Roots Chimurenga is Thomas Mapfumo's 16th album, not counting four compilations of singles that were on the market when this recording was made in 1996. Following many changes in the lineup during the early 1990s---mostly the results of untimely deaths---the Blacks Unlimited had stabilized, with one big difference. The year before, guitarist Jonah Sithole had rejoined the band. Sithole and Mapfumo had been a celebrated team going back to 1975 when Mapfumo fused his band (The Acid Band) with Sithole's, (The Storm) to form the original Blacks Unlimited. Sithole and Mapfumo had crossed paths many times over the years. Twice, Sithole left the Blacks Unlimited to lead his own band, once in 1982, and again in 1989 when he formed Deep Horizon. In the shrinking Zimbabwean economy of the '90s, many bands went by the wayside. So it was probably a combination of necessity and public pressure---people were forever telling Sithole that his place was beside Mapfumo---that led Sithole to return to the fold in 1995. Their first project, Afro Chimurenga, was an excursion into Afro-rock, a surprising departure, but with Roots Chimurenga, Mapfumo and Sithole returned to the sound that had made them both famous: mbira pop. Sithole was a pioneer in the delicate art of playing guitar with mbiras. At this point, the Blacks Unlimited sound had become solidly mbira based. Even on jit songs like 'Iwe Jani,'the mbira section, led by brothers Bezil and Ngoni Makombe, percolates away. This innovation, begun three years earlier, leads to the creation of new mbira based songs, like 'Wenhamo' and 'Dai Pasina Satan,' which are neither jit, tsava-tsava, rumba, nor traditional mbira. Such songs mark an emerging new sub-genre in the chimurenga songbook. From the standpoint of lyrics, the songs on Roots Chimurenga tend to deal with domestic concerns, husbands and wives, infidelity, and AIDS. 'Some songs are love songs,' says Mapfumo, though when he talks about a love song, he doesn't mean 'You are my Sunshine.' It's more apt to be a stern cautionary tale about what happens when one party or the other dishonors the commitment of love. 'Others are political, dealing with the plight of the people.' Naturally. That's what chimurenga music has always been about. Here, the most noteworthy example of that is 'Anenge Asingade,' a song inspired by the coercive tactics of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party. Mapfumo says that a political party that allows no dissenting voices is not a real party, and certainly doesn't serve the people. 'You must look for genuine support,' warns Mapfumo, 'rather than forcing people to support you. The people are the majority, and every sin that you commit against the people will come back to haunt you.'
Banning Eyre, 2000