If you own only one Thomas Mapfumo album, this should be the one.
— Sean Barlow, Afropop Worldwide
Lion Songs: Essential Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe is superb anthology that follows the life and musical path of celebrated Zimbabwean singer-songwriter and Thomas Mapfumo. It’s also the companion CD to the book Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe (Duke University Press) by Banning Eyre.

Thomas Mapfumo is an essential figure in Zimbabwean music. His politically-committed lyrics (even though he also writes songs about soccer and other passions) got him in trouble numerous times and he went into exile in 2004. Musically, his various bands have been a school for numerous musicians as Mapfumo mixed traditional music from Zimbabwe with rock, reggae and other styles.

American freelance writer, guitarist and radio commentator Banning Eyre has specialized in African music for many years. He’s worked as a producer for the syndicated radio show Afropop Worldwide and is a contributor to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered (although it seems like NPR has reduced its musical diversity lately). Eyre first met Mapfumo in 1988. Since then, he has developed a 27-year friendship with the Mapfumo, his family and musicians.

Thomas Mapfumo’s musical style is known as chimurenga. Lion Songs: Essential Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe gives you a detailed overview of Thomas Mapfumo’s entire career featuring recordings made between 1973 and 2010. As far as highlights, I’m more interested in the latter part of his career, where he added an irresistible dance groove based on the hypnotic sound of two mbiras (a lamellophone also known as thumb piano). You’ll find several great examples of this sound on the album.

Lion Songs: Essential Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe also includes excerpts of interviews, with Mapfumo describing key moments of his music.

Lion Songs: Essential Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe is the only Thomas Mapfumo compilation that spans his entire musical career. It’s essential music made by one of the greatest musicians to have come out of southern Africa.
— Angel Romero, World Music Central
There is nothing like a concert by Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited at home in Zimbabwe. The music is mesmerizing and ecstatic, and the crowd simply can’t get enough. The band would start around 8:30 p.m. and rarely wind up before 3:30 in the morning. Fans would flock and stay all night, dancing the band’s deep grooves and meditating on Mapfumo’s voice booming with ancient wisdom and street-smart moral authority. From the mid-1970s up until Mapfumo went into exile in 2004, this experience was a major feature of life for many Zimbabweans. The Mapfumo experience also lies at the heart of this African nation’s remarkable and troubled history.

Mapfumo, the Lion of Zimbabwe, stands beside Fela Kuti, Youssou N’Dour and Franco as one of Africa’s greatest and most consequential composer/bandleaders. For over 40 years, he has merged ancient African traditions—especially that of the sacred, metal-pronged Shona mbira—into the currents of international music, from rock to reggae to rap. Mapfumo’s artfully barbed lyrics have targeted the racist regime of Ian Smith and the corrupt one of Robert Mugabe with equal resolve and courage. That’s the essence of chimurenga—the music of struggle: past, present and future

This album is the audio companion to the book Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe (Duke University Press; album release: May 5, 2015) by Banning Eyre, a deep exploration of music and history and a compelling read. Eyre first visited Zimbabwe and met Mapfumo in 1988. Since then, he has enjoyed a 27-year friendship with the artist, his family and musicians. Eyre has performed on guitar and played on Mapfumo recordings, and become deeply familiar with the inner workings of Mapfumo’s band, the Blacks Unlimited. Eyre has visited Zimbabwe four times, including a six-month stay in 1997-98, during which he moved through the country with the band, attending and participating in some 75 shows.

Eyre got to know Mapfumo’s fans informally. He also conducted interviews with musicians, band members, Mapfumo family members, DJs, writers, journalists, and of course, the man himself, many times and in many locations and circumstances. All this and a great deal of archive and book research go into Lion Songs, an absolutely unique work in the literature of African music.

But as the book was completed, Eyre considered Mapfumo’s large catalog of recordings and saw a problem. The albums and singles cover a span of over 40 years. Some are out of print or hard to find. Some were never released outside Zimbabwe. There are useful compilations, but each focuses on a particular period. Not one conveys the entire sweep of Mapfumo’s creative evolution, capturing the energy of the early guitar-based experimentation, notably the groundbreaking guitar innovations of Jonah Sithole, Joshua Dube, Ephraim Karimaura and others, then the richness of the large band—featuring three mbiras, two guitars and a brass section—in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, also the energy of a live Mapfumo show, and the complex recordings the maestro has created during his decade-long exile in Oregon. An album that captures all of that was needed, so Eyre decided to make it.

