Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited

Thomas Mapfumo’s music played a key role in Zimbabwe’s independence struggle. It was banned by the Ian Smith regime and in 1977 he was jailed for ninety days. He was the leading voice of the ‘chimurenga’ or ‘struggle’, the coded lyrics of his songs giving support and encouragement to the freedom fighters in the bush. After years of suppression, he and his eleven-strong Blacks Unlimited played alongside Bob Marley and the Wailers at the great Independence Day rally in Harare in 1980.

The ‘Lion of Zimbabwe’ started his musical career strongly influenced by Western RnB, but switched to singing in Shona, which was highly unfashionable at the time. His instrument was the mbira, consisting of a large calabash resonator and a set of iron keys. He radically transformed Zimbabwean music in the mid to late seventies by successfully translating its intricate patterns into music that could be played in a popular band format. His music continues to give inspiration to the people of Zimbabwe and the world.

The documentary below was produced in Zimbabwe in 1990 by Simon Bright and Chenjerai Hove and includes music and songs from some of the country’s most influential musicians at the time – Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, Oliver Mtukudzi, Comrade Chinx and Mazana Movement, Paul Mataviri and Jairos Jiri Sunrise Band.

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