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Chimurenga Rebel / Manhungetunge by Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited

[NOTE: The following is a revised version of a review I did of an album that is now one disc of this new 2-CD set.]Thomas Mapfumo is an innovator in the music of Zimbabwe - where most performers of that nation’s Afro-pop would exclusively do traditional or traditionally-based songs, Mapfumo played his own often politically charged material. Further, his music absorbed the sounds of Anglo-American rock & roll (like The Beatles) as well as funk, soul (Wilson Pickett) and jazz (TM recorded a fine album in collaboration with Wadada Leo Smith, Dreams & Secrets). This platter from 2000 features what TM does best: effervescent Afro-pop guitar lines (at times slightly reminiscent of the cosmic stylings of the late Jerry Garcia), subtly poignant, folkish singing and ebullient rhythms, accomplished and sophisticated without ever sounding too slick or assembly-line. TM's voice is sort of a mellow scratchy-throaty sound, worldly-wise and expressive, kind of like a country bluesman (if he was from Zimbabawe, o' course). This album is a 2-CD set consisting of Manhungetunge, previously available as an import and Chimurenga Rebel. Within TM's music there are elements of Western music evident (funky bass lines, the scorching, almost psychedelic electric guitar solo that concludes "Big In America"), but TM has digested them fully and absorbed them into his approach - there are no "concessions" to the Western pop scene(s) but no stuffy, purist notions of "cultural purity" either. All the tracks hover about the 4 to 7-minute range, so they lay down a solid groove but avoid meandering/noodling. "Huni" works in a highlife-styled horn section as well as a soulful jazz-charged tenor sax solo, all over a curiously attractive groove that's ominous and sexy at the same time. The hypnotic "Baba Vevan" connects the traditional sounds of (multiple) mbiras with the Cuban-inflected modern West African guitar sound. Anyone who loves contemporary African guitar-based music and is interested in where it could go in the future should def. hear Mapfumo, and this swell set o' platters is recommended to aficionados as well as the curious. [available 7/27]

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited
  • CD Title: Chimurenga Rebel / Manhungetunge
  • Genre: World Music
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: Anonymous Web
  • Rating: Four Stars
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