Internationally known musician Thomas Mapfumo and his band, The Blacks Unlimited, will be performing at Ohio University in September.
2015 marks the 15th anniversary of Ohio University’s College of Fine Arts awarding an honorary doctorate to legendary musician Dr. Thomas Tafirenyika Mapfumo, who is also known as “The Lion of Zimbabwe” and “Mukanya.” The Zimbabwe media today refer to him as “Dr. Mapfumo,” as a result of his OHIO connection. Mapfumo has framed his career around music of liberation and social justice, and relief from HIV/AIDS.
Mapfumo is debuting his new album at OHIO in recognition of the way the university has honored him, an honor that the entire nation of Zimbabwe has embraced as an element of that beleaguered country’s prestige.
Mapfumo & The Blacks Unlimited will perform at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville on Wednesday, September 9, at 7:00 p.m. A limited number of free tickets are available for Ohio University students. A free bus will available to transport students from campus (pick up location will be outside of the 1st floor of Baker Center) to Stuart’s Opera House for the show.
On Thursday, September 10, at 1:30 p.m. OHIO will host a lecture and demonstration from Mapfumo in the Schoonover Center, Room 450. This lecture, which will be free and open to the public, will also feature a talk about Mapfumo’s heritage throughout Zimbabwe’s decades of radical change from Banning Eyre, the senior editor of Afropop. Eyre has recently published a book on Mapfumo, “Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe”. He is also a contributor to National Public Radio (NPR) and discovered Mapfumo’s Ohio University connection while researching this new book.
Mapfumo’s story is fascinating, and faculty, staff, students and community members will enjoy hearing him perform and lecture.
Growing up in Mbare, at the time a black ghetto township and a hub of protest movements against the segregationist colonial regime, Mapfumo was exposed to some early brushes with police brutality against restless freedom protesters. It was also in Mbare that Mapfumo became hooked to the stereo, finding a favorite pastime as he listened to diverse international music from famous stars of the day. That concentrated limelight would eventually inspire him to plot for a music career expressing himself in his native language to spread consciousness and the call for freedom.
Pursuing his own Chimurenga music genre, one that is morphed into a symbol for the struggle against injustice as it assumed a distinct and threatening presence in war-torn Rhodesia, he founded Blacks Unlimited around 1978. Through that music banner, he continued to taunt the colonial regime, denouncing poverty while advocating for freedom. Despite the colonial system reacting to the music with censure and repression, Mapfumo’s music irresistibly rocked the nation like a hurricane as it remained unique, melodious, informative and equally gripping.
When Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, Thomas shared the celebrations stage in Rufaro Stadium with the Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley, opening more doors to international fame and recording opportunities in London. Despite his dedication to fighting colonial arbitrariness from the stage, in independent Zimbabwe he would embark on a new Chimurenga theme. The looming corruption, grinding poverty, and the decaying rule of law blighted a promising Zimbabwe, saddening hopeful masses and inevitably pushing him to compose more lyrics as missiles for protest against his own government. To the surprise of many, the same music censorship characteristics of colonial Rhodesia also visited Thomas upon his release of the “Corruption” album in independent Zimbabwe. With more pressing conditions, in 2000, he relocated to the USA and continued with his music. In October 2012, he entered the hall of fame, getting a chance of a lifetime, through his being reverenced to perform at the historic Carnegie Hall in New York City.
As a venue mainly for top notch global musicians, such a humbling recognition to “The Lion of Zimbabwe” was made possible because of his historical contributions to the fight of freedom and social justice in Zimbabwe. After decades of scintillating compilations, Thomas Mapfumo, a.k.a. Gandanga (freedom fighter) has fearlessly spearheaded Chimurenga beats through his continued tremendous contributions to the struggle for a united, prosperous and comfortable Zimbabwe. His tireless liveliness in civil rights activism prods him to exploit his tools of trade to communicate with the public in song as he gets buoyed on by amazingly consistent stamina. His captivating biography appears in a book called “The Story of Thomas Mapfumo,” courtesy of Chimurenga Music Company.
Ohio University is proud to have such a strong connection with Mapfumo and is pleased he will be honoring OHIO with this visit in September. The visit is being coordinated by OHIO’s African Studies Program, with support from Arts for Ohio, the Ohio University Performing Arts and Concert Series and Stuart’s Opera House.
For more information, please contact Steve Howard, director of the Center for International Studies, at firstname.lastname@example.org.