SM PIER — The 25th Annual Twilight Dance Series is bringing a unique blend of traditional African music with western instruments back to the Santa Monica Pier with Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited.
In their third visit to the pier, tonight Mapfumo and his band will perform new music from their upcoming album, “Exile,” which is set to be released within the next month.
“We’ve been working on this CD for a long time, nearly a year now, so we’re hoping it will go down very well with the people,” he said.
Mapfumo, known as the “Lion of Zimbabwe,” combines modern music with the Shona music he grew up listening to in the small town of Marondera, Zimbabwe.
Born in 1945, Mapfumo’s exposure to music was limited to traditional Zimbabwean children’s songs and sacred music. It was not until he moved to the capital city of Harare, then known as Salisbury, at the age of 10 that he was introduced to modern music.
“As someone who grew up in the country, when I came to live in the city, it was my first time listening to radio music,” Mapfumo said. “It was something very different.”
As a teenager, he was drawn to these new sounds and became the drummer in a band that covered American and British pop music.
Mapfumo believes the influences from two varied music styles has helped him create his own musical blend, known as chimurenga.
“That actually helped me a lot because I decided to write my own music using my language,” he said of listening to pop, soul, rumba and African music as a teenager.
The word chimurenga means struggle in Shona, Mapfumo’s native language, and captures how Zimbabwe’s long struggle for independence has affected his music.
The country’s civil war has done more than simply give Mapfumo subject matter for his many songs, it has also forced him out of Zimbabwe.
Today he lives in self-imposed political exile with his family and band in Oregon. His music is banned in his hometown but he still finds an audience there — his 2001 album “Chimurenga Rebel” sold more than 35,000 copies within several days of its release in Zimbabwe.
Mapfumo has made Oregon his home thanks to friend Thomas Allen Green.
“He was the guy who made it possible to move here, my family and the rest of my band,” Mapfumo said. “He had a small record company that I’ve been working with.”
Black Unlimited have been together since the 1970s, first under the name Acid Band. “Exile” is a fitting name for their latest CD, which they have collaborated on since moving to Oregon.
“It’s been a long time since this band was formed,” Mapfumo said. “We have a strong group here.”