Just as rock and roll is built around the electric guitar, the chimurenga music originated by Zimbabwe's Thomas Mapfumo is built around the traditional southern African mbira or thumb piano, a large gourd resonator with tuned metal strips that are plucked with the thumbs. This results in a nervously introspective music that skips along on a pulse of rhythmic triplets and broadens into a rich riverine flow as Mapfumo draws out his syllables over the beat, singing (mostly in Shona and occasionally in English) about politics, work, marriage, death, and various commonplace details of everyday life. For all the riveting rhythm he and his crew generate onstage, Mapfumo is one African artist whose music hardly ever gets me dancing; I'm too busy watching the way he lopes back and forth across the stage, bent over, eyes darting around warily, wringing a sort of extramusical sense from words I can't even understand. Wednesday, Equator Club, 4715 N. Broadway; 728-2411.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dirk Vandenberk.