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Volume 10, Number 2

Fall/Winter 2012

Sorrow Songs and Mbira Music: Du Bois, Mapfumo, and the Power of Music


Sheila Bassoppo-Moyo

North Carolina Central University


    This study examines how music functions as social commentary on a group's lived experience and as a tool to inform identity. Music can be used as social commentary to socially construct the identity of people of African ancestry and descent. 

    This study used several theoretical perspectives as a framework.   Insights were gleaned from W.E.B. Du Bois' inductive, empirical framework for the study of "the Negro problems" and his concept of double consciousness.  Georg Simmel's theoretical perspective describes how music is a tool and a social construction of shared identity which must be communicated.  Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann's (1966) theory on the social construction of reality notes that society is composed of dialectical processes like externalization, objectivation, and internalization

    O'Shaughnessy and Stadler (2009) argue that the media – press, radio, television, cinema, and other forms of media – are  processes that shape much of the information  and entertainment we know today.  The media represents the primary sources of how we come to know the world. Social construction theory also notes that language is a site for power struggles over meanings by different races, genders, and creeds (O'Shaughnessy 1999: 35).

    Content analysis is used to analyze lyrics from the two types of musical genres, the sorrow songs born out of the experience of slavery in the United States and Chimerenga
(rebellion) songs created and arranged by Zimbabwean musician, Thomas Mapfumo, who helped to inspire the liberation struggle against colonialism in Zimbabwe. Findings show Du Bois' concepts of the veil and double consciousness shed light on the impact music has on individual and social group identity when the music reflects traditional practices, values, and beliefs of an audience striving for social justice.  Also, when musical lyrics reflect a sense of nationalism, it influences how individuals and social groups interact with social structural mechanisms. Findings show that music reflects double meanings, becomes a tool of civic activism, and constructs social reality.

Historical Background

    While the sorrow songs, which W.E.B. Du Bois described in The Souls of Black Folk, are the central historical narrative of Black folks and Thomas Mapfumo's popular Chimurenga (rebellion) music emerged within two different social locations, both musical genres had an emotional impact on the oppressed. Both genres were used as tools to communicate the social conditions of the oppressed and inspire social groups in the United States and Zimbabwe during two different periods in world history.  These music genres reflect W.E.B. Du Bois's concept of double consciousness, a "double-aimed struggle" over national and cultural identity.

Du Bois on the Veil and Double Consciousness

    In the Souls of Black Folk,   Du Bois writes about African Americans being forced to live within the Veil and maintaining a sense of a double consciousness. Du Bois states that he can raise the veil and live above it if he chooses. He is not stifled by it, but finds it to be a motivator to achieve because he lives to become "the investigator, the communicator, the native informant who can render the mysteries behind the Veil known ([1903] 2003). The Veil is a metaphor that refers to the separation of blacks and whites. Black people are able to see outside of the Veil, but whites cannot see inside. 

    Double consciousness refers to the emotional feeling African Americans experience from living in a nation that discriminates against them as a racial group and has established social, economic, and political barriers to their legal right to be fully accepted as Americans:

One ever feels his two-ness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder (Du Bois [1903] 2003:9).
Du Bois pointed out that it was important for African Americans not to be defined by others and that it was important to claim their birthright as both an American and an African American.   Wortham (2009: 153) further states that the "sacred canopies of the Black Church" and the "sorrow songs" helped to establish identity for African Americans as music's power in worship settings reinforced collective identity.  Wortham (2009:153) argues, "During and in the aftermath of slavery, the Black Church preserved remnants of African tribal and family life and the sorrow songs became valid, plausible expressions of despair and hope."

Du Bois, Triangular Methodology, and Art

    Focusing on the African American community and the African American experience, several essays in The Souls of Black Folk address the Black Church's role as an integrative mechanism within the community and a potential catalyst for social change. In "Of the Faith of the Fathers", Du Bois describes the three things that characterize the religion of the slave: "The Preacher, the music, and the Frenzy" (Du Bois 2003: 135). It was the social center of Negro life in the United States and had brought African Americans into modernity. Du Bois describes the economic and social power of these institutions in fighting prejudice and discrimination if they were fortunate enough to have educated and ethical leadership and dedicated members.   Du Bois believed this "twoness" caused a great schism within the black person's life, that is, not knowing from where one's sense of identity comes within a highly stratified society. 

    Du Bois was heavily influenced in his research by William James' pragmatism, which held that theory and practice were not separate spheres, and Gustav Schmoller's inductive approach to research.  In "The Study of the Negro Problems,"   Du Bois studied the social factors impacting the quality of life for African Americans, such as their meager economic conditions, lack of education and training, and "sexual immorality, disease, and crime (Du Bois [1898] 2009)."    For Du Bois, the aim of sociology was the discovery of the truth through a multidisciplinary approach using history, statistical study, sociology, and anthropology. This approach was heavily influenced by Schmoller and the interdisciplinary Staatswissenschaften perspective (Wortham, 2011: xvii). Du Bois used a triangular methodological approach to study "the Negro Problems" by routinely utilizing data from the U.S. census, surveys, and ethnography (Wortham, 2011:XVII). This approach was used in two major studies which he conducted. The Philadelphia Negro examined the quality of life of African Americans in a large urban city, and the second study examined rural life in Farmville, Virginia.  Du Bois integrated participant observation in some essays so that readers could experience how rural Blacks experienced everyday life within the veil (Wortham, 2011:XVII). 

