Anonym Records has released the Chimurenga 2002 recording, TOI TOI, by Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited. The CD was recorded both at a concert in Eugene, Oregon and one in Zimbabwe, Mapfumo’s country of origin. The number of musicians change with each site.
Something to remember about Mapfumo’s music is that the songs always pertain to a political circumstance, circumstances that have to do with his nation, his community wherein suffering is taking place. His motivation to sing these songs all over the world is to solicit attention, albeit in an artful way, to the helplessness of those about whom he sings.
To paraphrase the liner notes, cut number six is described ( perhaps even translated) as saying that the artist appeals to God in every way possible to take away the ills, alleviate the pain of those impoverished who struggle with disease, lack of leadership, and oppression.
It seems paradoxical that this music does not convey anger in the instrumentation; the words talk about the anger and frustration and the longing for better life. In fact, this record says to me more than others from Mapfumo that the scope of the music widens with every song. Despite the repetitive nature of the essential drive forward of the basslines as provided by a fluctuating variety of percussion over which the vocals float effortlessly, one of the key elements is the way in which the brass can launch into a place that breaks the rhythmic tension and causes the music to fly and soar, sometimes apart from the rest of the group. But, no matter how the motion goes, the group unfailingly collects itself again in soft, round, subtle poetic unity. It is that poetic unity that inspires the listening, inspires introspection on how the underprivileged of the world lives in desperation, which fact goes unnoticed except by the proportionately very few.
In an article printed in the New York Times this fall, a discussion of the connection of music, in particular, rhythm, with human evolution can be traced back to Darwin. He believed that music inherently associates itself with deeply felt passions. Recent research speculates that music-specific nerve structures exist in the brain and might indicate how and why certain music is created. Given this backdrop, Mapfumo’s contribution to the collective spirit invoked by his songs is irrevocable and carries out what is mysteriously in human nature, tribally-oriented or not, to express itself.