Banning Eyre is a freelance writer and guitarist and the senior editor and producer of the public radio program
Big Daddy and the Zimbabwe Playboys
In this chapter, Mapfumo is working with American management and the biggest international record deal of his career, with Mango, a division of Chris Blackwell’s Island Records. The chapter details Mapfumo’s first U.S. tour in fall 1989. This tour, recalled in vivid and sometimes humorous detail by road manager Thomas Terrell, is presented as a kind of object lesson in the complexities of presenting an African band in America. Amid the heyday of “word music” and “Afropop,” this highly idiosyncratic band of Zimbabweans confront a barrage of cultural barriers. The unique power of their music and the strength of their performances carry the day, but deep problems of financial and personnel management constantly threaten success. Back home in Zimbabwe, Mapfumo moves ahead aggressively with his new sound—now enhanced by two or three mbira players—and songs that bravely critique the failings of Zimbabwe’s political class.