    In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois also employed artistic expression to address "The Negro Problems." Though trained as a sociologist and historian, and deeply involved in social change, Du Bois incorporated the arts in his struggle for civil rights and equality (Carroll 2005: 253).   For Du Bois (1996), all art had to be propaganda. He believed it was the duty of black America to create, preserve, and realize beauty and truthfulness because white America's interpretation of black art was often distorted and racist.  To be free meant to be able to tell one's own stories, create one's own art: 

Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent (p. 327-28). 
Sorrow Songs and Identity

    The sorrow songs play a major role in The Souls of Black Folks. W.E.B. Du Bois devotes an entire chapter to this music genre. He shows a deep emotional connection to these songs which he heard as a child and that he reconnected with as a student at Fisk University. Beginning with each chapter, he gives a bar of a sorrow song along with a few lines of a Western epigraph. The songs were the messages to the world of slaves "weary at heart" (Sundquist 2003: 177).  For Du Bois, the sorrow songs were steeped in the history of African Americans and their African homeland: "Out of them rose for me morning, noon, and night, bursts of wonderful melody, full of the voices of my brothers and sisters, full of the voices of the past" (p. 178).

    In trying to determine why Du Bois began each chapter of The Souls of Black Folk with paired epigraphs, Sundquist (1993) argues that they were "alternating sounds" for his essays in sociological and cultural analysis.  Because he believed the purpose for art was propaganda with the goal of improving the lives of black people, Du Bois blends the poetics with the politics and the art with the propaganda (p. 459). Du Bois believes these songs were the only true American music originating out of the experiences of African Americans. 

    Du Bois had several reasons for making the sorrow songs central to his text, according to Sundquist (1993).  He was responding to white critics who dominated the interpretation of African American culture as well as the lack of assertiveness of the black cultural leadership. Another reason involved his less than cordial relationship with Booker T. Washington. Giving attention to the sorrow songs was Du Bois' way of subverting the authority of Washington who had recently published a forward on spirituals  (p. 466). 

Zimbabwean Music, Thomas Mapfumo's Chimurenga Songs, and Identity

    Music is borne out of a social and cultural context. Conflict studies provide an example of how music plays a role in political conflicts.  Fieldwork among the Dande people in Zimbabwe by Lan has revealed how their religious system and cooperation between spirit mediums and guerillas had a major impact on the course of the civil war in that country. "Zimbabwe also provides a well documented example of how music can play a significant role in conflict situations – here, as an efficient tool in political mobilization processes" (Grant et al. 2010: 185). 
Music plays a powerful role in society. Research on the role of music in conflict studies show that it plays a prominent role in the ability to create associations to place and to cause emotional impact. Music has the potential to influence emotions and to positively express the sense of belonging to a specific group; it can also communicate antagonistic attitudes towards other groups (Grant et al. 2010: 185). 

    Even without access to mainstream media, music in Zimbabwe is the main means of communicating the people's struggles. From the pre-colonial to postcolonial eras in Zimbabwe, music has always been a part of the struggle for independence. Music was created throughout the country and reached the masses of people in forms and languages they understood (Mano 2007). 

During colonialism, traditional music was widespread throughout the country and maintained African identity in pre-Zimbabwe and encouraged a sense of nationalism  from the 1950s to 1960s:

Traditional music acquired a new political significance in perpetuating respect for African, rather than European, authority figures and writing implicit political messages into lyrics. Many music associations were formed in townships and rural areas expressly to preserve traditional practices such as dancing and drumming. These activities not only served to revive certain dying institutions, but also to promote a feeling of solidarity amongst people during their struggle for independence. (Jones 1992, p. 28, cited in Mano 2007).
    Throughout Zimbabwean history, music has permeated the society. In the colonial period, local and western musical forms were sung throughout the churches. As a form of resistance, African artists wanted their music to be broadcasted on colonial radio so they used "coded" language and traditional musical formats to resist white minority rule in Rhodesia. This music was banned once political messages were detected by the authorities (Mano 2007).

   Zimbabwean music has played a major role in social identity formation.  In the everyday life of the people, Zimbabwean music threads throughout the society. It not only predates colonialism but also   links to Zimbabwean historical and cultural processes. Many of the songs are about the problems of the poor, and most of the musicians live in the same locations as their listeners. "Music was a central part of Zimbabwean society, e.g. in times of war and peace at workplaces, in the home and outdoor, in religion and social ceremonies (rain-making, collective labor, religion, marriage, death or love, for instance) (Mano 2007: 67)." 

    Chimurenga music or rebel music emerged during the first and second wars of liberation against white colonial rule. Chimurenga means revolutionary struggle and described Zimbabweans fight for liberation against British colonial rule from 1896 to 1897 (First Chimurenga) and the guerrilla war against the white minority regime of Rhodesia from 1966 to 1980 (Second Chimurenga). In 2000, the Government of Zimbabwe, initiated the land reform program. This became known as the start of the Third Chimurenga.

