The Big Bira

 Thomas Mapfumo coming home to Harare, Zimbabwe, April 29, 2018

Thomas Mapfumo coming home to Harare, Zimbabwe, April 29, 2018

No question. History was made at Glamis Arena, an open air stadium packed with some 22,000 fans of three generations, rocking it until dawn with Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited this Sunday morning. Mapfumo staged 17 musicians and dancers and delivered a full throttle, non-stop tour of his 50 years in music. Not since Bob Marley’s Independence concert in 1980 or Paul Simon’s Graceland show had such a crowd assembled in Harare in the name of music, nor been so enraptured. Mukanya, as his fans know him, has been away for more than 14 years. A whole generation has come of age knowing his music only from their parents’ CD players, or cassettes in “kombie” public transport vans, or, occasionally, on the radio. That same generation has been fed a stream of negative coverage about Mapfumo in state-controlled media--dredging up old controversies, sensationalizing his struggles as an exile in America, and generally depicting him as a has-been. Yet people came, young and old, and all came away knowing they had spent time with a legend. This was a night that changed the conversation in Zimbabwe. 

The legend was joined by his only real peer, his rumored “rival”—though the two are close friends—Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. A jolt of electricity shot through the  crowd when Tuku, ever the snappy dancer, stepped onstage to break some moves on the classic “Nyoka Musango"--a potent gesture of unity that Mapfumo beheld with evident pleasure.

The Tuku-Mukanya moment was one of many electrifying things that happened during during this 10-hour concert, which began with sets sets by Suleiman (son of Simon) Chimbetu, Tuku, and top Zim Dancehall artist Winky D. The stage was splendidly prepared for this full bloom manifestation of the Blacks Unlimited, with Thomas at 72, in black suit, top hat, orange tinted round specs and four foot dreads, cutting an image that affirmed the authority and forcefulness of his marathon performance. To say nothing of the band with the deepest grooves ever imagined, magically reconstructed before our hungry ears and eyes, much as it had been decades ago…

I have to stop for now.  I'll just add that Mukanya opened with "Chikonzero" from the Danger Zone album and closed with "Chamunorwa," from heaven.

Now, some images from the Big Bira, from the camera that survived the night!

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 The cover photo from my book  Lion Songs  figured into the graphics promoting the concert, with my permission of course!

The cover photo from my book Lion Songs figured into the graphics promoting the concert, with my permission of course!

(By the way, if the tsotsi who nipped my Canon G16 Powershot camera from my side pocked in front of the stage during Mukanya’s set happens to read this, you win on the camera. But I’ll give you a cash reward for the undeleted flash card! Some nice pics there! I’m easy to find.)

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 The dawn unfolds with dogs and diesel fumes, also beer bottles and sim cards from nicked cellphones.  No joke. 

The dawn unfolds with dogs and diesel fumes, also beer bottles and sim cards from nicked cellphones.  No joke.