The Collegian
Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The "Lion of Zimbabwe" comes to Modlin Center

Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited play Chimurenga music, a musical style that was born out of the struggle to gain independence faced by the people of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Mapfumo founded and popularized the musical style, which he performs with the Blacks Unlimited.

Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited are coming to Camp Concert Hall in the Modlin Center at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24 and Saturday, Oct. 25.

Chimurenga is a mix of traditional African instruments -- such as the mbira (a thumb piano), drums and gourd rattles -- with Western styles and instruments, like the electric guitar, to produce a rhythmic and trance-like sound.

"Chimurenga means struggle," Mapfumo said, "and music was born out of struggle. My music played a very big role during the struggle [in Zimbabwe]. It inspired a lot of youngsters to get out of the country and to get their friends to fight for liberty."

Chimurenga, the Shona word for struggle, was first known as the name for the guerrilla forces that fought against the British regime in Zimbabwe.

Thomas Mapfumo is known as "The Lion of Zimbabwe" because of his politically charged songs that stand up for the rights of his people, the Shona, of Zimbabwe.

"My music is about freedom," Mapfumo said.

Mapfumo was put in jail for three months in 1979 because of his song "Hokoyo," which means "Watch Out." The song in particular called for war and the overthrow of the government in Zimbabwe.

"I went to detention -- I was detained -- for three months because of my music," Mapfumo said. "I don't regret any of it because I was fighting for my people's freedom."

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Mapfumo's records were banned from the radio in Zimbabwe but people still listened to them.

"The people inspire the music," Mapfumo said.

"With everything going on with Zimbabwe and in politics recently it seemed very timely for us to have Mapfumo here to perform," said Samantha Sawyer, the marketing director for the Modlin Center.

Those who enjoy world music would likely be interested in Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, Sawyer said.

"The music has a political component, it's not just a performance," said Katelin French, a senior and music major who will be attending the show by Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited. "It will be interesting to see if the political message comes through in the show and what language Mapfumo will be singing in. If he sings in English the audience will understand, but it will be less connected to his culture."

Mapfumo has been living and touring in self-exile in the United States since 2005. He still sings about the problems in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

Mapfumo, born in 1945 in Rhodesia, started his musical career at a very young age, he said. Many types of music inspired him, including jazz and soul, Western styles he eventually mixed with his native instruments.

Mapfumo's music, sung in the Shona language, called for the overthrow of the white minority government. Because it was sung in Shona, it was difficult for white people to understand his message and it took a while for the government to realize how radical his music was.

Tickets for the show are for sale online at or at the box office in the Modlin Center or by phone, (804) 289-8980.

Contact staff writer Alexandra Varipapa at

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