    Just as the sorrow songs were borne out of the experience of slavery in the United States, the Chimurenga songs were a reflection of revolutionary struggle against colonialism in Zimbabwe. Just as African Americans wore the veil and lived with double consciousness, Black Zimbabweans experience the veil as a result of internalizing foreign ideas and practices from the British colonizers. Turino (2000) describes the concept of cosmopolitanism in which Zimbabweans internalize their local identities but also become more socialized to other outside or world communities. Zimbabweans had  access to globalized communities outside of their own local environments. They were the privileged classes who reflected the same double consciousness Du Bois described. They develop their own unique identities within the veil.

    Turino (2000) states that people socialized under colonialism do not simply reflect colonial thoughts and behaviors, but they create their own unique culture.

Rather they are acting and thinking from their own cultural position --- this is part of who they are. Meanwhile in various places, new choreographic accents and genres are added to ballroom dancing, new shades of meaning attached to Jesus, and new strategies added to nationalism. The key difference for the concept of cosmopolitanism is between imitation and internalization; the latter allows for internally generated cultural creativity, practices, and identities (P. 9).
     Thomas Mapfumo left behind the foreign songs and switched completely to indigenous local music after going  through a series of transitions. It was early in his career in the 1960s that Mapfumo recorded foreign popular songs (Turino, 2000). In 1971, he aspired to be like American jazz saxophonist, Stan Getz. Mapfumo and his band, the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, focused on conventional rock, rumba, and South African genres. They were trying to play Afro-rock music, a fusion of Shona music and Western styles. However, he changed his style to pure traditional indigenous-style music. Local audiences responded more positively to local music. This was what the people wanted to hear. Mapfumo's veil had been lifted after he saw how people responded to music that reflected their own local experiences and political situations.

    Mapfumo recounted to a journalist how his audience reacted after he sang an English song followed by an indigenous Shona song. They "applauded" for the English song, but "clapped" for the Shona song. "Then all of a sudden I could see people starting clapping this particular tune instead of applauding for the English type. Then I realized that we people of Zimbabwe were lost…we are supposed to do our own music.  That gave me courage until …I started composing many of them for that time, and I did a hit…it stayed on the hit parade for two months" (Turino 2000: 273). It was during this time that Mapfumo started singing Shona indigenous music.

Theoretical Perspectives

    The theoretical perspectives of this paper are informed by an early paper of Georg Simmel on the sociology of music, the social construction of reality, and social construction of the media. In this paper, music is used as a form of social commentary because leaders use it to move the masses to act. Leading figures like Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and singer, Thomas Mapfumo, used music in particular ways. The lyrics of the sorrow songs called the slaves to action. Like the sorrow songs, Thomas Mapfumo's Chimeranga songs with their nationalist imagery captured the emotions of the majority of Zimbabweans who supported the war of liberation. 

Simmel and the Sociology of Music

    According to Etzkorn (1964), Georg Simmel's early work on the sociology of music has been largely forgotten and neglected. In 1882, Simmel wrote a paper in German called  "Psychologishe und Ethnologische Studien uber Musik" (Psychological and Ethnological Studies on Music).  Inspired by the inadequacy of Darwin's theory on the sexually stimulated origins of music, Simmel wrote that music was a tool of social relationships.  For Simmel, music has its basis in speech which is a representation of social relations. Vocal music is the spoken word enhanced by rhythm and modulation shaped by emotion (Etzkorn 1968: 100). Speech transforms to music (rhythm and modulation) by the psychological search for expressions. Music is a tool, a social construction of shared identity which must be communicated. 

    Du Bois devotes an entire chapter to the sorrow songs in The Souls of Black Folk in which he tells of how greatly these songs impacted his life from an early age and bridged a connection to his past: "Out of them rose for me morning, noon, and night, bursts of wonderful melody, full of the voices of my brothers and sisters, full of the voices of the past"  [(Du Bois 2003 [1903]). 

    Simmel's analysis is that music be viewed as an intimate part of social reality globally: It is socially  conditions the groups involved in it. He explored crosscultural data on musical practices in not just in the West because he believed music was a human expression that took form in different social settings for all people (Honigsheim, 1989: 13). Simmel collected data from societies in the Caribbean, Brazil, Australia, and the Maori. He also used his own experiences with a family in Berlin whose children could not sing the melodies of folksongs without also singing their words (Etzkorn, 1964: 103). 

    For music to become great art, it had to embody national or social group characteristics. The style of music is characteristic of the character of a people and reflects social group differences (Etzkorn, 1964:106). An artist's musical creation becomes the "true expression" of  the nation. 

    Simmel asks important questions about music like how the musical properties are acquired by social actors, how they become socially defined as something special and how this special status is related to the variety of special social adjustments which influence the social system and may have repercussions on musical expression (Etzkorn, 1964). 

