I am actually very excited to write this blog post because I am now delving into the popular culture aspect in Zimbabwe. This post will speak about Chimurenga music, and this was a Zimbabwean popular genre that delivers messages of social and political protest throughout western popular styles and assorted music of Southeastern Africa particularly though featuring the Shona mbira (Chimurenga, 2014). The Shona name translates to “struggle”, or “liberation war.” Chimurenga music played a very key role in rallying rural populations against the white minority government during the struggle for black majority rule during the 1960s and 70s. From the very beginning, Chimurenga music for black Zimbabweans has been an icon for strength, integrity and modernity of black traditions.
The person that started this style of music was Thomas Mapfumo who was a Shona musician and political activist. It’s important to know the background of Mapfumo because his background is how this style of music started. By the time he was in his mid 20s, in the late 1960s, Mapfumo and the majority of black Zimbabweans were entwined in an escalating conflict with the white minority government of the new, albeit unilaterally declared, independent Rhodesia (Chimurenga, 2014). Because of this political climate this inspired Mapfumo to express his musical Shona ideas and identity. In my research, I found something that really stood out to me and that was in 1970s, Mapfumo formed the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band. With this band one of his first initiatives was to change the language of the songs from English, which was associated with the white minority administration, to Shona, which was spoken by the majority of the country’s black population. As the music grew in popularity, the Rhodesian government recognized the music as a serious threat to its authority. This was interesting to me that music could have such a huge impact not only on the people but the government as well, is just amazing to me. Many chimurenga music was censored, if not banned. Mapfumo was imprisoned for many months in 1977. Zimbabwe was granted independence from Britain in 1980, and this happened with the help of chimurenga music. One of the songs Thomas Mapfumo released was a song called “Hondo” in this song he sings about war, AIDS and the loss of traditional African culture (Zimbabwean’s Songs of Struggle, 1993). His songs really integrated political views and this was something that didn’t happen before in Zimbabwe. One of Zimbabwe’s challenges, historically through chimurenga songs, the country has been able to achieve some notable level of national cohesion (The mobilitons of popular music, 2009).
I really enjoyed learning about this kind of music because it is very different than the kind of music nowadays has to offer. Chimurenga music delved into social justice problems that was perpetrated by the government. I found it interesting how a type of music could have such an impact on the people. This just shows that music is more than just words to a beat, it has meaning and can make huge impacts in the world.
For Further Reading:
Gorlinski, V. (2014, January 31). Chimurenga. Retrieved April 13, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/art/chimurenga
Musiyiwa, M. (2009, May 19). The mobilization of popular music in the promotion of national unity in Zimbabwe. Journal of Music Research in Africa. Retrieved April 13, 2018, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/18125980802633011?src=recsys
Pareles, J. (1993, September 04). A Zimbabwean’s Song of Struggle. New York Times. Retrieved April 13, 2018, from https://search-proquest-com.muhlenberg.idm.oclc.org/docview/109145703/pageviewPDF/F39C2EFE0CD4909PQ/1?accountid=40980