Thomas Mapfumo

Rise Up

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The irony in the wild life and times of the "Lion of Zimbabwe," Thomas Mapfumo, is that while he contributed exponentially to the liberation of the former Rhodesia -- he was the leader of its aesthetic protest movement -- he is forced to live as an exile in Eugene, OR in the 21st century because of his quarrels with the Mugabe government. Which brings us to the music on Rise Up. This was recorded with African and American musicians in Oregon, and contains the latest chapter in his exploration of electric mbira music. That metallic thumb plink is heard throughout the album, as are the uplifting, and serious lyrics in Mapfumo's songs in Shona. Given that the music here was recorded in America, the studio technology is a bit better, and the smoother sound of Rise Up might be initially off-putting. But it shouldn't be. Mapfumo, whether he is crooning sweetly and sadly as he does on the opener "Kuvarira Mukati (Suffer in Silence)" with an organ and horns swelling inside the mix as he and his backing singers chant and intone, or raging as he does on "Handimbotya (I'm Not Afraid)" the effect is the same: entrancing, slightly funky, driving, insistent, and uplifting. The musicians on the set -- ten Africans including two mbira players and three Americans -- on keyboards, and horns -- are crack. They find the groove, execute and usher the singers on, and weave in and out of the mix with acumen and elegance. While there isn't a weak cut on the set, the standouts include the love song "Mukadzi Wangu (My Wife)," "Marudzi Nemarudzi (Different Races)," and "Ndodya Marasha (I'm Mad as Hell)," which almost leaps out of the speakers. Make no mistake, the roots are all here. This isn't some slick, life-draining production at all, but a tough, gritty, graceful recording that captures the heartbreak, dislocation, pain, and hope of the struggle in the grain of Mapfumo's voice and in the endlessly entrancing echo of the mbira.

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