Thomas Mapfumo Biography

Born in 1945 in Marondera, Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe. He 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.

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