Social Construction of Reality

     Based on the social construction of reality theory, society is composed of the dialectical processes of externalization, objectivation, and internalization (Berger and Luckmann, 1966: 118). Music is internalized by the self and subjectively meaningful. It becomes a tool that is externalized by a person or group that is projecting the ideas; it is objectified and given form or social structure through the music, and internalized by the individual or group as a social structure (Berger and Luckmann, 1966: 119). This framework is plausible because it explains why music like the sorrow songs was meaningful in the live of slaves. 

    Social construction theory posits that society, identity and reality are subjectively crystallized by the process of internalization (Berger and Luckmann, 1966: 123). The crystallization is concurrently internalized with language. They state that language is the most important instrument of socialization. Berger and Luckmann's perspective tends to overlap with Simmel who believed that speech transforms to music by the psychological search for expressions.

    The sorrow songs created by slaves and highlighted by Du Bois were meaningful in the lives of slaves because these songs provided them with the means of communicating amongst themselves and with the outside world about the cruelty of slavery, they sent coded messages about escaping to the North, and they were part of the religious tradition of slaves who longed for their heavenly home since they were unable to return to their worldly home in Africa. Du Bois ([1925] 1970) believed art in general was created from a social compulsion that was made up of both an individual impulse combined with the Negro's group compulsion against slavery and built on feelings of "revenge, despair, aspiration, and hatred" as Black people fought back to survive (p. 248). 

    For the majority of Zimbabweans,  Mapfumo created meaning in his songs by changing from singing in the style of Western tunes to creating music that was uniquely Zimbabwean.

    O'Shaughnessy and Stadler's (2009) state that the media – press, radio, television, cinema, and other forms of media – are  processes that shape much of the information  and entertainment we know.  The media represents the primary sources of how we come to know the world.   O'Shaughnessy (1999) notes from his social construction theory that language is central to communication and is the key to understanding, interpretation, and construction of reality.  Social construction theory also notes that language is a site for power struggles over meanings by different races, genders, and creeds (p. 35).

    Carroll (2005), a scholar of American and African American literature, has explored how Du Bois used art to construct the essays in The Souls of Black Folk and how the sorrow songs were a reflection of the unity of art theory.  Robert Wagner was one of many Romantic artists whose ideas and theories were popular during the time that Du Bois was in Germany. Wagner theorized that the unity of art could create a greater sense of nationalism among the German people. Using multiple media, Wagner combined elements of opera such as music, poetry, song, appealing sets, costumes, and the gestures of actors to employ a holistic approach in his work. He believed the unity of art would impact German culture. This paradigm was particularly widespread among English and German theorists and artists in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

    Du Bois returned to the U.S. from studying in Germany in 1894 after engaging in doctoral studies in Germany. At this time Wagner and his theories were also quite popular in the United States. Wagner's writings were widely read at the time that Du Bois taught at Wilberforce University, published The Philadelphia Negro, the first empirically based sociological study on African American quality of life, then later while under contract at the University of Pennsylvania, taught at Atlanta University (1898-1910). During this time, he completed essays for The Souls of Black Folk (Carroll, 2005). 

    Just as Wagner hoped to impact a sense of nationalism in his work, Du Bois perhaps wanted to use The Souls of Black Folk as a total work of art to undermine American racism (Carroll 2005). He unifies all fourteen chapters by threading lines of poetry with bars of the sorrow songs at the beginning of each essay in the book. It is interesting to note that the lyrics are missing from the bars of music. The poetry includes a few lines from both American and European poets that include Arthur Symons, James Russell Lowell, Lord Byron, Friedrich von Schiller, John Greenleaf Whittier, William Vaughn Moody and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 

    Du Bois makes references to one of Wagner's operas in the essay, "Of the Coming of John." In this short story, the main character, John Jones, attends a performance of Wagner's Lohengrin. He sits next to a childhood friend, John Henderson, the son of a white judge, who in adulthood, takes offense to sitting next to a black man. John Jones leaves the opera house and later finds John Henderson has attacked his sister. He kills Henderson and waits for an angry mob to come and lynch him while he hums the wedding march from the opera (Du Bois, ([1903] 2003); Caroll 2005). 

    Du Bois cited the opera, Lohengrin, and Wagner's technique years later in a newspaper article. He said that Wagner integrated myth, poetry, sound and music, color, and human actors on the stage to enhance the emotional impact of the message. "The result is beautiful, as in the bride-song, but it is more than that: it rises to a great and glorious drama, which at times reaches the sublime" (Caroll 2005: 242)."

