Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe
Banning Eyre is a freelance writer and guitarist and the senior editor and producer of the public radio program Afropop Worldwide. He is the author of In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali, Playing With Fire: Fear and Self-Censorship in Zimbabwean Music, and Guitar Atlas: Africa, and the coauthor of AFROPOP! An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music. Eyre is a contributor to National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and his writing has been published in Billboard, Guitar Player, Salon.com, the Boston Phoenix, CMJ, Option, Folk Roots, Global Rhythm, and other publications. He has also performed and recorded with Thomas Mapfumo.
In this chapter, Mapfumo deals with the complexities of keeping his band on top within a fast-changing Zimbabwean music market, and developing an international reputation. Money is a constant issue, especially as Mapfumo family members become more and more involved in the management of band affairs. Musicians come and go, often in disputes over payment. Mbira player Chartwell Dutiro joins the band, shepherding mbiras into the Blacks Unlimited stage lineup in a lasting way. The era produces ground-breaking new music, notably Mapfumo’s tribute to Zimbabwe’s war-torn neighbor Mozambique (the album Zimbabwe-Mozambique), and the career-changing 1989 song “Corruption.” This song is a direct response to the Willowgate scandal in which government ministers were illegally buying and selling luxury cars. Geoffrey Nyarota’s reporting on these doings marked a turning point in critical journalism in Zimbabwe, and Mapfumo’s song drove the change home to an increasingly disillusioned public.