Mr Music is the name of an album by Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited. Released in 1985 by Earthworks/Rough Trade records, on vinyl LP and cassette. As far as I know it has not been released on CD.

Track list

Side A

  1. Congress (10:30)
  2. Kufa Kwangu (7:52)

Side B

  1. Tondobayana (5:29)
  2. Juanita (7:27)
  3. Maria (5:20)


Musicians - The Blacks Unlimited

  • Charles Mayana - Bass
  • Sebastian Farado - Drums
  • Lucky Mupawaenda - Lead Guitar
  • Leonard Chiyangwa - Sub Lead Guitar
  • Unity Ndlovu - Saxaphone
  • Tobias Areketa - Back Vocals & Percussion
  • Lancelot Kashesha - Back Vocals & Claps
  • Everson Chibamu - Trumpet
  • Temba Moncube - Trumpet

There is no credit for the mbira, but it is distinctly audible on the album (indeed it has a central role). Perhaps Mapfumo himself plays it?

Recorded at Shed Studios, Harare
Engineered by Bothwell Nyam Hondera
Produced by A.K. Mapfumo

Sleeve concept, design and photography - Dennis Morris

The album cover

The cover is bold and simple. On a bright yellow background, a black and white photo of Mapfumo from the chest up with arms outspread takes up the lower half, while his name "THOMAS MAPFUMO" takes up the top half, spelled in bright red capital letters. The words "& THE BLACKS UNLIMITED" appear in smaller black letters between the two words of his name, and the title of the album, "MR MUSIC" is in green letters in the bottom left corner. In the photo Mapfumo is wearing a denim vest, open, with no shirt. He is wearing an ankh on a chain around his neck, and what looks like a wristwatch. Of course his hair is in dreadlocks.

On the back is a quotation from Thomas Mapfumo:

    Music has been my life
    It knows nocolour, racial or religious boundaries
    As long as it touches your soul, you will flow with it.
    I hope that all who hear my music will become one with me
    I thank my African forefathers
    For bringing me up in music

My review

This is far and away my favorite Thomas Mapfumo album among those that I've heard - though I actually haven't heard that many. The others I have are Ndangariro and Corruption on vinyl, and Live at El Rey and Chamunorwa on CD. But I have to say I hardly ever listen to those, whereas when I hooked up my turntable to my computer to start burning my vinyl LPs onto CDs, this was the first album I grabbed. It's one of those albums I fell in love with immediately the first time I listened to it.

The songs might be a little long for some people's taste, and some might think that the music sounds repetitive. The lyrics to the seven-minute plus "Juanita" aren't much more than "I loved Juanita, I loved Juanita" repeated over and over again. But for me the length of these songs allows time for listening to this music the way it should be listened to. The mbira, the lead guitar and the "sub lead guitar" are playing very similar melodies basically right on top of each other. The listener's attention slips easily from one to the other. In this way, each time you listen you're paying attention to something different, so that you hear a different song every time. Listening becomes more interactive. During long songs like these, with riffs repeated over and over, you can catch your attention wondering from one instrument to another, making it easier to wake up to this interactivity.

In addition to these philosophical reasons for liking the album, I think the playing is tight. The guitar has a shimmering quality, especially on "Maria" - reminiscent of the guitar on Bob Marley's "Exodus" - but taken to another level.

Lastly, I like the fact that Mapfumo uses an actual mbira on this album, instead of replacing it with a synthesizer as he did with his later albums. In addition to the crispness of the metal keys of a real mbira, the buzz of the attached bottlecaps or what-have-you creates a nice backdrop, like the drone of an Indian surpeti or tanpura.

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