After receiving a rousing reception at the Robert Mugabe International Airport earlier on Thursday, Thomas Mapfumo sat sedately on one of the chairs at the Star FM’s studios, ready to give what would be his first interview back in Zimbabwe for the first time in 14 years.
At first glance, for the initiated at least, Mukanya hardly looked like the man who the Zimbabwean music scene has been buzzing about ever since he announced that he would once again give local audiences a live taste of his signature Chimurenga music.
The somewhat frail, dreadlocked man looked a far cry from the lion whose music has echoed far and wide around the globe. Perhaps when he started speaking, it was then Zimbabweans could truly hear his roar.
Instead, Mapfumo was calm and assured as he answered questions from presenters who seemed star-struck and, for all intents and purposes, would have preferred a private session with this dreadlocked object of adoration.
The questions that they asked him were revealing of how Mukanya, as loved as he is, might be a little too much to stomach for some Zimbabweans.
“What I have noticed is that there’re a lot of nice cars here,” Mukanya said when he was asked about what change he had seen in Zimbabwe after almost a decade and a half away from home. “You have a lot of nice cars but you don’t have any roads,” he said.
The state of the country’s roads is known to all, but this was the sort of response that one would expect from Mukanya. In the world of showbiz were political correctness is stronger currency than honesty, another lesser musician might have simply strung together a bunch of compliments to please eager Zimbabweans.
Not Mukanya. Such niceties have never been on his menu and on his first public appearance he signaled that he was not about to start feeding Zimbabweans empty statements.
It is in such settings when one cannot help but compare him to Oliver Mtukudzi, a man who has been cited as his rival for decades. While Mapfumo speaks without a filter, Tuku is always measured and diplomatic when giving responses to questions.
One cannot help but wonder whether Mapfumo’s take no- prisoners kind of honesty has made him harder to like or love than his erstwhile rival.
Perhaps due to his overtly political stance, Mapfumo has become more of a political animal than Tuku, who skillfully masks what could be controversial messages behind some of his songs.
Their interviews are also instructive of how they are both perceived. While Tuku receives questions about music and life, Mapfumo usually fields enquiries about politics. For example, not once was he asked about his music or wellbeing during his debut interview in the country.
More than a musician, Mapfumo is seen as a political philosopher, with his contributions to political debates perhaps seen by some as more valuable than his music. Since political debates are usually emotive, it is no wonder than Mapfumo has stepped on a few toes throughout his career. This is a burden that Tuku, for better or worse, has never had to carry.
In contrast, Tuku is seen first and foremost as a musician, and rarely is he asked to wade into the murky world of politics where one either sinks or swims. On Thursday, as he hit his stride, Mukanya indeed sounded like the wise elder educating his ignorant children.
“Africa should be united. Africa should have no borders,” he said. “Africa is the richest continent on the continent and white people know this. But instead our people want to be divided and start saying I’m from South Africa or I’m from Zimbabwe,” he said.
These were indeed wise words from a man who has always championed the cause of the black man. You don’t get to call your brand of music Chimurenga unless you are possessed by a revolutionary spirit that has an eternal hold on you.
However, it may further explain why Mukanya is seen more as a hardline Pan-Africanist than Tuku who speaks in interviews like an elder telling engaging folktales to youngsters gathered around a fire in the countryside.
Perhaps how they are perceived also boils down to both their music. While Tuku has always been hailed as a socially conscious poet, his music has always had a fun edge to it. While he is well capable of heartbreaking ballads, as he showed in classics like Neria, songs like Chirimupoto also showcase his more light hearted side.
He is the artiste that one goes to in times of both distress and happiness. For that reason his music has continued to resonate with generation after generation years after he attained superstardom. It is telling that he sits in the high table of Zimbabwean music with young bucks like Jah Prayzah and Winky D. Mapfumo on the other hand, is hardly the kind of artiste that one goes to listen to for fun. His vocals, rough and rugged, are also likely to find many takers in a generation that might be put off by Mapfumo’s trademark mumble.
This however, does not diminish his message, the one thing that has shaped public opinion of him for decades. Indeed, if the fanfare that accompanied his homecoming this week is anything to go by, the popularity contest between Chimurenga and Tuku Muzik Chimurenga is far from a settled debate.