Zimbabwe: Mukanya Legacy Under Threat

A close-up chat with Chimurenga musician Thomas Mapfumo may dwell generously on his music and culture as much as it can give a sense that he is strikingly rattled by the waning influence his brand of music now attracts locally.

The Chimurenga music guru, whose departure to his US base has been rescheduled countless times, has apparently been deferred to embark on a journey of resuscitating his local grip albeit without a clear-cut formula.

The crooner, who naturally speaks glowingly of everything related to his work, regards it an epitome of culture and last weekend was no exception when Standard Style caught up with him in a backstage interview at Pakare Paye Arts Centre in Norton.

Interestingly, despite his narrative on conserving culture, the only native element about him is the Shona lyrics that make up his discography.

Prior to our engagement, Mukanya, as he is affectionately known, had appeared on stage just after midnight clad in a fashionable black Bob Marley face imprinted-T-shirt, a matching plain track bottom and trendy grey Puma sneakers.

With long dreadlocks forcibly stuffed in a woolen Rasta-cap and yellow lens shades on, his bellowing voice had sent fans, mostly middle-aged individuals, into a delirious reflex.

It was yet another leg of the musician's seemingly unending whirlwind tour of the country and during the three-hour showcase, in front of a half-full auditorium, he had served both new and old songs from his vast catalogue in apparent tribute to his longtime friend, the late Oliver Mtukudzi.

"It is a great feeling, I am very happy to be invited to play at this place, this guy [Mtukudzi] was a very close friend of mine and we grew up together as musicians, we used to talk, laugh and things like that," he said after the show emphasising that Tuku was like a younger brother and best friend.

The two's music has been a topic of comparison a countless number of times although many acknowledge that both their decorated careers and immense contributions to local music.

Their destinies, however, may be very different.

Now that Tuku's fate has been availed, one can hardly avoid wondering what Mukanya will be remembered for when he departs to join the ancestors.

The saga of how he was reportedly thrown out of a hotel room and how he has no permanent roof back home brings chills to those that look up to him, but that is just half of it.

While he has managed to convince himself that his status is intact, current facts on the ground point to the opposite.

Mukanya's clout is proving weaker at a local scale and his perennially flopping shows bear testimony to this.

"I have been received so well (since returning from his US base), the people still love my music and this is their culture," insists the Nyoka Musango singer.

At first one would have attributed the low turnout to exorbitant prices the promoters of his shows were charging, and then it was logistical challenges as well as lack of proper marketing, but with all that solved the turnout at his shows has still been unsatisfactory.

In Norton the gig failed to attract a full house with tickets going for RTGS$10 added to the fact that it was an event to pay tribute to the legendary Mtukudzi at his iconic arts centre.

There is no straight explanation of how Mapfumo got here but, perhaps unbeknown to him, music lovers have with time started paying less attention to both his work and presence in the country, which had until his initial return from a 15 year-exile last year been a dream come true.

The 73-year-old's music train is off the rails and perhaps he needs to engage crowd pullers like Winky D or Jah Prayzah to revive appeal, but added to a big ego he has no meaningful relationship with them and has sometimes registered his detest for the new crop of musicians.

Most comments he has made about the state of affairs in the music scene, particularly contemporary music compositions, have left many either feeling attacked or demeaned.

He stubbornly maintains that his cultural stance is the sole meaningful way to endearing artistry.

But, times have changed and with culture's dynamic nature, even music lovers are less conversant with Chimurenga music because it simple does not cut it in modern times.

"This culture is very important for upcoming musicians actually to step in the same steps and follow our footsteps," he clarified.

"Music for the youth doesn't come from America or Jamaica, we got music for the young here so we can capitalise on our own culture. "This is what I am trying to tell our own youngsters that they should actually preserve our own culture."

Unlike Mtukudzi who had fluid appeal on both local as well as foreign fronts and connected with the younger musicians through collaborations and the music academy (Pakare Paye), Mukanya has not established a clear way of imparting his musical traits to the next generation.

"There are some youngsters who are trying to follow our footsteps and they are always coming to me asking what they should do to preserve our culture. I have always told them it is important to preserve our culture, it comes first and I think they are doing well," said Mapfumo.

Ironically, even his son Tapfumaneyi is more interested in hip-hop.

"These youngsters, they have a choice sometimes, but as they grow up they will start thinking about preserving our culture, I think that's where we are," explained Mapfumo. Indisputably, his music, largely viewed as protest music for its unforgiving criticism on socio-political issues, will live way beyond his very existence.

"That is exactly what I want to be known for, a man who has been standing by the people and I have always been with the people for the rest of my life, I want to be known that way," he said.

On whether he anticipates a hero's status to be conferred to him by the state when he dies, Mukanya laughed off the idea.

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