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Thomas Mapfumo

The songs of Thomas Mapfumo, the “Lion of Zimbabwe,” soundtracked the years on either end of Rhodesia’s independence, and later echoed a growing public criticism of Robert Mugabe. Born southeast of the capital city Harare in 1945, Mapfumo and his family lived a traditional lifestyle until they relocated to a Harare township when he was ten. Having absorbed traditional Shona music, at sixteen Mapfumo joined the Zulu Brothers, who played covers of American material. In 1972, he formed the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, which exhibited his fusion of rock and Shona instrumentation. He began singing in the traditional Shona language, which brought him into conflict with the colonial government of Rhodesia. In 1979, Mapfumo released “Hokoyo!,” which was summarily banned from public play and Maputo was imprisoned in a labor camp. Radio stations including the Voice of Mozambique and discos still played his records and, in 1980, after free elections had ended British rule and installed Mugabe, Mapfumo headlined a celebratory concert with Bob Marley. He released his first solo album through Chimurenga Music in 1981 and, through the 1980s, Mapfumo’s material reflected the general happiness felt after the end of colonial rule. In the 1990s, the issues surrounding Mugabe’s presidency led Mapfumo to openly attack the leader he had once supported. By the end of the 1990s, the situation in Zimbabwe saw Mapfumo relocate to Eugene, Oregon, where he continued to record for Anonymous Web Productions until a coup against Mugabe ended his rule in 2017. Throughout, Mapfumo remained one of the most vocal advocates for the situation in Zimbabwe and, with his chimurenga, provided a danceable soundtrack to the country’s rapidly developing history.