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.
This chapter opens the America portion of the book. We meet Al Green, an American musician-entrepreneur who starts a record company (aNOnym reCOrds) principally aimed at releasing Mapfumo’s music. Green facilitates the process of bringing Mapfumo’s wife and kids to Eugene, Oregon. A young Zimbabwe, Cuthbert Chiromo, steps in on the Zimbabwean side, and a new team emerges to support Mapfumo’s tri-continental career. The chapter details a complex balancing act between touring in the United States and keeping the Zimbabwean market supplied with powerful new music. Thomas receives an honorary degree from the University of Zimbabwe, presented by Mugabe himself. Weeks later, he releases Chimurenga Explosion (1999), with two songs that bitterly critique Mugabe’s failures and are suppressed from radio play in Zimbabwe. Even with his family in exile and his safety in doubt, Mapfumo returns for hugely attended, year-end concerts in Zimbabwe.