The Lion Awakens

Zimbabwe has had a shaky, violent history since its independence, and Thomas Mapfumo — the "Lion of Zimbabwe" and a musical force for more than two decades — has long spoken out against all manners of injustice and corruption in his country.

This has made him a hero to the people, despite songs such as "Disaster" (RealAudio excerpt) and the soul-based "Mamvemve" (RealAudio excerpt) — tracks critical of former President Mugabe's administrative policies — being removed from the national radio station's playlist. Mapfumo's Chimuregna style translates as struggle, and he doesn't back away from confrontation.

More upbeat than its acoustic predecessor, Live at El Rey, Chimurenga Explosion kicks off with the reggae horns and drums of "Musanyepere" (RealAudio excerpt), a reminder that Mapfumo has inherited Bob Marley's mantle as spiritual unifier of the Third World underclass. As always, the mbira (thumb piano) provides the heartbeat for Mapfumo's music, and here his Mbiras Unlimited quartet once again supplies the music's rhythmic bedrock. On tracks such as "Kariba" (RealAudio excerpt) the players set a tone that's echoed in the guitar lines and propelled by the drums. Mapfumo exhibits more potency in such arrangements than he has in years, channeling a simmering power he keeps under tight control.