    Wagner's musical innovations offered Du Bois a model that created a more continuous flow between the songs in his operas. He had a practice of infusing each opera with a series of leitmotifs, which are repeating melodies that change and develop through the entire work (Caroll 2005). In The Souls of Black Folk, one finds a similar type of leitmotif. In the essay, "Of the Passing of the First-Born," Du Bois begins with a few lines from the poem, "Itylus" by Algernon Charles Swinburne.  The poem is about a nightingale's sweet song mixed with memories of suffering and sorrow. The song is about a bird that plunges down into grief. The musical bars that follow the poem echo the same sadness of a parent who just lost a child. Du Bois wrote this essay after his son died suddenly (Du Bois 1968). The accompanying sorrow song also at the beginning of this essay is without lyrics and entitled: "I Hope My Mother Will Be There".  The lyrics are as follows:

I hope my mother will be there, 
In that beautiful world on high. 
That used to join with me in pray'r, 
In that beautiful world on high. 
Oh I will be there Oh I will be there 
With the palms of victory, 
crowns of glory you shall wear 
In that beautiful world on high (Fenner, 1874).
    This poem is a cry for rest and search for understanding. It is followed by the sorrow song, "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." In the last chapter of The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois gives an account of the emotional power of this particular sorrow song. He describes the reaction from a group when a brigadier-general brought news to the freedmen about the government's refusal to give them land. An old woman started singing the song and everyone else joined in making the soldier weep (Du Bois [1903]  2003). This is a powerful account of how music has the emotional power to move people.

    In "Of the Dawn of Freedom", Du Bois begins the essay with music from the sorrow song, "My Lord, What a Mourning". Sandquist (1993) suggests that the end is symbolized by "mourning" and the beginning by "morning". Perhaps Du Bois was stating a double meaning and referring to how Reconstruction turned out to be a false dawn. The landmark Supreme Court case in 1883 cleared the way for segregation, which was the gravest attack on African American economic and political rights in the wake of Reconstruction (498-499).

    In "Of the Black Belt," Du Bois begins the essay with the following music from the sorrow song "Bright Sparkles in de Churchyard":

Bright sparkles in de churchyard, 
Give light unto de tomb, 
Bright summer, spring's over, 
Sweet flowers in de'r bloom. 
Bright sparkles in de church-yard, 
Give light unto de tomb, 
Bright summer, spring's over, 
Sweet flowers in de'r bloom. 
My mother, once, my mother, twice, 
my mother she'll rejoice.
     Sundquist (1993) argues that the song, "Bright Sparkles in the Graveyard" refers to an African practice in which broken glass and other sparkly things are placed around a grave. This coincides with my own experience in Zimbabwe. Black Zimbabweans place cherished items like pots, tea cups, and small ornaments used by the deceased on top of the grave. This practice is also done by some African Americans.  According to Sundquist, "Bright Sparkles in the Graveyard"  was also a popular work song. The graveyard is the post-reconstruction South. Du Bois believed the song was a bond to the ancestors (pp. 508-510). 
Chapter Title Lyrics Title of Sorrow Song Theme
"Of Our Spiritual
Oh, Nobody knows 
he trouble I've
seen.  Nobody knows but Jesus.
Nobody knows
the trouble I've seen.
"Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen"
The horrors of 
slavery as 
experienced by 
African Americans.
Traced back
to a slave 
after his wife
and children
were sold away
from him.
"Of the Dawn of Freedom" My Lord, 
what a morning.
Oh, my Lord,
what a morning.
Oh, my Lord, 
what a morning,
When the stars
begin to fall. 
You'll hear the
trumpet sound,
To wake
nations underground.
"My Lord, What a Mourning"
The end (Mourning) and the beginning (Morning).  Reconstruction 
turns out to be a false dawn.  Landmark Supreme Court case in 1883 that cleared the way for segregation, gravest attack on African American economic and political rights in wake of Reconstruction.
"Of the Black Belt" Bright sparkles in de churchyard, Give light unto de tomb,
Bright summer, 
spring's over,
Sweet flowers in
de'r bloom.
Bright sparkles in 
de church-yard,
Give light unto de
Bright summer, 
spring's over,
Sweet flowers in
de'r bloom.
My mother, once 
my mother, twice,
my mother she'll
"Bright Sparkles in the Churchyard" (Hampton; same in Jubilee) Sundquist argues that this song contains a clear reference to Africa.  The "bright sparkles in the graveyard" refer to the  African pratice of putting broken glass and other sparkly things around a grave.  The mother of the song could be a mother church, a slave mother or mother Africa.  It represents work because it was a popular worksong.  The graveyard here is the post-reconstruction South.  The song, argues Sundquist, acts for Du Bois as the link to the ancestors.  (To Wake the Nations, p. 508-510.
"Of the Passing of the First-Born"   "I hope My Mother Will be There" (Hampton) Death is the moment of final salvation.
"Of Alexander Crummell" Swing low,sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for the carry me home.
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." (Jubilee) Funeral song for Alexander Crummell.  Death is the final moment of salvation.  Interpretation for home was heaven, political freedom, and Africa. 
Transformation of an African boat song.  Anglican missionary head the same song in Rhodesia (Sundquist, p. 520)
"Of the Coming of John" You may bury me in the East,
You may bury me in the West,
But I'll hear that trumpet sound in the morning.
Good old Christians in that day,
They'll take wings and fly away....
I'll Hear the Trumpet Sound" (or "You may Bury Me in the East") (Jubilee) Slave folk belief that one day they might fly home to Africa.

Death is the moment of final salvation.

"The Sorrow Songs" O wrestlin' Jacob,
Jacob, day's a breaking';
He wil not let me go!
O, I hold my brudder wid a tremblin' hand
I would not let him go!
I hold me sister wid a tremblin' hand; 
I would not let her go!
"Wrestlin Jacob"
Souls shall meet some day.

