Thomas Mapfumo, featuring Kid Koala
THOMAS MAPFUMO was born in 1945 in Marondera, a small town south of the Rhodesian capital, Salisbury. He spent his first ten years living in the countryside with his grandparents, tending cattle herds, and waking up long before sunrise to do chores before school. Though Rhodesia was moving inexorably toward racial civil war, Thomas was living an old-fashioned, traditional life, mostly removed from the bitterness building in the cities and townships. Traditional children's tunes, songs of celebration accompanied by the drums called ngoma, and especially the sacred music of the metal-pronged mbira formed the basis of Mapfumo's musical personality.
At the age of ten he was moved to his parents city home in Harare, where he came of age with Elvis, The Beatles, and the British Invasion, playing in a succession of bands as a teenager. As Thomas moved on from adolescence to work first with the Acid Band, and then with the Blacks Unlimited, his creativity soared. His lyrics reflected the concerns of the people around him and a rising sense of indignation at white rulers. Mapfumo's chimurenga singles captured the imagination of blacks nation wide. Near the end of war, the out-maneuvered Rhodesians arrested Thomas briefly and attempted to use him to rally support for a last desperate attempt to hold onto some vestige of power. But the tide of history had turned, and in 1980, Robert Mugabe was elected president of a new nation. That year, Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited shared the stage in Salisbury (now called Harare) with Bob Marley and the Wailers. This year, 2003, Mugabe is a leader gone mad, and Thomas' music is banned in Zimbabwe. He lives in exile with his family and band in the US. Still, his 2001 release in Zimbabwe Chimurenga Rebel sold its entire 35,000 copies in a few days, and it remains one of Gramma Records top seller, despite its absence from the government airwaves.
His tours have taken him to the finest World Music venues, WOMAD three times, Summerjam in Germany, The Cactus Festival, The Houston International Festival, Detroit's Symphony Hall, Central Park Summerstage, Celebrate Brooklyn, The Grassroots Festival, Bright Moments, all over the USA, yearly from 1998 through 2003. He continues to return to Zimbabwe each year to perform for huge crowds despite the banning of his music there by the government.
His live shows transfix the audience, taking them to his plane of musical spiritual possession; they dance until the lights come on, and go home smiling. The electric mbiras lay the beat for the guitar, bass, and drums, which pulse out the Chimurenga style, both masters and creators of a unique musical genre. The full band explodes with energy, the smaller groupings smolder and ignite.
Honored with a Master's Degree in Music from the University of Zimbabwe and Artist of the Year from the American World Music Awards in 1999, a PhD in Music from Ohio University and Zimbabwe's Person of the Century in the Art's Award in 2000, Thomas' achievements continue to grow. His 2000 release, Chimurenga Explosion, won AFIM's Best World Contemporary CD Award in March 2001. All 4 of his aNOnym reCOrds releases have found their place in The Top 10 for their respective years, in places like the Village Voice, Beat Magazine, and Afropop Worldwide. His 2003 release, Toi Toi (protest), is the rallying cry for the mass action we see as of June 2003 in Zimbabwe, peaceful protest through non-violence which will overthrow a brutal dictator.
Thomas continues each day his lifelong struggle to protect his rights and benefit from the sales of his music, his name, in whatever form. This new millennium finds Thomas Mapfumo an international force in World Music, still composing, recording, performing and touring unceasingly.
In 1974, KID KOALA a.k.a Eric San was born in Vancouver, Canada. By the time he was twelve years old, and after many years of classical piano lessons, the young Eric discovered an increasingly popular sound that he would eventually make all his own. After making his first "scratch" on his sister's record player, he began saving his money from paper routes to buy his first turntable set-up.
By the early 1990's, Eric was living in Montreal where he had moved to study early childhood education at McGill University. While dj-ing in clubs, he began to attract the public's attention. In 1995, when Jon More (co-owner of UK record label Ninja Tune, and half of Coldcut) came to visit Montreal, Eric's innovative and humourous mix tape "Scratchcratchratchatch" ended up playing on the car stereo. Shortly thereafter, Eric, now Kid Koala, became Ninja Tune's first North American signing.
Following the signing, Kid Koala released a string of remixes and began touring North America with Ninja Tune artists such as Coldcut, DJ Food and DJ Vadim. But it was not long before his skill, innovation, and performance style led him to attract attention from those outside the club community. In 1998, he received an invitation to join Money Mark's band, and then went on the road to open for the Beastie Boys on their "Hello Nasty" world tour.
In February of 2000, Ninja Tune released Kid Koala's debut album "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome." The album received great praise and was featured in the international press for having defied expectation. The album was accompanied by both a video game and 32-page comic illustrated by Kid Koala himself. A tour featuring 6 turntables and live musicians soon followed and took the young artist throughout North America and Europe.
After the release of his first album on Ninja Tune, Kid Koala continued to tour extensively as a member of groups such as Deltron 3030, Lovage, Bullfrog and also as the opening act for international recording artists Radiohead.
But while he was on the road, new projects were brewing. Kid Koala continued to keep himself busy on his downtime with the help of pencil and paper. Many sketch books later, his first book Nufonia Must Fall was published in March of 2003 by ECW Press. This 350-page illustrated love story about an out-of-work robot and a workaholic girl was accompanied by a 'soundtrack' of short, original, experimental piano-based compositions. The original music and his characters set the stage for a North American tour of intimate, sit-down venues, during which Kid Koala lay his fingers down not only on the turntables, but on the Wurlitzer- and on the remote control of an old slide projector.
Kid Koala's second full-length album on Ninja Tune "Some of My Best Friends are DJs" was released in October 2003. It is an album (with a 50-page comic book) that clearly shows the evolution of a young artist, expanding on musical themes from "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome" as well as introducing entirely new musical concepts, and keeping in the aesthetic of Nufonia Must Fall. This album was supported by tours in North America, Europe and Japan, Australia, New Zealand, as well as China, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand.