Thomas Mapfumo 2: The Mugabe Years

Part 2 of the story of Zimbabwe’s most consequential singer and bandleader picks up at the dawn of the country’s independence in 1980. The program focuses on key songs from Thomas Mapfumo’s vast post-independence catalogue, beginning with his celebration of victory, and his warnings about “dissidents” out to destabilize a young nation struggling for unity. The 1988 song “Corruption” officially opens Mapfumo’s rift with the regime of Robert Mugabe, turning a government financial scandal into a pop culture sensation. 1999’s “Mamvemve” accuses leaders of betraying the promises of the liberation struggle and reducing a rich country to “tatters,” and 2003’s “Marima Nzara” takes the government on over Zimbabwe’s most prolonged and vexing challenge—reclaiming land stolen from Africans by Rhodesian settlers over a century of colonial rule. In all, this is an amazing saga of a popular singer’s evolution from enthusiastic booster to caustic critic of a young African government.

Zimbabwean historian Mhoze Chikowero contextualizes all these songs with vivid descriptions of the issues and events that Mapfumo’s work both responded to and shaped. Afropop producer Banning Eyre has been researching a biography of Mapfumo for more than 15 years, and the program draws upon his, and Afropop’s, wealth of archival interviews and rare musical recordings. The result is a persuasive portrait of a brilliant musical innovator and an under recognized titan of African post-colonial cultural politics.