Thomas Mapfumo’s Golden Classics Album: A Reflection On The Historical Fabric Of Zimbabwean Society
By Takura Zhangazha
Listening to Thomas Mapfumo’s new compilation album, Golden Classics is akin to undergoing a musical historical narrative on the progression of Zimbabwean society since the late 1970s through to the euphoric early years of independence. It is an album that makes the listener not only aware of varying phases of Zimbabwe’s socio-political, economic history but also to appreciate the evolution of Chimurenga music’s instrumentation as a global music genre.
It is however important to expand on these three socio-economic, political and music instrumentation aspects of this latest Chimurenga Music Company’s (CMC) album.
To begin with, the Golden Classics album is reminiscent and celebratory of the 1980 liberation victory as well as the challenges that we faced at the onset of independence. These challenges were to be embedded in our collective anticipation, and lack of urgent delivery of popularly anticipated holistic changes to our socio-economic circumstances in the 1980s. The celebratory component s were to be largely found in the great hope that finally we had arrived at the political freedom station that was independence.
In relation to the aforementioned, the album’s themes run from ones that talk to the end of poverty (Nhamo Yapera) through to celebrating ‘Mondays’ (Zuva Guru) as, somewhat ironically, being one of the most important days of the week. Whether be it in good humour or patent seriousness, there is the running thread of an acknowledgement of the anticipation that now that Zimbabwe has come, there shall be an improvement in the livelihood of the people. One that would be a result of the hard work and support that the people gave to the struggle. All expressed with an acknowledgment of the importance of laboring to make these liberation dreams a reality.
These are themes that remain relevant to our contemporary socio-economic challenges whether viewed from a national or individual citizen standpoint. Both of which are interspersed with narratives of love that was lost due to lack of money or a reckless disrespect of marriage as an important institution(John Wapera).
The only specific difference between the time these songs were put on vinyl and now is that we are no longer as hopeful or as enthusiastic about the national economy being steered in a direction that addresses our collective economic livelihoods. All the same, there is a moralistic and religious tone to some of the songs on the album that bemoan social inequality and beseech God to intervene (Pamuromo Chete) with messaging that remains relevant today.
Where it comes to the second aspect of the politics of Golden Classics , there are songs that reflect the popular political mood of the early 1980s as well as the disillusionment that began to set in as time progressed. It would be ahistorical to attribute such songs as ‘Chiiko Chinotinetsa’ to the time of composition alone, as the song continues to be relevant to our contemporary politics today. It questions issues to do with what the problem may be with the country for it to be so poor.
It also further queries what may indeed be the cause of our never-ending national problems. Whether it be a lack of money, general poverty, unemployment, the country being too ‘opaque’ or perhaps having committed a collective crime to be in such dire straits. This is where Thomas Mapfumo’s music particularly remains timeless. Such questions could be asked by any citizen of Zimbabwe at home or in the Diaspora experiencing either the pangs of exile or a lack of basic social services in 2013 and beyond.
There’s also the third aspect to the album that relates to the musical composition and its meeting with the lyrics. The instrumentation places emphasis on both base and lead guitar, a style that is peculiar to Thomas since he pioneered Chimurenga Music. None of the songs sound the same. Each one represents its own creative uniqueness both in terms of lyrics as well as instrumentation. As a result, and from this earlier stage in his career, he is still arguably the best composer of Zimbabwean music to date.
Both by geographical and cultural origin. This, by way of either working with other legendary composers such as the late Jonah Sithole or composing the music by himself. Add Mapfumo’s voice and indeed we have the finished article.
To conclude, it would be important to recognize that Mukanya’s music reflects the very fabric of Zimbabwean society. Whether one goes back to the period in which the majority of the songs on Golden Classics were composed or skips to his last released album Exile and the pending World on Fire/Danger Zone one, we are blessed as a country to have such a talent still among us. Even though he remains in physical exile and as has been written on the sleeve of this latest one by Blessing Vava, Mhondoro yeZimbabwe (Lion of Zimbabwe).
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity at takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com