Two Different Musical Takes on Politics in Zimbabwe

Oliver Mtukudzi

Oliver Mtukudzi has avoided taking overt political stands. But his songs have been cited across the political spectrum in Zimbabwe. Andren Bannister hide caption

itoggle caption Andren Bannister

Oliver Mtukudzi: 'Nhava'

Hear songs from the artist's new CD, also known as 'Heads Up.'

Thomas Mapfumo: 'Rise Up'

Hear songs from Mapfumo's new digital release.

In 1980, Zimbabwe won its independence after a long guerrilla war. Under a new leader, Robert Mugabe, the southern African nation hoped to avoid the corruption, mismanagement of resources, and ethnic tensions that plagued other post-colonial nations.

Thomas Mapfumo

Thomas Mapfumo, known as the "lion of Zimbabwe," has gone into self-imposed exile in Oregon. Calabash Music hide caption

itoggle caption Calabash Music

A quarter-century later, Zimbabwe is instead one of the world's most troubled states. Through it all, two of its most popular singers, Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi, have made music that responds to changing times.

In 1979, Mapfumo was briefly jailed by the white government for his songs supporting the liberation struggle. Starting in 1988, he publicly broke with the country's revolutionary leaders when he criticized them in a song called "Corruption." His work began to focused on the failings of the Mugabe regime, and the government began restricting his music from radio play. Mapfumo eventually went into self-imposed exile in Oregon.

The songs on his new release, Rise Up, continue his open harangue against Zimbabwe's leaders. In "Kuvarira Mukati," which means roughly "Suffering in Silence," the singer urges the people: "Stand up and say something. We must rise up and fight back."

Oliver Mtukudzi has charted a more enigmatic course. In recent years, fans insisted they were hearing political barbs within his songs. One song, they said, was telling Mugabe he was too old, and should retire. Another song seemed to support the white farmers whose land the government was seizing by force. During the recent elections, Mtukudzi faced the opposite criticism when one of his songs was used by government campaigners. Whatever the charge, Mtukudzi has inscrutably avoided any public, political stands.

Purchase Featured Music

Nhava (Heads Up)

Purchase Music

Purchase Featured Music

Nhava (Heads Up)
Oliver Mtukudzi
Heads Up

Your purchase helps support NPR Programming. How?




Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.