Zimbabwe,” as Mapfumo is known, added an energizing ambience to the often staid lobby of the Krannert. Young and old jumped to their feet with each new tune and tested fresh or long dormant dance moves to go with the Chimurenga (liberation war) beat of Thomas and his band, the Blacks Unlimited. Mapfumo is known for not only for his unique, high energy blend of traditional and contemporary music styles. Many of his songs carry a biting political commentary, like the famous 1989 tune “Corruption,” in which he lambasted President Robert Mugabe’s post-independence government.
Professor Mhoze Chikowero, author of African Music, Power, and Being in Colonial Zimbabwe, accompanied the musicians on the tour and warmed up the audience by providing more background on the political and social context of Mapfumo’s work. Chikowero situated Mapfumo’s music as part of the resistance to colonialism. He highlighted the works of this Zimbabwean master during the 1960s struggle against white rule in what was then Rhodesia but stressed how Mapfumo’s spirit of Chimurenga music has continued for decades. For Chikowero, Mapfumo’s post-independence songs like “Chiruzhevha Chapera” (segregated rural areas are gone) represent ongoing attempts to resist the colonial legacy of attempting to “systematically destroy, deliberately distort or censor aspects of African cultural life while underscoring the negative.”
Apart from his performance at Krannert, Mapfumo and his band visited U of I classes as well as local students who were attending International Week Events. The band especially delighted local middle school students from Fisher, Illinois by giving them some lessons on playing the traditional mbira. (See photo.) Mapfumo and three key members of Blacks Unlimited, Gilbert Zvamaida, Christopher Muchbaiwa, and John Hambira have been based in Eugene, Oregon for over a decade but maintain a global reach with their sound and tours. Fortunately for us, their global reach this year extended to the U of I.
To see more photos of the visit, go here.