Ritual journal and reunification with ancestors in lost homeland.

Source: Sundquist, E. (1993). To Wake up the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature.  Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University. 

The songs of Thomas Mapfumo shifted meaning to reflect the times and his audience's demands. He sang what his audience wanted to hear. Turino (2000) interviewed Mapfumo. His use of indigenous Shona musical style and his recording of political lyrics was guided by the "desires of his audience." The songs selected were the songs he composed: Murembo ("Elephant Tusk"), Pfumvu Pa Ruzevha ("Hardships in the rural areas"), Tumira Vana Kuhondo (1977) ("Send Their Children to War"), and Hokoyo! "Watch Out!"
Song Title
Lyrics Theme
Here is an elephant's tusks,
The result of Muchakata's coming.
Staying with cattle, elephant's tusks
Making a joke of the entanglement  of snakes.
In the veldt
The buzz of bees Elephant's tusk.
A hee iye woiye hoha (x2)
All the children have perished
This war has come
(Instrumental interlude)
All the children are finished
The war has come (x5)
Give me m spear
Today I'll cut you to pieces
Mapfumo wrote his first Chimeranga song.

About when the war started for liberation and freedom of the majority.

Indigenous-based music

Nationalist imagery.

Mapfumo made several singles, but this was the only single that the people thought was good music.  "It had a good message.  And straight away, they received the message loud." (Turino 2000, p. 286).

This is the warrior song to do battle.

"Pfumva Pa 
Oh!  I have become a destitute
You have seen the trouble in the Reserves
Oh! I have become destitute
How fortunate you are to have houses with a fire.
How fortunate you are to live in urban areas
How fortunate you are to move around in cars.
Nationalist struggle.

Class struggle between the have-nots and those that own wealth.

"Tumira Vana Kuhondo"
They send their children to war
Hoo oa haa aa
You'll regret
Send their children to war, brother
Send their children to war iyeiye
Send their to war, sister
Always sending children to war
Children to war
Ho ao
Children to war, mother
Ha aa
Children to war lye
This time you will regret
They send their children to war father
They send their children to fight.
This was previously a war song.  Mapfumo said that they had seen complaints about young people being send out on raids.

Young people are being called to take up arms for the struggle.

"Watch Out"
My name is you-will regret (meant as a threat)
My name is Patriot
I'm not afraid of saying it
There are graves scattered about the forest, Lord
We die for telling the truth, Lord
This seas a jackal will feed on grass
The unusual wil happen, Lord
The This time the ominous will occur
Kill the enemies in the forest....
Mupfumo's first with the Acid Band.

Also, this is a war song.

The theme is the determination to fight for their country and not back down.

African Music and African Identity

    According to Nyairo and Ogude (2005), music in Africa has been documented as one of the key ways that people deal with political oppression from colonialism and the demands for independence to ethnic cleansing. This has been highlighted in countries like Kenya and Cameroon. In South Africa, musicians urged the masses to oppose racial discrimination and support of prevent this type of music from going out over the airways (Mano 2007). 

    African musicians essentially used music as a type of journalism. Mano (2007) writes that popular music also plays a journalistic role by communicating messages that are either ignored or underplayed by mainstream mass media. Music portrays multi-faceted versions of realities (Mano 2007).  "Popular music can represent ordinary people, ridicule the powerful, and serve as the voice of the voiceless" (Mano 2007: 63).   Music does not exist independent of social, economic, or political influences. Therefore, both music and journalism are cultural expressions that can be disseminated through mass communication and is socially constructed and reconstructed by huge audiences.  Mano (2007: 63) argues that "Popular music meanings are socially constructed and communicate messages to publics as do newspaper, radio, or television journalism texts." 

Thomas Mapfumo's Mbira Music

    Thomas Mapfumo is known as "The Lion of Zimbabwe" and "Mukanya". He is recognized in various research studies for his protest music against corrupt leadership and unjust government in Zimbabwe (Naidoo 2010). Mapfumo is a political and cultural hero in Zimbabwe and has had a major impact on the music industry and popular culture. He has received national and international recognition by scholarly and commercial press. 

    Mapfumo was jailed for his music in the 1970s when he was critical of the Rhodesian white minority government. After Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, he sang songs that showed support for Robert Mugabe's government. However, when he released Corruption in 1989, his hit album disappeared from the airways.  "The song openly attacked growing levels of corruption in government. At that time, students, workers, opposition political parties, and civic groups were demonstrating against government and the private sector (Mano 2007, p. 68)."

    After Independence in 1980, Zimbabwean musicians were the voice of hope and unity for the people of Zimbabwe. By mid-1980's, progress began to recede tragically backwards. The Zimbabwean people and the country's music industry were losing faith in the new government headed by Robert Mugabe. Music was regarded as a luxury by the government, so government policies regulating the industry retarded the industry. Not only was government, not helpful to Zimbabwean musicians. Western influences did not help much. Before the liberation struggle, Western music was played predominantly over the radio by the colonial government. "The 'I love you, I love you, I love you' stuff of country and western music and similar, carefully selected local ballads would naturally provide the right nutrition for the propaganda machinery over some of the poignant socio-political commentary emanating from an increasingly disenchanted populace" (Chikowero 2008, p. 154). By the 1960s and 1970s, most local musicians were playing their own music, experimenting with traditional music. 

