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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Thomas Mapfumo a 'prophet' not without honour?

By Blessing Vava
September, 2, 2015 was a historic day. I joined hundreds of Zimbabwe music legend Thomas Mapfumo’s fans at OR Tambo International Airport, where the icon was due to touch down from his Oregon, USA base.
The arrival at OR Tambo International Airport
After moments of anticipating, he finally emerged on the arrivals section. With his guitar hung to his shoulders, the legend, with a smile on his face, walked towards the cheering crowd.

In minutes he was mobbed and cameras were flashing all over as the many fans jostled to get a rare photo opportunity with Zimbabwe’s long-time music star. In the midst of the excitement, one airport security staffer, a South African, made a remark to me ''who is this guy? He must be great.”

With two concerts lined up for him in South Africa, Mukanya looked jubilant and ready as he interacted with fans and journalists. As we tried to maintain some order to give journalists an opportunity to ask questions, he asked for the Zimbabwean national flag from one of the fans, before he wrapped around his neck like a scarf and the interviews began.

He responded to all the questions, but paused for a few seconds after one journalist asked him on when he is returning to Zimbabwe. He continued, and told the journalist that he misses Zimbabwe and hopes one day he will be heading there to entertain his legion of fans.
Thomas  left Zimbabwe in 2004.

For the next two days we kept on interacting, especially during the rehearsals, mostly talking about  music,  his views on the political situation in Zimbabwe.

This was the man whose prophetic compositions could be interpreted with narratives  predicting the future of Zimbabwe. The raspy, staccato, smoothly deep voice of Mapfumo refuses to be bowed, to be bought and remains pointed against all forms of oppression. It is as if the music legend himself known as ‘Mukanya’ or “Gandanga’ (freedom fighter) hears from the ‘Gods’ themselves and delivers the message unmediated, raw and definitely upsets the status quo.
Thomas Mapfumo and Blessing Vava -Johannesburg 2014

Mapfumo's yesteryear compositions are still relevant even today, perhaps he had seen it coming? I asked him specifically about some particular tracks namely ''maiti kurima inyore'' (you thought farming was easy-Album Hondo 1991), todya marara (we are eating crumbs-Album Chimurenga Varieties 1994), nyika yaita mamvemve (the country is now in rags), ''zvataibva kuhondo'' (Album Chimurenga Explosion 2000) he responded, ''I had seen it coming that the future looks bleak.''

Almost bulk of his compositions done from his more than four decades career reflects the current state of Zimbabwe, politically and economically..

Mapfumo's predictions seemed  spot on, the country is being run by a clique of  corrupt, self serving leaders who are seemingly swathed in the tired mantra of nationalist and liberation rhetoric with all the promises they made during the war proving to be  nothing but dust.

In the same, he warned that we must be vigilant,  songs like ''kukuvarira mukati'' (suffer in silence) taken from the album Rise Up (2004), Mukanya is a sarcastic  provocation to  the masses not to be docile.

As we interacted I noticed his love for his country, Zimbabwe that has kept him away for long, and his song ''chikonzero ndiyo Zimbabwe yacho'' a 1998 production as if he was predicting that he was going to leave his country of birth to reside in a foreign land because of the troubles at home.  This has not been him alone, but millions of Zimbabweans have since fled the country away from political persecution and the decaying economy.

After listening to his story, of his arrest by the Rhodesian government, the banning of his songs like corruption by the Mugabe government, he however refused to be silenced and up until today his message has never changed. There is no doubt that Mapfumo’s music has openly challenged an ‘exhausted nationalist’ politics which has morphed into a hegemonic elite accumulation project for the ruling ‘party-state.’

Talking about the future of Zimbabwe,  believes that the future of Zimbabwe lies in the youth but only if they are organised to determine the destiny for Zimbabwe. And as a youth I felt inspired and this was a challenge for us to decide our destiny.

Although he has been away from Zimbabwe for almost ten years, he has kept Zimbabwe at the fore of his message in almost every album he has produced to date.

Suffice to say, as I wrote on the album sleeve of his latest album DangerZone:  ''His powerful, unique and to a certain extent representative voice speaks to our own realities and to our socio-economic, cultural, and political dynamics and realities which sets our feet on a life pastel of continuously self introspecting our ways of life.'

For his music, he has been an enemy of the government, and  the message in the music remains a source of hope to millions of Zimbabweans in and outside the country.

As he concluded the South African tour, he was now looking forward to Mozambique where he was invited by that country's government to be the main act during the Defence forces celebrations such a befitting honour.

 And this reminded me of the biblical verse "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.'' Indeed, Mapfumo had been vilified by his country, to be specific, the government which is now being led by  'erstwhile' colleagues during the war of liberation. 

For Mapfumo, the  phenomenon described by Simon and Garfunkel in their 1960s song ''Sounds of Silence'' with the lyrics “People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening, tells us his story and his music.

Mapfumo, through his music  remains an inspiration to all Zimbabweans who yearn for a truly democratic state. I am very privileged to work with this great revolutionary.

Yahwee ndakuona!

nb: No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior permission from the author, should you wish to republish please acknowledge.www.blevava.blogspot.com

Blessing Vava is a blogger who writes from Chipinge, and the Publicist for Chimurenga Music Company. He can be contacted on blessingvava@gmail.com