Thomas Mapfumo was born in 1945 in Marondera, a small town south of the Rhodesian capital, Salisbury. He spent his first ten years living in the countryside with his grandparents, tending cattle herds, and waking up long before sunrise to
do chores before school. Though Rhodesia was moving inexorably toward racial civil war, Thomas was living an old-fashioned, traditional life, mostly removed from the bitterness building in the cities and townships. Traditional children's tunes, songs of celebration accompanied by the drums called ngoma, and especially, the sacred music of the metal-pronged mbira, an instrument whose beautiful, cycling melodies could summon the presence of ancestor spirits-these things formed the basis of Thomas's musical personality, a force that continues to shape the history and spiritual life of his country.
At the age of ten he was moved to his parents city home in Harare, where he came of age with Elvis, The Beatles, and the British Invasion, playing in a succession of bands as a teenager. As Thomas moved on from adolescence to work first with the Acid Band, and then with the Blacks Unlimited, his creativity soared. He had begun to sing using Shona lyrics and traditional Shona rhythms as the revolution in Zimbabwe flared. Thomas's lyrics reflected the concerns of the people around him-hardships in the rural areas, young men heading into the bush to fight Zimbabweís bitter war for independence, and a rising sense of indignation at white rulers who had systematically devalued Shona culture for four generations. Thomas's chimurenga singles captured the imagination of blacks nation wide. Near the end of war, the out-maneuvered Rhodesians arrested Thomas briefly and attempted to use him to rally support for a last desperate attempt to hold onto some vestige of power. But the tide of history had turned, and in 1980, Robert Mugabe was elected president of a new nation. That year, Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited shared the stage in Salisbury (now called Harare) with Bob Marley and the Wailers. This year, 2003, Mugabe is a leader gone mad, and Thomasí music is banned in Zimbabwe. He lives in exile with his family and band in the US. Still, his 2001 release in Zimbabwe Chimurenga Rebel sold itís entire 35,000 copies in a few days, and it remains one of Gramma records top seller, despite itís absence from the government airwaves.
His tours have taken him to the finest World Music venues, WOMAD three times, Summerjam in Germany, The Cactus Festival, The Houston International Festival, Detroitís Symphony Hall, Central Park Summerstage, Celebrate Brooklyn, The Grassroots Festival, Bright Moments, all over the USA, yearly from 1998 through 2003. His Christmas and New Years shows in Zimbabwe in 2001 packed as many as 8,000 devout fans to revel at the fire. He continues to return to Zimbabwe each year to perform for huge crowds despite the banning of his music there by the government.
His live shows transfix the audience, taking them to his plane of musical spiritual possession; they dance until the lights come on, and go home smiling. The electric mbiras lay the beat for the guitar, bass, and drums, which pulse out the Chimurenga style, both masters and creators of a unique musical genre. The full band explodes with energy, the smaller groupings smolder and ignite. Itís the ROOT of the Roots, something that must be experienced.
Honored with a Masterís Degree in Music from the University of Zimbabwe and Artist of the Year from the American World Music Awards in 1999, a PhD in Music from Ohio University and Zimbabweís Person of the Century in the Artís Award in 2000, Thomasí achievements continue to grow. His 2000 release, Chimurenga Explosion, won AFIMís Best World Contemporary CD Award in March 2001. All 4 of his aNOnym reCOrds releases have found their place in The Top 10 for their respective years, in places like the Village Voice, Beat Magazine, and Afropop Worldwide. His 2003 release, Toi Toi (protest), is the rallying cry for the mass action we see as of June 2003 in Zimbabwe, peaceful protest through non-violence which will overthrow a brutal dictator.
Thomas continues each day his lifelong struggle to protect his rights and benefit from the sales of his music, his name, in whatever form. This new millennium finds Thomas Mapfumo an international force in World Music, still composing, recording, performing and touring unceasingly.