    According to Chikowero (2008), musicians fused traditional styles like the ngoma-based chikende, muchongoyo and jerusarema – giving birth to modern Zimbabwean beats like sungura and mibira-based Chimurenga, but this sentiment was not reflected by the radio which had a local music quota of only 10 percent.  By the 1980s, the radio was considered a conduit for 'cultural imperialism'. 

    Mano (2007) argues that Thomas Mapfumo's music continued to challenge the powerful. It had a strong impact on the recording industry, the press, political parties, and the general population. Mapfumo's Corruption called for leaders to be sensitive to the plight of the majority and voiced the people's frustration with "official corruption, galloping inflation and the daily struggles for survival" (Chikowero, 2008: 300).

Corruption, Corruption in the society
Corruption, corruption in the society
Everybody is corrupt, everybody is corrupt 
Something for Something
Nothing for nothing (Mapfumo 1989)
    Mapfumo sang the song in English so that his targeted audience would not be in doubt of the message he was sending to both the government officials and the world. He laments that the society is corrupt and this corruption caused the people to be corrupt as well. (Vori 2005: 10).  While living in Zimbabwe, everyone I knew and who was able brought technological goods from abroad and to later sell at exorbitant prices.

    Zimbabwean radio's sharpest critic was Thomas Mapfumo. He felt it was a threat to national identity. In a song called Vanhu Vekwedu, Thomas Mapfumo attacks his fellow Zimbabweans for consuming 'western' music and using English. He believed listening to this was confusing the people (Chikowero 2008):.

Tine urombo baba                    We are sorry father
Vanhu vekwedu baba                Our people father
Havasati vaziva                         They haven't learned yet
Tsviri tsviri paradio                   Tsviri tsviri on radio
Chirudzii vakomana?                  What (language) is that?
Kukanganisa vana musoro          Confusing the 
                                                 children's mentality.
Zvakaipa vabereki                      It's wrong parents
Nanga nanga nezvisiri zvedu       Pursuing what is not ours
Zvinonyadza veduwee                Oh it's so shameful
Kukanganisa vana pfungwa         Confusing the children's
Nezvinhu zvisiri zvedu               With things that are not ours
Hello hello paradio                     Hello hello on radio
Hatisi America                           We are not America
Tiri muno muzimbabwe              We are here in Zimbabwe
Nyika yemuAfrica                      An African country
Chirungu ndecheiko                   What is English for
Paradio yeruzhinji?                    On public radio?
Kune vanhu vamwe vedu           There are some among us,
Vakagara vakarasika                   Who have always been lost
Fundisai vana                             Teach the children
Tsika dzedu dzeZimbabwe          Our own Zimbabwean
Magariro nehunhu                      Ways of life and good
Vanamai chengetedzai                Mothers – jealously guard
Kune vanhu vamwe vedu           There are some of us
Vachiri muRudhizha                  Who are still in Rhodesia
Radio Jacaranda                        Radio Jacaranda
Yakapera hama dzedu                Is no more folk (p. 157)

    This song illustrates Du Bois's concept of double consciousness. Mapfumo sings that Zimbabweans want western goods and use English over the indigenous languages. He says Zimbabweans are not Americans. This type of cultural imperialism can do nothing good for the future of Zimbabwe, and that it only keeps the country entangled in the colonial past. 

    Similarities exist between the Kenyan writer, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, and  Mapfumo. Both eventually moved to the United States.  After receiving threats on his life, Mapfumo went into self-imposed exile (Mano 2007). His exile shows how he had to come to grips with being able to transcend borders and reach out to the West. Ngugi, who earlier in his career in the 1980s renounced the English language in his writings, found English as his main language and the language to reach a wider audience. Like Ngugi, Mapfumo began singing more songs in English to reach a wider audience. This may be another example of double consciousness at work. 

    Cultural workers like Mapfumo "led the way in reminiscing about the vicissitudes of the revolution" (Chitando, 2000: 300). By the late 1980s, artists like Mapfumo started to question the ideals of the struggle.  The protest song was created out of conflict. Zimbabwean society became increasingly dissatisfied and polarized. A great rift developed between the emergent black elite and the poor majority (Chitando, 2000). 

    In another song, Thomas Mapfumo sings about the hardships in the rural areas and class struggle. When I lived in Zimbabwe, I saw a huge gap between the poor and the rich. Many middle to upper-class people had servants who lived in the servants' quarters on their property and who were only able to visit their children in the rural areas during the weekends after working hours. In Pfumvu Pa Ruzevha (Hardships in the Rural Areas), Mapfumo describes how he has become a destitute. He describes how the rich are enjoying their wealth as others suffer in poverty.

    One music critic commented that bands singing political songs were purposefully ambiguous in contrast to explicit political songs by political party supporters. "This ambiguity led to the potential for the Rhodesian state, the Patriotic Front, and other political parties to both use and disavow Mapfumo at different times, as in fact happened" (Turino 2000: 288). At times Mapfumo was criticized for singing at different events that were thought to be organized by various political parties.
However, he remained known as the champion of indigenous-based guitar-band music as well as someone who helped bring about political and cultural change in Zimbabwe.             