The Lion Songs CD is unusual in another way. In the spirit of Bob Marley’s Talking Blues album, Eyre decided to include short excerpts from interviews with Mapfumo over the years. These clips both dramatize Mapfumo’s political and creative journey, and give an insight into his personality, passion and humor in a way nothing else can. Mapfumo’s deeply resonant voice is, in its way, as musical as the songs themselves.

The 14 songs in this collection were recorded between 1973 and 2010. The set begins with “Ngoma Yarira,” one of the first truly successful popular adaptations of Shona mbira music. The song was a hit for the Hallelujah Chicken Run band, and a crucial turning point for Mapfumo’s art. The album continues with a number of “chimurenga singles,” war-era songs that helped to stiffen the resolve of the guerrilla fighters in the bush. These include the original 1977 Acid Band version of “Pamuromo Chete (It’s Only Talk),” a piquant retort to Rhodesia’s final prime minister, Ian Smith, who wrongly predicted the longevity of white rule. This track has never before been released internationally.

The 1980s was an extremely fertile period for Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, yielding songs that giddily celebrate Zimbabwe’s independence, as well as foreboding warnings of danger to the young nation, and ultimately an outright condemnation of the Mugabe regime in the 1989 classic, “Corruption.” Blacks Unlimited songs from the ‘90s showcase the mbira-enhanced band, and stress Mapfumo’s insistence that his fellow citizens not abandon their ancestral culture, but rather find ways to integrate it into their contemporary lives.

Mapfumo’s early 21st century songs critique the Zimbabwean government’s disastrous land policy and lament the pain of separation that exile has imposed on him, his family and musicians. In all, this unique CD offers a grand tour through the work of one of the most powerful, creative and storied musical artists Africa has ever produced.
— RockPaperScissors.biz
ESSENTIAL Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe is superb anthology that follows the life and musical path of celebrated singer-songwriter and Thomas Mapfumo.

It’s also the companion CD to the book ‘Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe’ (Duke University Press) by Banning Eyre.

Thomas Mapfumo is an essential figure in Zimbabwean music. His politically-committed lyrics (even though he also writes songs about soccer and other passions) got him in trouble numerous times and he went into exile in 2004.

Musically, his various bands have been a school for numerous musicians as Mapfumo mixed traditional Zimbabwean music with rock, reggae and other styles.

American freelance writer, guitarist and radio commentator Banning Eyre has specialized in African music for many years.

He’s worked as a producer for the syndicated radio show Afropop Worldwide and is a contributor to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered (although it seems like NPR has reduced its musical diversity lately).

Eyre first met Mapfumo in 1988. Since then, he has developed a 27-year friendship with Mapfumo, his family and musicians.

Lion Songs: Essential Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe gives you a detailed overview of Thomas Mapfumo’s entire career featuring recordings made between 1973 and 2010.

As for highlights, I’m more interested in the latter part of his career, where he added an irresistible dance groove based on the hypnotic sound of two mbiras. You’ll find several great examples of this sound on the album.

Lion Songs also includes excerpts of interviews with Mapfumo describing key moments of his music.

The album is the only Thomas Mapfumo compilation that spans his entire musical career. It’s essential music made by one of the greatest musicians to have come out of southern Africa.
— NewZimbabwe.com
New album collates Thomas Mapfumo’s crucial chimurenga music career through the songs that made Zimbabwe.

It is rare that African literature and music are simultaneously blessed with canonical works derived from and celebrating the art of a living legend. This, among other things, is what makes Banning Eyre’s riveting book Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music that Made Zimbabwe and it’s revelatory accompanying audio compilation Lion Songs: Essential Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe particularly extraordinary.

