Thomas Mapfumo / Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited

Chimurenga Rebel/Manhungetunge

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This two-CD set from the man known as the Lion of Zimbabwe is definitely an odd duck. Manhungetunge is pieced together from a number of sessions during 2000 in Eugene, OR, where Mapfumo had moved with his family, while Chimurenga Rebel is the result of a single sustained session in 2001. Remarkably, both work equally well. The sound remains, naturally, based around the mbira, or thumb piano, but the spectrum is broadened to become quite Afro-pop and accessible, something Mapfumo moved toward on his last band disc. Nowhere is that more evident than on "Huni," with its vampish chords and melody, or "Ndini Ndega," which opens with a Latin piano line before turning into African-inflected reggae, a feel also prevalent on "Vanoita Vevana." The albums also introduce Mapfumo's guitarist, 17-year-old prodigy Zivai Guveya, who plays up a storm on both lead and rhythm, cutting loose enthusiastically at every opportunity to great effect. It might not have quite the potency of Mapfumo's best work or the sense of risk that permeated his collaboration with Leo Smith, but this set is some of the most immediately enjoyable music he's ever released.

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