    Common themes between the two genres were freedom, a call to action, resistance,   longing for an African homeland, or a sense of nationalism, death, and communication.

    The sorrow songs were created out of a sense of  desperation with the oppressive conditions of the lives of slaves. In the United States, various social structural mechanisms were established to maintain hegemony and continued domination of African Americans. Some of these included the Jim Crow laws, disfranchisement, introduction of the Black Codes, and the Plessy Decision in the Supreme Court (McLemore and Romo 2005). In Du Bois' theoretical perspective, African Americans experienced double consciousness, which is the double sense of identity. The sorrow songs reflect a double sense of identity as coded messages. For example, "Steal Away to Jesus" is a code song that describes resistance but can also refer to waiting for salvation. 

    The songs are a response to the "twoness" that causes a great sense of dissonance in not knowing where one's sense of identity comes within a highly stratified society. However, the metaphorical veil provides a type of refuge from oppressive forces of social structural mechanisms in American society such as those that deny equal opportunities ([1903] 2003).

    Georg Simmel's theoretical perspective describes how music is a tool and a social construction of shared identity which must be communicated. For both the sorrow songs and Chimurenga songs, music is a tool of communication. The slaves were poorly educated and could not read, and the songs provided a surreptitious means of communicating plans for escape from slavery. For Zimbabweans, many of the villagers are not literate, so their songs are like newspapers (Mano 2007). 

    Just as Zimbabweans were fighting with a sense of nationalism, African Americans shared references to Africa. Simmel mentions that music should reflect a group's sense of nationalism (Etzkorn 1966). Because  African Americans were brought to the U.S. in captivity, McLemore and Romo (2005) state that they resemble a "colonized" minority  because they have been physically conquered and unacceptable for full membership in "the society of the conquerors, but they were not in their own land" (p. 153). 

    Both genres are known throughout the world and attract international audiences.  Simmel believed music should be viewed as an intimate part of global social reality (Etzkorn, 1966). Thomas Mapfumo's appeal is his emphasis on political activism (Turino, 2000, p. 338).  It is socially conditioned and conditions the social groups involved in it. Simmel noted that an artist's musical creation becomes the "true expression" of the nation (Etzkorn, 1964). Regarding the sorrow songs, Du Bois states that these songs were "the articulate message of the slaves to the world" ([1903] 2003). 

    In Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann's social construction of reality theory,  society is composed of dialectical processes of externalization, objectivation, and internalization ( 1966: 118). In other words, music is internalized by the self and becomes subjectively meaningful. It is a tool that is externalized by an individual or group and projected through ideas; the music is objectified and given form and internalized by the individual or group as a social structure or processes ( 1966: 119).

    O'Shaughnessy and Stadler's (2009) state that the media – press, radio, television, cinema, and other forms of media – are  processes that shape much of the information  and entertainment we know.  The media represents the primary sources of how we come to know the world.   O'Shaughnessy (1999) notes from his social construction theory that language is central to communication and is the key to understanding, interpretation, and construction of reality.  Social construction theory also notes that language is a site for power struggles over meanings by different races, genders, and creeds (p. 35). 

    The sorrow songs highlighted in The Souls of Black Folk and the Chimeranga songs created by Thomas Mapfumo were both socially constructed out of the experiences of Black people living under oppressive social structures. The music emanated from their experiences and helped them to fight back. W.E. B. Du Bois believed all art should be propaganda with the goal of uplifting the lives of African Americans. The sorrow songs in his book carried multiple meanings and were used by slaves to escape from oppression in both physically and spiritually. The sorrow songs, given their double meanings, were examples of double consciousness. 

    Chimeranga music carried multiple meanings also. For some, the songs were a call to action and to pick up arms against the colonizers. For others, the songs had partisan leanings and seemed to favor only the ruling party.

     Du Bois' concept of double consciousness is reflected in both genres.  Thomas Mapfumo contextualized the black experience in his music to give voice to the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe. Some music critics state music both genres helped to create identity in everyday life.


    Both Du Bois and Mapfumo were champions of their own indigenous music. Both artists used their talents to communicate to the world about the plight of African people. African American sorrow songs were the messages from the slaves to the world. The indigenous-based guitar-band Chimurenga music has reflected a sense of nationalism during the 1970s. Independence came in 1980 and the national sentiment began to wane (Turino 2000, p. 336). Both genres went through different meanings.  For example, Tumira Vana Kuhondo was originally a harvest song or grinding song. Young people were being sent out on raids during precolonial days. When they continued to leave for war, no one was left to do the grinding, and the work took longer. The meaning of the song shifted from grinding after a major event took place. "In the context of the mid-1970s, however, the meaning shifted from a complaint against sending children to war to advocating that people join the fight" (p. 287).

    Further study may be to compare two musicians from the same cultural background or different countries to understand how music influences social interactions in different cultures. Another area of study may be how songs change their original intent to fit the changing society.


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