Thomas Mapfumo

Thomas Mapfumo performs on stage during Live 8, Africa Calling, in 2005


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A new book and CD highlights the life and career of Zimbabwean singer Thomas Mapfumo. It was written by Banning Eyre, a music writer and editor of the PRI show Afropop Worldwide. Eyre first met Mapfumo in 1988 and since then the two have maintained both a friendship and working relationship. 

Mapfumo is known as the "Lion of Zimbabwe." Mapfumo got that name for singing songs that challenge and criticize the government of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Eyre says the singer was not always a critic of Mugabe's. Even today, he has "very complex feelings about the man." Mapfumo was an early sympathizer of Mugabe's rebels during the Rhodesian Bush War in the 1960s and 70s.

But things changed after the war. When Mugabe and these "little gods came back from Mozambique and Zambia. They just lorded their war experience over everyone and they had such a high opinion of themselves," Eyre says. "This is what lead to all of this corruption and the pocketing of money." This is when Mapfumo started to point the finger toward the government in song, most famously in the song "Corruption."

Thomas Mapfumo now lives in exile in the United States. He moved with his family to Eugene, Oregon. It was a tough decision and has "hurt him career wise," at least among fans in Zimbabwe. Mapfumo hasn't been back for 10 years. Eyre says he'd like to go back, "at least on a regular basis to perform, if not to live there. But each time he's that close to arranging some huge, mega concert there, he pulls back for some reason."

It's very likely that Thomas Mapfumo will only go back once Mugabe dies, something that Eyre jokes may never happen. 

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