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Thomas Mapfumo and Blacks Unlimited
Chimurenga Rebel / Manhungetunge
Anonymous Records (

Mapfumo's latest recording, the aptly titled Chimurenga Rebel, is released as a double CD with Manhungetunge, his 2000 recording. Chimurenga Rebel is, indisputably, his most explicit criticism of the Zimbabwean government to date. Mukanya (as he is popularly known in Zimbabwe), like wine, seems to get better with age. For a man who has recorded for three decades it is amazing to see him still capable of shifting up the gears. This album confirms his status as the master of Chimurenga music. Now living in exile in America, Mapfumo has not let down his multitude of fans at home and abroad. He has kept up the struggle inherent in Chimurenga and within his other Shona nickname, Gandanga, meaning freedom fighter. The vocals and instrumentation on this album are superb and one can sense the rebellious mood emanating from both. Whilst Mapfumo maintains the rootsy Chimurenga sound, he is not afraid to experiment with some new rhythms and atypical arrangements.

The lyrics are not a barrier to non-Shona speakers; the music itself speaks any and all languages. The incessantly sweet mbira sounds will hold anyone's attention. Mapfumo's voice sounds very polished, the singing and yodelling compete with his very best. Young guitarist Zivai Guvheya has done remarkably well after switching from mbira to fill in the hot spot occupied by the cream of Zimbabwe's guitarists over the years. The horn section's contribution would make the late Blacks Unlimited veteran trumpet player, Everson Chibhamu, smile from the heavens.

"Marima Nzara" is an unveiled criticism of the Zimbabwean government's land reform policy. According to the lyrics "you have lost the plot by expelling the farmers who provide the food/you are inviting poverty." The mbira-led rhythm is exquisite, inspiring some serious dancing. "Zimbabwe" is an innovative, down-tempo track that invites one to listen carefully. It declares that the rule of law be followed in the country, that people should be respected, should be free and should not be forced to do anything against the collective will. "Huni" sees Mapfumo in a stimulating and groovy ragga mbira mode. The song gives a strong warning that if you push people around they will inevitably revolt against you at some point. My favourite is "Baba Vevana" which exudes all the best in Chimurenga music: hypnotising mbira waves, yodelling vocals and rumbling bass.

Manhungetunge needs no introduction to Mapfumo's long-term fans. As they have come to expect, Mukanya certainly does not fail to deliver, providing social commentary in his lyrics and all the trademarks of his music - the original traditional mbira and the relentless, unrivaled, mbira guitar style.

My favorite is the traditional "Chemutengure" which probably stands out as the jewel of the crown on this album. This song, played over many generations in Zimbabwe, sounds new and fresh. The mbiras, guitar and vocals are faultless and form a strong base for the song. The late Joshua Dube is on guitar and his infectious lines and riffs consolidate his standing as one of Zimbabwe's master guitarists. Also impressive is the version of "Pamuromo Chete," Mapfumo's hit from 1978; the lyrics are as relevant today as they were then.

The Lion of Zimbabwe can still be heard loud and clear, even from afar, and both Chimurenga Rebel and Manhungetunge will facilitate pungwes all over the world. - Godfrey Mawere

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