Telling the truth in Africa an offence: Mapfumo

Chimurenga music maestro Thomas ‘Mukanya’ Mapfumo has urged local musicians to rise up and speak the truth to those in power so as to rescue the country from further collapse. 

The ‘Corruption’ hit-maker told the Daily News on Sunday this week that the country has been reduced to ashes because people fear questioning decisions made by those in government.

Famed for his forthright songs like “Matsotsi” and “Mamvemve”, the United States-based singer who is set to return to his base soon said musicians are the voice of the voiceless in any democratic society. 

“Zimbabwean musicians should therefore live up to this important responsibility because there is no freedom that comes on a silver platter. Freedom comes with some sacrifices,” said the Chimurenga music guru.

He, however, conceded that musicians that criticise government run the risk of being ostracised.  

 “There is no freedom of expression in Zimbabwe which we can talk about. Musicians who criticise leaders and the government in general are deemed enemies of the State and they risk victimisation. 

“Our government has a tendency to victimise people with opposing views. But be that as it may, our musicians should not shy away from the truth for the good of this country,” said the 73-year-old music veteran.

Mukanya added that victimisation comes in different ways.

“I learnt that Winky D is being denied awards because of his music which ruffles government feathers. That is very bad. We need freedom of expression. Some musicians were blackmailed while others’ voices were suppressed in the media and on air waves for questioning the governance system. A few vocal Zimbabwean artistes have been mistreated this way.

“In developed countries, presidents such as Donald Trump of America and Theresa May of the United Kingdom are criticised publicly but they do not wage war against musicians and the general public. In Africa, telling the truth is an offence and once you do that you will pay the price,” he said.

Before independence, Mukanya was framed as an enemy of the State and was detained for three months for supporting the black movement through music. 

The dreadlocked superstar said he used to perform copyrights music, mainly from western countries, but he dumped copyrights after a white guy shouted at him “shut up kaffir” while he was on stage.

“That was the time I realised that I had to reinvent my music career on Zimbabwean culture. I switched from English songs to mbira music. 

“I also made a commitment there and then that I would always stand with the marginalised and down-trodden people,” he said.  

During the Rhodesian era, Mukanya composed songs that angered the white regime while at the same time giving hope and encouragement to the black majority. 

His music was laden with messages that focused on the hardships faced by the blacks in rural areas; their dedication, commitment and focus to the war of liberation.

After independence, he appeared to support the government of former President Robert Mugabe but fell-out with it after it started abusing its people.

This forced Mukanya to go into exile in the United States where he has been living for the past 14 years. He only returned to Zimbabwe to hold concerts after Mugabe had been booted out in a military intervention in 2017.

“It is a pity because even the new government does not seem to like people who speak truth. When I came back last year for my Peace Concert, I later discovered that there was an invisible hand working to sabotage my tour. 

“Those people were after putting my reputation and brand into disrepute following the success of my first concert held in April.

“Recently I bumped into one sitting Zanu PF legislator in the capital and the MP told me that ‘I am now selling out yet I used to support them.’ That was queer because my music is pro-poor and I will never hide away from the truth. That is what I am,” said Mapfumo.

Mukanya told this publication that the ideals of arduous liberation struggle have been thrown down the drain.

“We all fought the war together. Some of us were detained for months in prisons fighting for our freedom but what is happening right now is the opposite of what we fought for. Imagine the music industry was flourishing during the Smith regime but now the current government is failing to address piracy in the industry.

“Recording labels are dead. One of the leading recording companies failed to pay me just $250 because of piracy. 

“What makes the situation more distressing is the fact that our leaders, who we have elected into power, are the ones who are fanning piracy,” Mukanya said.