Chimurenga

‘Chimurenga’ for guitar quartet (2000) – 4′ 


““Chimurenga,” uses the four guitars to imitate the intricate rhythm patterns of the mbira, or thumb piano, the national (and for many, sacred) instrument of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It’s probably fiendishly difficult to play, but it’s easy to enjoy.” – John Schaefer, WNYC Radio
The quartet shifted gears for “Chimurenga” by David Flynn (a tribute to the Zimbabwean composer Thomas Mapfumo) which shimmered with lilting, African-flavored melodies” – The Washington Post

Programme Note

​’Chimurenga’ (meaning ‘struggle’) is a form of Zimbabwean pop music developed by Thomas Mapfumo in the late 1970’s. Mapfumo and his music were an important factor in securing the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980. Mapfumo has been imprisoned for his songs by both the white government of Ian Smith before the revolution and the subsequent dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. Mapfumo was an avid supporter of Mugabe during the revolution but as Mugabe grew corrupt with power Mapfumo wrote songs criticising him for which he was censored, imprisoned and now in exile in America. He is a musical and cultural icon in Africa, often compared to Bob Marley. His music is based on the traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe which is characterised by the mbira (often wrongly referred to as a thumb-piano) and hosho’s (percussive shakers). Initially he transferred these melodies and rhythms to a band of electric guitars, drums and brass but over the years he has added traditional instruments to this line-up. Thomas Mapfumo’s music has had a great influence on me and this piece is a homage to him and tries to recreate the Chimurenga sound in the form of a Guitar Quartet. At various points the guitarists must mute the strings in imitation of Chimurenga guitar style which itself is in imitation of the mbira sound. Towards the end of the piece three of the four guitarists create percussive sounds by tapping the guitars body, strumming muted string and hand claps. The piece may be played using any type of guitars, nylon string, steel string or electric.

Chimurenga was premiered by the Dublin Guitar Quartet at the Dundee Guitar Festival in 2003 when I was a member of the group. The Dublin Guitar Quartet continue to perform the piece and recorded it on their 2018 album ‘Contemporary Irish’.