Thomas Mapfumo’s Danger Zone album ‘Terrible’

Thomas Mapfumo’s Danger Zone album ‘Terrible’

Thomas Mapfumo means strums the guitar

By Robert Mukondiwa

Thomas Mapfumo’s much hyped most recent release Danger Zone has the artiste playing Russian roulette not just in the name of the album being called Danger Zone but so too the zone in which he takes his music genre-Chimurenga.

A twelve track effort, Danger Zone sees Mapfumo become somewhat a stalwart of a mix of music rather than just sticking to the hard-core traditional Chimurenga sounds that he is famed for.
It is a gamble.

In it and especially in tracks like Music, Celebrate and Are You Ready, it is evident Mapfumo has diverged from the hard-core Chimurenga sound to sample some ‘world’ music nuances and influences.

This is not Chimurenga in the traditional straight jacket whatsoever.
And the verdict of this ‘experiment’ is unanimous.

This album is terrible! 

Terribly good that is!

It paints a portrait of a Thomas Mapfumo who has become a citizen of the world and now has influences from his adopted nation, the United States, in which he is self-exiled, while also taking pieces, flavours and scents of Africa and more specifically his home country of Zimbabwe, to the world!

This makes Danger Zone and eclectic album in as far as the sound is concerned. And for a change, Mapfumo, the eternal political whinger or commentator, whichever way one views him, not only takes a jab at political mismanagement in Zimbabwe and the Harare government, but takes his message to an international stage as an international music statesman especially in the title track Danger Zone.

In it he laments war and instability on a global scale. From the disturbances in Syria, in Iraq, and in the Middle East where the Middle-Eastern crisis has raged on for decades.

The world is a danger zone, Mapfumo laments, and demands that women and children be spared the brunt of mankind’s wars.

The eclectic nature of the album means that unlike the old products, there is a sound on this epic effort for everyone and every ear. A buffet of musical experiences. It also is the reviewer’s nightmare. Because even for those who have listened to Mapfumo for decades, this is a unique experience with the godfather of protest music in Zimbabwe.

The sounds are monumentally transformed.

One can almost smell the ‘deep South ‘of America for example in the tracks Hatidi Politics and cuts of Celebrate. Mapfumo takes the soul of the listener into New Orleans and the wind instruments envelope one with almost deathly hallows of the famed Southern Street Jazz funerals. The horns are haunting in their menacing accompaniment of the theme of gloom and doom that the album espouses through its title track as well as these numbers save for a handful.

For those who love their Chimurenga unadulterated for example, the track Chikonzero satisfies that craving for a ‘hit’ of the real deal. Evoking flavours of tracks like the yesteryear hook (titsikire, ngoma iwe titsikire…titsikire mutsikirwe wekwedu titsikire…kurira kwengoma), this track takes lead responsibility for all the Chimurenga orgasms the album no doubt commands.

The bass-lines on the track sound like heavy honey dripping from the thick strings…slowly, falling into the ear with defined thuds that elicit excitement. The same bass line magic is evident on the song Chikwereti (Debt).

Yet apart from the usual Mapfumo political rhetoric, the maestro demands an apolitical approach to righting the wrongs that have become apparent in Zimbabwe. In the track Zimbabwe, Mapfumo demands that the nation leave behind hate speech and politically incited divisiveness. “Ngatibataneyi tose vana baba, ngatidananeyi tose muZimbabwe,” he implores. (Let us unite and love one another in Zimbabwe)  “Tikanganwe zvose zvakaitika,” (Let us forget the past). Profound words coming from a voice that has always been heeded with regards being a beacon that makes the nation alive to where the problem lies. 

The voice that burst out with the track ‘Corruption’ in 1989 and was the first voice to bring us face to face with a vice that has now officially been granted indefinite residence in Zimbabwe’s social fabric in both the private and public sector.

Add to that is a strikingly nostalgia inspiring layer of wind instrumental prowess that makes one think of the yesteryear tracks of James Chimombe. Only people like Mapfumo can reproduce such obscene perfection which transports us to the glory days of Zimbabwe’s music industry. The same saxophonic magic is achieved in the track Nhamo Urombo, which is a tongue in cheek jab at Zimbabwe’s political elite, in true Mapfumo style.

A redo of the track Shabeen (Shebeen) bridges the gap between the old and the new, with the makeover being enough to breathe freshness without bastardising the old time sweet hit. He sexes it up with the rich voice of Natalia Rollins, and the result is sweet smelling scents in the ghetto corridors.

Music, a serious deviation from the ‘traditional’ Mapfumo sound, is a fruity dance punch that is accompanied by a cheeky video of the fashion conscious Mapfumo dressed like a lustrous Brooklyn city sleeker, swaying to his music rhythmically as some rump-shaking and ‘waist-management’ is exhibited by fleshy dance girls in braids. Slick!
Yet this is not entirely a ‘new’ phenomenon of having ‘Mukanya’, as he is affectionately known by his Gudo-baboon totem, fusing sounds to come up with gems. Some of his most hip tracks are owing to his acculturation.

Hits like Shiri Yakanaka, My Music, and even Chipo Changu deviated from blatant Chimurenga music nuances and incorporated international tastes and became crossover hits, attracting new demographics into the Mapfumo supporter and fan camp.

Add to that, the sorcery that Mapfumo uses to resurrect Jimi Hendrix in the breath-taking guitar-work on the track Are You Ready. The guitar strings weep a dirge as they are throttled and molested by the magic of shape-shifting fingers until the guitar gives out the weeping whelps the player wants elicited. It is deathly beauty. Divinity in sound motion.

At the end of the day, this is an album for all and sundry and yet a sophisticated trip down the creative genius of a man who has no doubt been influenced by his long stay in Eugene Oregon, where he has found a home and a new musical family.

Overall, this is a must have for the music rack for the lover of ANY genre of music. No wonder Jidenna of the ‘Classic Man’ fame loves Mukanya; his art is the art of the world and can no longer be claimed by artificial boundaries like genre, race, culture, sex or continent.

Follow me on twitter @zimrobbie


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