By Takura Zhangazha*
Thomas Mapfumo’s latest and recently released in Zimbabwe album is titled “Dangerzone’. It has been a while since he last released an album with new songs for his fans and the general public. Already it is apparent that the album will not receive much airplay on radio stations because some of the songs are intended at raising the political and social consciousness of Zimbabweans. It is an intention that sadly remains unpalatable to the powers that be. Especially where the state broadcast media is used for propaganda purposes.
What is apparent is that Mukanya is an artist who in Steve Biko parlance, ‘writes/sings what he likes’. And the people of Zimbabwe know this. Including the historical habit he has acquired of being a much respected and loved griot where it comes to explaining and warning about events in his home country. So the limited airplay this album gets from the state media does not take away its significance to national consciousness.
This latest offering which hit the streets and flea markets last week belongs to the hearts and minds of all Zimbabweans. Not only in its expressing their deep felt desires for a peaceful, democratic country but also for continuing to place our musical heritage on the world music map.
In this Mukanya places Chimurenga music into sharp consciousness for global consumption while simultaneously talking to his own domestic audience that he has hope and belief that eventually things will work out in Zimbabwe.
Listening to the album one is struck by the depth of his reflection on our contemporary Zimbabwean and international realities.
From the first track which refers to a husband/boyfriend’s disappointment at being rejected by his lover it is evident Mukanya is continually sensitive as to how love relationships are constrained in contemporary Zimbabwe. ‘Chikonzero’, is a finely tuned song, that can be viewed as a reflection of why our country’s civil courts are flooded with divorce cases. And its all about the money on either side.
The second and title track 'Dangerzone', is a reflection of how global conflicts in Syria, Nigeria are making the world a much more dangerous place to live in. True to its lyrics, we all want to know ‘what’s going on’ and how these wars can be stopped.
On the third track, ‘Zimbabwe’ he urges all Zimbabweans to unite and find common ground on the challenges facing the country. He takes this theme a notch further in another track on the same album, ‘Hatidi Politics’ where he laments the over politicization of basic issues such as health and education.
The most blunt song is perhaps track number four, 'Nhamo Hurombo' in which Mukanya asks the stark question ‘who has caused so much poverty in the country?’. Inferences can be drawn as to who he means when he refers to ‘sekuru’, ‘ambuya’, ‘tete’, ‘baba’, ‘amai’ as being the causers of poverty. Either way we are all talking about this same said poverty in the kombis and in our bedrooms is the slightly satirical assertion he makes in the song.
The album also has songs that are testimony of easy on the ear Chimurenga music. The new version of the classic ‘Shebeen’ is a dance-able tune that has new backing vocalists to make it trendy and contemporary. Furthermore the tracks ‘Celebrate’, ‘Chikwereti’, ‘Music’ and ‘Are You Ready’ augment the fact that Chimurenga music is not just about lyrics but more importantly, instrumentation. They are also testament to the fact that Mukanya remains one of the best composers of music Zimbabwe has ever produced.
As is the norm, the album does not forget the origins of its genre and therefore includes the effervescent mbira instrument in two tracks, ‘Varimudande’ and ‘Pasi Idandaro’. In the former track, one is reminded of the traditional music played by and for spirit mediums while the latter track reminds listeners of that which we fear most, mortality.
For Chimurenga music fans like myself, this album is a gem and justifies why it was long in the making. For Zimbabweans, this album is both a reminder of our common destiny as it is one to entertain us despite the daily hardships that we face. Once again, Mukanya has demonstrated that even though he is far away, he has his country and its people in his heart, mind and music.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)