Lion Songs

Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe

Lion Songs

Book Pages: 416 Illustrations: 62 illustrations Published: May 2015

Author: Banning Eyre

African Studies, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Music > Ethnomusicology

Like Fela Kuti and Bob Marley, singer, composer, and bandleader Thomas Mapfumo and his music came to represent his native country's anticolonial struggle and cultural identity. Mapfumo was born in 1945 in what was then the British colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The trajectory of his career—from early performances of rock 'n' roll tunes to later creating a new genre based on traditional Zimbabwean music, including the sacred mbira, and African and Western pop—is a metaphor for Zimbabwe's evolution from colony to independent nation. Lion Songs is an authoritative biography of Mapfumo that narrates the life and career of this creative, complex, and iconic figure.
Banning Eyre ties the arc of Mapfumo's career to the history of Zimbabwe. The genre Mapfumo created in the 1970s called chimurenga, or "struggle" music, challenged the Rhodesian government—which banned his music and jailed him—and became important to Zimbabwe achieving independence in 1980. In the 1980s and 1990s Mapfumo's international profile grew along with his opposition to Robert Mugabe's dictatorship. Mugabe had been a hero of the revolution, but Mapfumo’s criticism of his regime led authorities and loyalists to turn on the singer with threats and intimidation. Beginning in 2000, Mapfumo and key band and family members left Zimbabwe. Many of them, including Mapfumo, now reside in Eugene, Oregon.
A labor of love, Lion Songs is the product of a twenty-five-year friendship and professional relationship between Eyre and Mapfumo that demonstrates Mapfumo's musical and political importance to his nation, its freedom struggle, and its culture.


“A deep, detailed biography of a complex African musician and the homeland that has shaped his artistry. . . .  An essential book for those who love the artist's music and want to know more. . . .”  — Kirkus Reviews

“What emerges from Eyre’s account is a multi-faceted look at one musician’s life, and the effects that it had on both the people around him and the society of which he was a part. . . . There’s an evenness of tone here, and it helps bring together the many aspects of Mapfumo’s life into one cohesive narrative. And, as an added bonus, it may well introduce readers to music that remains vital decades after it was first recorded.” — Tobias Carroll, Biographile

“[Eyre] has meticulously researched Mapfumo’s story and the musicians who have played with him in Blacks Unlimited, and he tells their tale with impressive attention to detail. … All this makes Lion Songs an essential resource for anyone interested in Mapfumo and Zimbabwean music.”  — Nigel Williamson, Songlines

“[A] a singularly insightful biography. . . .” — Andrew Gilbert, Berkeleyside

“For fans of African music, the album is a must-have. For those interested in the role of art in self-determination and the intricate and convoluted history of oppression and colonialism and the fraught aftermath of self-rule, the book is a must-read.” — Jay Mazza, The Vinyl District

“[A] remarkable history of the life, times and music of one of Africa’s greatest voices.” — Stephen Williams, African Business

"The novelistic text has an appropriately hefty level of historical context, and the attention to detail means that Eyre never gives the tale less than it deserves, ultimately enlightening the reader about the evolution of an entire nation, as well as its most famous musical son. The gripping read is thus highly recommended." — David Katz, Mojo

“Never evangelising or smoothing over stories to paint a ‘neater’ picture, nor sparing contrasting or even conflicting testimony of Thomas’s peers and family, Eyre channels the reality and difficulties of Thomas’ life with honesty and care. Meticulous and thorough research of his views, choices, struggles and relationships provides a rich and rewarding biography that conveys the strength, attitude and humanity of the man who became the icon. . . . I seriously urge every kind of reader--music lover, biography aficionado, student, academic--to lose yourselves in this compelling and essential gift from Banning Eyre at the very first opportunity.” — Zuzana Novak, Roots

“Eyre's long-standing friendship with Mapfumo gave the author access to vital information that sustains the argument of this book. … [T]his book documents the role of one man and his music in an Africa of modern nations. Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals; general readers." — K. W. Mukuna, Choice

"An essential book for those who love the artiste's music and want to know more. . . ." — Fred Zindi, The Herald (Zimbabwe)

"[B]ecause Thomas Mapfumo is such an important subject, and because Eyre has spent decades around him, the legacy outweighs the failures. Mapfumo has created a huge body of meaningful work and Eyre has stuck it out—an independent scholar on a university press non-advance—to get his story. Graceful sentences, acute observation, heroic amounts of research, self-consciousness about subject position and other contextual issues, a working musician’s aesthetic appreciation—it’s all here, and nobody else could have done it." — Eric Weisbard, Journal of Popular Music Studies

