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different musical takes on politics in Zimbabwe
July 12, 2005
In 1980, Zimbabwe
won its independence after a long guerrilla war. Under a new leader, Robert
Mugabe, the southern African nation hoped to avoid the corruption, mismanagement
of resources, and ethnic tensions that plagued other post-colonial nations.
later, Zimbabwe is instead one of the world's most troubled states. Through
it all, two of its most popular singers, Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi,
have made music that responds to changing times.
In 1979, Mapfumo was
briefly jailed by the white government for his songs supporting the liberation
Starting in 1988,
he publicly broke with the country's revolutionary leaders when he criticized
them in a song called "Corruption." His work began to focused on the failings
of the Mugabe regime, and the government began restricting his music from
radio play. Mapfumo eventually went into self-imposed exile in Oregon.
The songs on his new
release, Rise Up, continue his open harangue against Zimbabwe's
leaders. In "Kuvarira Mukati," which means roughly "Suffering in Silence,"
the singer urges the people: "Stand up and say something. We must rise
up and fight back."
Oliver Mtukudzi has
charted a more enigmatic course. In recent years, fans insisted they were
hearing political barbs within his songs. One song, they said, was telling
Mugabe he was too old, and should retire. Another song seemed to support
the white farmers whose land the government was seizing by force. During
the recent elections, Mtukudzi faced the opposite criticism when one of
his songs was used by government campaigners. Whatever the charge, Mtukudzi
has inscrutably avoided any public, political stands.
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