Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mapfumo and Chipaumire in BOSTON

First, to state the obvious: I am a terrible blogger. I launched the Afropop Blog (under my own name, yet) in November, but after a short flurry of activity, I went dead—hence the inevitable name change…

But, you know, although I do not take enough time to blog about it, I do lead a live loaded with music and adventure. One reason I’ve been laying low is that I am editing the over-long manuscript of my Zimbabwe book, a biography of Thomas Mapfumo. So that’s my subject today.

On Friday, April 23, Sean Barlow and I attended an amazing performance art piece created by Zimbabwean modern dancer Nora Chipaumire with Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited. The band (minus a drummer) sat among candles behind a thin screen, and Chipaumire and her foil (Burikina Faso-born dancer Soulemane Badolo) danced to their left, in front of them, and behind them. Through much of the performance, images and light were projected on the screen—leaves rustling, birds flying, buildings, images of Chipaumire. The effect was unusual, and at times absolutely magical.

The band sounded terrific, the lack of drums revealing all the snaking, internal lines of the music in a remarkable way, and with nearly all of the 6 musicians singing, the male vocal mix was choice. There were new and old songs in the program, and at one point the production segued into a recorded song with the whole band (“Wachiona Chorombo” from Chimurenga Explosion). When the song ended, the live band played on making a smooth transition back to the main event.

Chipaumire’s movements are big and expressive, part whimsy, part angst—like Zimbabwe itself. Especially beautiful was what she called “Liberation tango,” a dance in which she and Badolo became spectacularly entwined and moved as one as the band played one of its most lyrical new (and unreleased) compositions.

These photos are from 2008 when Chipaumire and an even smaller version of the Blacks Unlimited previewed this idea in New York. Since then, they’ve worked hard, and the result is deeply moving, and well worth seeing.

We caught the show in Boston, where it did a 3-night stand at the Institute of Contemporary Art. More to come, including 2 nights at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn, May 21 and 22.

Banning Eyre
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