For forty years Thomas Mapfumo’s voice has reverberated resilient and steady; resonating the struggle to liberate the people of Zimbabwe, expressing jubilation at a new political dispensation and later revealing the painful disappointment of a dream deferred. Affectionately known as the Lion of Zimbabwe, Mapfumo stands beside Fela Kuti, Youssou N’Dour and Franco as one of Africa’s greatest and most consequential composer/bandleaders. Expertly weaving ancient African traditions-especially that of the sacred, metal-pronged Shona mbira- into the currents of international music, from rock to reggae to rap, Mapfumo’s artfully barbed lyrics have targeted the racist regime of Ian Smith and the corrupt one of Robert Mugabe with equal resolve and courage. That’s the essence of chimurenga-the music of the struggle: past, present and future.

Pegged for release on the 5th of May the album condenses his illustrious career into a 14-track set, complete with rare gems and peppered with snippets of interviews conducted by Banning Eyre. Not to be confused with greatest hits the album, along with Eyre’s book, is the zenith of a thirty-year friendship between the two, which saw the former documenting, researching and participating in Mapfumo’s art.

For the die-hard Mapfumo fan, songs like Corruption reach back to a time when his music was the staple of national radio playlists and the anticipation of his electric annual festive season concerts were a firm feature in Zimbabwe’s cultural psyche. Mapfumo, who has not lived in the country since 2001, recorded two of the songs, Marima Nzara and Ndangariro, in exile. For the uninitiated, extracts from Eyre’s interviews with Mapfumo, over 30 years, provide context both dramatising his political and creative journey, giving insight into his personality, passion and humour in an illuminating and insightful way.

A musical pioneer, Mapfumos’s early career solidified the adaptation of traditional Shona mbira songs with the success of Ngoma Yarira in 1973. Along with the brilliant, groundbreaking guitar innovations of Jonah Sithole, Joshua Dube and Ephraim Karimuara his compelling storytelling through the use of allegory evolved into an outspoken critique of injustice. A prescient Eyre noted in 2001 that Mapfumo is “one of the only singers who has recorded and distributed explicit songs of protest against Zimbabwe’s current regime.”

Testament to this is Mapfumo’s message to Zimbabweans on this year’s independence day in which he said:

“As a Chimurenga musician, the struggle for social justice and equality continues through the showbiz stage. We have, and will continue, to sing the music. But again I do wish to express my disappointment by the Government of Zimbabwe for failing to deal with piracy which has left a majority of us musicians wallowing in poverty because of theft of our artistic efforts. We do not only entertain; we also make sure that we remain connected to the suffering masses, the message I carried in my new album DangerZone. Zimbabweans deserve comfort, peace and a guaranteed pursuit of happiness in their homes. They also deserve a piece of that cake of national wealth. Government leaders in Zimbabwe should listen to, and work with the people to eliminate poverty, crime and the rising unemployment. Daily, we pray that the politicians stop politicking and bickering at the expense of national development. Our leaders must listen to the masses. They need to collaborate with them and stop chasing personal luxuries and foreign travel when the ordinary people are failing to access the basics. Without such basics, the concept of national Independence could be a farce because only the apex of the social pyramid is benefitting from the fruits of Independence. To the suffering masses, Independence Day has just become another calendar date.”

In many ways this compilation charts the musical timeline of Mapfumo’s consistency in speaking truth to power, no matter who is at the helm. Beyond that it is the soundtrack to Mapfumo’s philosophy of a greater patriotism: a patriotism that supersedes allegiance to struggle heroes who turn into, as he says on the album, “Little Gods”. Little gods who hold their people ransom through a legacy of sacrifice, only to enrich themselves, while the Jojos (poor man) die for politics at the expense of the true liberation of all people. In all, this unique CD offers a grand tour through the work of one of the most powerful, creative and storied musical artists Africa has ever produced.
— Jaquelyne Kwenda for Dynamic Africa
Attempting to cover such an extensive body of work as Mapfumo’s recordings proved to be an arduous task, but Eyre was cleverly able to assemble a comprehensive and chronological sampling of Mapfumo’s career from his early recordings in 1973 with the Hallelujah Chicken Run, through his 2010 output with the legendary Blacks Unlimited ensemble—founded in 1978—with which he is most recognized.
— by James Nadal for All About Jazz