Some people will have heard of Thomas Mapfumo and his “Chimurenga” music, others may have heard of the Mbira players such as Chartwell Dutiro and Stella Chiweshe, thanks to Real World music releases, but the richness of Zimbabwean music still has to be explored. I have had the joy of playing with Chartwell in Bristol and meeting Oliver Mtukudzi in Harare.
Thomas Tafirenyika Mapfumo is known as “The Lion of Zimbabwe” and “Mukanya” for his immense popularity and for the political influence he wields through his music.
In the 1970s Zimbabwe’s people fought a war of independence against their white Rhodesian rulers. Out of that grew chimurenga which is based on the Shona majority’s chiming, cyclical rhythms, patterns and melodies of the mbira resulting in a hypnotric almost trance-like music. Mapfumo took that traditional music and added electric guitars, horns, and a drum kit. With his electronic interpretations of traditional mbira music he became a huge star in Zimbabwe. Being that some of his lyrics addressed the struggle for independence the white Rhodesian government felt threatened by his popularity, As a result, in 1977, Mapfumo was detained in prison for 90 days because of his song Hokoya (Watch Out).
Thomas in 2008 (New Mexico)
Stella Rambisai Chiweshe
Stella Rambisai Chiweshe is one of the few women playing the male-dominated mbira-based music of the Shona people. Born in the late 1940s, Chiweshe grew up in Zimbabwe’s forest region of Mhondoro, about 45 miles from the capital city, Harare. Chiwese began learning to play the mbira dza vadzimu in 1964. It was very unusual for a girl to play mbira at that time and Chiweshe had to face the disapproval of her community, where woman performers were often treated as “loose women.” Chiweshe perservered to become perhaps the best known player of the instrument outside Zimbabwe.
The mbira dza vadzimu is a sacred instrument used by the Shona people of Zimbabwe to call on the spirit of their ancestors in ceremonies called “bira.” In these traditional cermonies the repetitive, chiming melodies and rhythms of the mbira combine with the hosho (gourd rattles), singing, and sometimes drumming (on the ngoma), to inspire the ancestors to offer advice and guidance through a spirit medium.
In 1974, Chiwese recorded her first single “Kasahwa,” useing a borrowed mbira, The song was a hit and she went on to record 24 singles over the next six years. She joined the National Dance Company in 1981 and began to travel to other countries to perform. These days Chiwese maintains a home in both Zimbabwe and Germany and tours extensively throughout Europe and the Eastern United States. In early 1998 she appeared as one of three women showcased on the Global Divas tour.
(ref:Africa Music Encyclopedia )
Mtukudzi began performing in 1977 when he joined the Wagon Wheels, a band that also featured Thomas Mapfumo. Their single, “Dzandimomotera”, went gold and Tuku’s first album followed, which was also a major success. Mtukudzi is also a contributor to Mahube, Southern Africa’s “supergroup”.
With his husky voice, he has become the most recognized voice to emerge from Zimbabwe and onto the international scene and he has earned a devoted following across Africa and beyond. A member of Zimbabwe’s KoreKore tribe, Nzou Samanyanga as his totem, he sings in the nation’s dominant Shona language along with Ndebele and English. He also incorporates elements of different musical traditions, giving his music a distinctive style, known to fans as “Tuku Music”. Mtukudzi has had a number of tours around the world. He has been on several tours in the UK, US and Canada to perform for large audiences.
Unlike Mapfumo, Mtukudzi has refrained from directly criticizing the government of President Robert Mugabe. However, some of his most emotive hits prodded the aging authoritarian ruler, including “Ndakuvara,” which bemoans the political violence engineered by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and “Wasakara (You Are Getting Old),” which most Zimbabweans took as a direct plea for Mugabe to retire.
He is the father of five children and has two grandchildren.Two of his children are also musicians. His son Sam Mtukudzi, a successful musician in his own right, died in a car accident in March 2010. Mtukudzi also has four sisters and one brother, who died.
A list of some of the more well known Zimbabwean musicians
- Thomas Maphumo and the Blacks Unlimited
- Stella Chiwese
- Robson Banda and The New Black Eagles
- Bhundu Boys (Jit)
- Black Umfolosi
- Chartwell Dutiro
- John Chibadura
- Leonard Denbo
- Beulah Dyoko
- Four Brothers
- Legal Lions
- Dumisani Maraire
- Dorothy Masuka
- Lovemore Majaivana
- Jonah Moyo
- Oliver Mtukudzi
- Ephat Mujuru
- John Pounds
- Shangara Jive
- Jona Sithole
afro.mix.org is a great resource for music info and sites from several African countries such as Sierra Leone