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Mukanya: Return of the Lion of Africa

Of course, the news of Thomas “Mukanya” Mapfumo to Zimbabwe has generated such a buzz my media colleagues Tuso and Kamangeni have vowed to drive all the way to Harare to attend the gig. They are die-hard fanatics.

State of the Art with Admire Kudita

Mapfumo will stage a show at Glamis Stadium at the Harare Showgrounds on April 28 dubbed the Big Bira. The show will include Tuku; and I heard him confirm the pairing of Zimbabwe’s most enduring music legends on a local radio station.

Mapfumo unceremoniously left the country in the early 2000s amidst a haze of a combination of an over active rumour mill of allegations (regarding an illicit car deal) and fears of state clamp down on his musical activism. When Mapfumo left, he had been the king of Zimbabwean music and we indeed could contend that we had a musician of the stature of Salif Keita (Mali), Youssou Ndour (Senegal) or even a Manu DiBango (Cameroon).Then he left and Tuku loomed large.

Lion in a zoo

With a little bit of mischief, one may contend that if indeed Mukanya was fleeing reprisals from state organs over his musical militancy, then he was no Bob Marley.

Leornard Zhakata stayed put in Zimbabwe and paid the price for singing songs that appeared to criticise the government of President Mugabe. State radio stations turned on him. Radio blackout is a death knell for any musician. You simply do not get booked for live shows if people do not hear from you. Radio and television are the means through which your music can be heard if you are a musician.

Mukanya’s departure for the United States was akin to the capturing and placement of a lion in a zoo. Ensconced inside a zoo, lions do not look too regal. A lion belongs in an African jungle and roaring the night away. It is, however, not too late for Mapfumo to be released back into his natural habit some 14 years after.

A tale of two legends

Whereas people in the country have been clamouring for social change, Mukanya has kept his Zimbabwean fans on a steady supply of live shows in the diaspora. His message has remained defiant as captured in classic songs such as Corruption and Chauya Chauya.
Ironically, Tuku remained as cryptic as ever, chosing to stick to “chibhende” a roundabout way of addressing topical issues.

Songs such as Bvuma raised eyebrows when some hazarded that they referred to the then president’s reluctance to surrender power because of advanced age. But people could only speculate as to what Tuku’s real purpose was. Tuku’s approach may be construed as guerrilla warfare to Mapfumo’s open combat with the regime.

Tuku has enjoyed safety in his Pakare Paye headquarters and has in the last few years watched his prominence dissipate in the wake of the upsurge of Jah Prayzah and Winky D. Tuku will be therefore happy to grab this chance to revive his waning career. How many more tricks can a muso have up his sleeve 67 albums down the line?

Tuku album

I listened to two tracks that were previewed on Power FM by Tafadzwa Sikwila and DJ Butterphly. It was a breakfast show. The music was a low-key affair and left me feeling underwhelmed. But perhaps it is just me.

My sense is that Tuku ought to leave recording his own albums to expert mature hands. I do not believe he has surpassed the work he did with University of Natal music graduate Steve Dyer (the ex-Southern Freeway anchorman) on the groundbreaking Tuku Music album sonically. The album, along with the other four albums Dyer produced for Tuku, captured all the jazz, mbaqanga and katekwe essence of Mtukudzi’s music.

The engineering was superlative and, in terms of musical partnership, the pairing of Dyer and Tuku was perfect. Dyer had paid his own musical dues, churning out minor hits such as Thabiso alongside Pindi Mtya in Afro-jazz band Southern Freeway whilst they were based in Bulawayo in the late 1980s. The group produced two albums Southern Freeway (1989) and Indlela Yenkululeko (1992) in its heyday.Dyer is now based in South Africa where he runs Dyertribe music studio.

Parting shot

The Mukanya homecoming show is possibly going to evoke a lot of nostalgia.Time was when Mapfumo owned the stage. Throngs followed him wherever he went.

I can remember a time when he even had the temerity to do two gigs at the same time in different places. He could have a band playing at Kambuzuma Garden Party whilst he was staging at Gwenyambira Gardens in Mufakose. No one complained as the band played before the lionised Mapfumo would saunter onto the stage and serve up his Chimurenga music.

Only Tuku’s catalogue rivals Mukanya’s in terms of hits and, perhaps buoyed by euphoria, Mukanya will defy his age and reclaim his crown. Possibly, the one person who looks forward to this gig is Oliver Mtukudzi for reasons already stated.

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