Songwriter Thomas Mapfumo to speak about musical resistance

Aaron Boxerman, Reporter

Zimbabwean songwriter Thomas Mapfumo will speak at Northwestern on Friday about his use of song as a form of resistance.

Mapfumo, who wrote music as a way to protest the white-nationalist government of Rhodesia in southern Africa, will speak on a panel in Harris Hall organized by the Program of African Studies. Mapfumo will be joined by University of California, Santa Barbara Prof. Mhoze Chikowero, who specializes in the relationship between African music and African politics.

While Mapfumo was living in Rhodesia, several local resistance movements sprung up to push for both political and cultural autonomy. Mapfumo’s music depicted this struggle and eventually landed him in prison in 1979. Rhodesia became the independent country of Zimbabwe soon after.

“Watch out, don’t underestimate me. I am also armed,” Mapfumo wrote in a song that he was later arrested for by the Rhodesian government.

Mapfumo, who played an active role in the resistance movement, is also known as the “Lion of Zimbabwe,” said Kelly Coffey, business coordinator at the Program of African Studies. Mapfumo currently plays in a band with the Blacks Unlimited.

“I would say he was really the voice of the liberation struggle for Zimbabwe,” said Esmeralda Kale, curator of Northwestern’s Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies. “Being jailed and imprisoned, being harassed … and yet at the same time, finding a way of being creative, of speaking up. It’s magnificent.”

Anthropology Prof. Stephen Hill said Mapfumo’s music is associated with Shona religious practice, while still having musical instruments and “economic structures” of a professional band.

“Mapfumo created the soundtrack to the revolutionary struggle,” said Hill, who will moderate the panel on Friday.

Coffey said she hopes NU students will draw inspiration from Mapfumo’s talk and concert.

“I’m hoping that people will be inspired to think that you don’t have to settle for things that are not right,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be through conflict, it can be through music or art — not as a replacement for direct political action, but as a way to lift people’s spirits.”

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