"Eyre affirms Mapfumo’s enduring stature in the canon of Zimbabwean music. Lion Songs is a fascinating biography not just for its close­up portrayal of Mapfumo, but also its masterly commentary on Zimbabwe’s underrated music industry." — Stanley Mushava, The Herald (Zimbabwe)

"[A]n intensely detailed and lucid work. ...Eyre is a musicologist, so when he explains the musical alchemy that went into creating Mapfumo's mbira-inspired chimurenga (revolutionary struggle) music, his descriptions are illuminating and technical. ... He also understands that the significance of his subject - a fixture in Zimbabwe's music and sociopolitical fabric for at least five decades - transcends the music he made." — Kwanele Sosibo, Namibian

"The book represents a significant contribution to the literature on the music and politics of resistance in the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia, as well as offering a highly readable and evocative story." — Marc Duby, Journal of World Popular Music

"...[A] must read for all those interested in Mapfumo’s musical and political significance in Zimbabwe, particularly the country’s struggle for freedom, justice, and culture. It is vital for historians, ethnomusicologists, political scientists and activists among others." — Mediel Hove, African Studies Quarterly

"[T]his authoritative biography narrates a life and career of a creative, complex, iconic figure...." — Journal of Pan African Studies

"In addition to being an enthralling read for any ordinary reader interested in the lives of music stars, this is a biography with relevance for researchers on politics, ethnomusicology, anthropology, cultural studies and media studies."
  — Nhamo Anthony Mhiripiri, Africa

"Lion Songs is a richly evocative story of a life impassioned wherein author Banning Eyre ties the arc of Mapfumo’s career to Zimbabwe’s contemporary history. . . . A great fly-on-the-wall account of a life political, a life musical, and a life of love sans love-songs." — Felicity Clark, Perfect Beat

"Thomas Mapfumo, the musical Lion of Zimbabwe, has been fortunate in finding Banning Eyre, a worthy Boswell to his Johnson." — Peter Godwin, author of The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe

"Banning Eyre has done it again. Lion Songs is not just a fascinating biography of an underappreciated African music icon. It testifies to the way music can unlock the secrets of history, society, and the human spirit.  Zimbabwe’s story is by turns inspiring and heartbreaking. Mapfumo’s life and art, so elegantly told here, lets us both feel and understand it as never before." — Bonnie Raitt

"In Lion Songs the reader follows Mapfumo's career as a singer/songwriter and uncompromising social critic through the last gasp of colonialism in Rhodesia, the liberation struggle, and the aftermath of independence. A skilled storyteller, Banning Eyre integrates his perspective on these events with his experiences performing as a guitarist in Mapfumo's bands, deftly interweaving his accounts with the perspectives of Zimbabwean, European, and North American observers and interlocutors. Against the backdrop of Zimbabwe’s political history and the global flows of the popular music market, Eyre provides an intimate view of the bands' touring musicians and dancers. He explores their artistic practices, their interpersonal relationships, and the relentless challenges they face in Zimbabwe, Europe, and in America where Mapfumo currently lives in political exile. Lion Songs is also the story of the creative genius of Mapfumo himself, and the moral complexities that surround his life." — Paul Berliner, author of The Soul of Mbira: Music and Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe


Availability: In stock
Price: $39.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Banning Eyre is a freelance writer and guitarist and the senior editor and producer of the public radio program Afropop Worldwide. He is the author of In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali, Playing With Fire: Fear and Self-Censorship in Zimbabwean Music, and Guitar Atlas: Africa, and the coauthor of AFROPOP! An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music. Eyre is a contributor to National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and his writing has been published in Billboard, Guitar Player,, the Boston Phoenix, CMJ, Option, Folk Roots, Global Rhythm, and other publications. He has also performed and recorded with Thomas Mapfumo.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preamble: Chimurenga Nights  1

I. Rhodesia

1. England Is the Chameleon , and I the Fly  13

2. Singing Shona  28

3. When the Spirit Comes  50

4. Songs for the Book of History  67

5. Bishop and Pawn  89

6. Agony of Victory  110

II. Zimbabwe

7. Snakes in the Forest  125

8. Corruption  144

9. Big Daddy and the Zimbabwe Playboys  161

10. Sporting Lions  179

11. Too Many Ghosts  200

12. Breaking the Cycle  211

III. America

13. Striking at Empires  231

14. Dancing with Devils  248

15. The Land of the Horses  264

16. Lions in Winter  281

Acknowledgments  295

Notes  297

Selected Discography  337

Bibliography  341

Index of Songs and Albums  345

General Index  349
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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