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Bringing messages of freedom and justice to Los Alamos

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By Kirsten Laskey

Thomas Mapfumo was born in a country ruled by a dictator who many consider the worst tyrant in the world.

He grew up in a society where the average life expectancy ends in the mid-30s  age range and where the economy is practically extinct, rapes are frequent and people are oppressed into silence.

But  that silence is breaking. Mapfumo, along with the Blacks Unlimited, are giving the people of Zimbabwe, his home country, a voice.

Perhaps this is why this artist, who was imprisoned and ultimately forced to flee his country is called the Lion of Zimbabwe.

Mapfumo, who now resides in Oregon, is currently recording an album in Albuquerque.

As a result, the Los Alamos County Summer Concert Series is able to invite Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited to perform at 7 p.m. Friday at Ashley Pond.

Russ Gordon, concert organizer, said it is the first time Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited have performed in the concert series.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing them,” he said.

Mapfumo, being a political activist, spreads awareness of social injustices through his music. “He’s like the Freedom Fighters,” Gordon added. “He’s like Patrick Henry for his country.”

Yet, he also performs the music of his country. This includes African rock, African reggae, jazz and mambo music styles.

“He plays what’s become his own style of music,” Gordon said.

Mapfumo explains he performs music called chimurenga, which means struggle.

“My music is about freedom and justice … people enjoy that. It’s danceable, too,” he said.

With all the injustices Mapfumo has experienced and seen, he said music is the most effective tool to reverse these wrongs.

“Music is the most peaceable weapon that can be used to chance the situation in the world,” he said.

The Blacks Unlimited has helped Mapfumo utilize this weapon for chance since the 1970s.

While his home country has been a great influence for Mapfumo, America has also been an influence.

“There’s a lot of music around here,” he said, “ (and) a lot of competitions. You need to be in place where there is a lot of music and a lot of competition.”

In addition to the U.S., Mapfumo has played his music all over the world and Gordon said he is eager to showcase Mapfumo’s talents in the concert series.

“I believe (Mapfumo) enhances (the series) tremendously,” he said, “to bring in quality acts  from around the world.”

The audience will get to hear music they seldom hear and it will offer a different sound.

Music, for Mapfumo, was a natural art form to pursue.

There was never any choice in the matter.

 “I was a musician from the beginning,” he said. “I’ve never given it any consideration.

“I loved music from my boyhood. I was born a musician.”