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Album Review

Given Thomas Mapfumo's reputation as a major contemporary artist in world music (which is more than justified), it's easy to forget that traditional music lies at the very heart of his sound. Lyrically, much of the content is traditionally influenced (indeed, "Dande" is actually a traditional Shona melody). That's not to say he's abandoned his political stance; Toi Toi, recorded in both his native Zimbabwe and the U.S., positively bristles. It's really the work of two different bands in the two countries. The center of the sound, as always with Mapfumo's chimurenga is the mbira or thumb piano, with liberal doses of guitar on top and with brass as a hearty confection behind Mapfumo's voice (which sounds more vigorous than ever). Journalist and musician Banning Eyre contributes Malian-style guitar to several tracks, which makes for a beautiful fusion, especially on the lyrical, acoustic "Komborera" with its muted trumpet. One of Mapfumo's heroes was Bob Marley, and while "Tatsvukira" isn't reggae, the horn arrangements certainly have a strong Jamaican influence. The album is another sign that Mapfumo has completely rediscovered his creativity, which seemed to ebb a little at the end of the '90s; this is one of his most completely realized and satisfying records of the early 2000s. He doesn't push his vocals too far forward in the mix, especially on the Zimbabwean tracks, letting them be a part of the whole, and surprisingly, that gives them an even greater power. "Dande"'s melody is strictly traditional and treated with respect, if filled out with bass and drums, but its lyrics are new and the performance is stunning, while the joyous closer, "Sweet Maria," rounds out the disc perfectly. Toi Toi is Mapfumo in excellent form indeed.


Genre: World

Backed by his band, Blacks Unlimited, Thomas Mapfumo has been at the cutting edge of the political struggle in his native Zimbabwe for over 20 years, even as he's become a major figure on the world music scene. Born in 1945 in the small town of Marondera, in the country that was then the British colony of Rhodesia, Mapfumo attended a colonial school and heard Western pop on the radio. Particularly struck by Elvis, he performed Presley's "A Mess of Blues" in a talent show, backed, perhaps surprisingly,...
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Toi Toi, Thomas Mapfumo & The Blacks Unlimited
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