HotHouse Presents “Lion of Zimbabwe” Thomas Mapfumo and Author Banning Eyre September 12th

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HotHouse presents Banning Eyre, Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited

Book signing and concert anchor day-long salute to the music that made Zimbabwe.

CHICAGO, IL – HotHouse has organized a day of events celebrating the recently released biography LION SONGS: THOMAS MAPFUMO AND THE MUSIC THAT MADE ZIMBABWE.

Banning Eyre, biographer, musician and producer of the nationally syndicated radio show Afropop Worldwide, will read from his book at the Sulzer Library on Sat., Sept. 12 from 1 to 3 p.m. Following the reading and later that evening, HotHouse will present Thomas Mapfumo and his band the Blacks Unlimited in concert at the famous blues club, Rosa’s Lounge. The concert will culminate in an impromptu performance with Mapfumo and his band “jamming” with local blues artists.

The two events promise to be a remarkable occasion honoring international civil rights and cultural work.

Both Thomas Mapfumo and Banning Eyre are available for advance interviews.


Sat., Sept, 12, 2015

Book Signing and Reading


1pm- 3pm

Sulzer Public Library, 4455 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago IL 60625

Free admission. Signed copies of the book available for purchase


Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited with special guests

Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage Chicago, Il. 60647

Doors open 7 p.m.

Two Shows: 8 and 10:30pm (house cleared between shows)

Tickets $25 General Admission, $30 seated and $35 for both shows


Thomas Tafirenyika “Mukanya” Mapfumo was born in Marondera, Zimbabwe in 1945. He discovered an early childhood interest for traditional music and indigenous instruments (ngoma, hosho and mbira) from his grandparents who were avid musicians in the village. By ten he moved to Mbare to live with his parents who worked in the city. At the time, Mbare was a black ghetto township and a hub of protest movements against the segregationist colonial regime of Rhodesia. Young Thomas became exposed to the freedom protesters and the police brutality against them and this shaped his life-long political consciousness. It was also during this time in Mbare that Mapfumo listened to diverse international music broadcast on the radio and this inspired him to plan for a musical career.

Around 1973 Mapfumo joined his first group, the Hallelujah Chicken band in Mhangura, a small mining town. Initially, he had sang in English but quickly realized the need to express himself in the local vernacular to both please his fans and spread the call for freedom. Realizing a need for seriously pursuing his own “Chimurenga” style of music, he then founded the Blacks Unlimited -around 1978. By then, Chimurenga music had morphed into a symbol for the struggle against injustice and was a threatening presence in war-torn Rhodesia. Through music, he continued to taunt the colonial regime, denouncing poverty and advocating for freedom. Despite the colonial system reacting to the music with censure and repression, Mapfumo’s music irresistibly rocked the nation like a hurricane.

When Zimbabwe won independence in 1980, Mapfumo was one of the featured artists at the national celebration appearing on stage with the iconic reggae legend Bob Marley. This opened more doors to recording opportunities in London and propelled his international fame. However now under Robert Mugabe, looming corruption, grinding poverty, and the decaying rule of law blighted the promising new nation. Mapfumo now began to compose his lyrics as missiles of protest against his own government. To the surprise of many, the same kinds of music censorship from former colonial Rhodesia now also visited Mapfumo. Upon his release of the “Corruption” album in and facing increasingly more pressing conditions, in 2000, he relocated to the USA.

In October 2012, Mapfumo was inducted into the Afro-Pop Hall of Fame during at the historic Carnegie Hall in New York City. This humbling recognition of “the Lion of Zimbabwe” for his historical contributions to the fight for freedom and social justice in Zimbabwe and decades of civil rights activism was a justly deserved award.

As Bob Marley is to Jamaicans or Fela Kuti is to Nigerians, Thomas Mapfumo is to Zimbabweans. The bandleader is a superstar in his home country, both for his masterful blending of traditional sounds with world music and for his powerful political messages. Now living in exile in Oregon due to his outspoken criticism of Mugabe, Mapfumo yearns to go home, according to biographer Banning Eyre.


Banning Eyre is a writer, guitarist, photographer and producer. He has written about international music, especially African music, since 1988. During all that time, he has been a lead producer for the syndicated, Peabody Award-winning public radio program Afropop Worldwide. He also comments and reports on music for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, and has contributed over the years to The Boston Phoenix, Guitar Player, Global Rhythm, fRoots (Folk Roots), Songlines, The Beat, and other publications. He has traveled and done music research in 16 African countries, as well as in the Caribbean, South America and Europe.  In 1995, Eyre co-authored AFROPOP! An Illustrated Guide to Contemporary African Music with Sean Barlow. Eyre’s acclaimed book focused on Malian guitar styles, In Griot Time, An American Guitarist in Mali, was released by Temple University Press (2000) and in the UK on Serpent’s Tail (2002). The companion CD Eyre compiled, In Griot Time, String Music from Mali, was released on Stern’s Africa.

Eyre spent a month in Zimbabwe in 2001–his fourth visit there–and wrote a report on music censorship there for the Danish human rights organization, Freemuse. In Zimbabwe, Eyre has done especially deep research on the legendary bandleader, songwriter and music stylist Thomas Mapfumo–a figure of historic dimensions. All of this comes together in Eyre’s 2015 book, Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe. Eyre has also produced a companion CD for the book–Thomas Mapfumo, Lion Songs: Essential Tracks in the Making of Zimbabwe.



Billy Branch was discovered by Willie Dixon, the “father of modern Chicago Blues,” while Billy was still in college. Willie encouraged Billy to finish his college education, which he did, but instead of going to law school after receiving his political science degree, Billy began touring with the Willie Dixon Chicago All-Stars. This gave Billy the unique opportunity to travel and work as an under-study for the legendary Carey Bell who was planning to leave the All-Stars and form his own band. When Carey took his leave, the young Billy Branch took his place, touring with Willie Dixon for 6 years.

Since those early days, Billy has played on nearly 200 different recordings, including 12 albums under his own name. He’s recorded with Willie Dixon, Johnny Winter, Lou Rawls, Koko Taylor, Eddy Clearwater, Honeyboy Edwards, Syl Johnson, Lurrie Bell, Ronnie Baker Brooks, John Primer, and Taj Mahal, just to name a few. In addition, he has received three Grammy nominations.


HotHouse was founded in 1987 to provide a forum for expression in the arts that was under-represented elsewhere in the Chicago cultural community. It was created primarily to curate multi-arts and educational activities that bolstered the prominence of innovative artists working in the margins of the commercial market and to facilitate events that amplified a variety of progressive social movements. The New York Times wrote of HotHouse “few clubs anywhere offer a wider range of first-rate world music, from wildly vibrant Afro-pop to avant-garde jazz than HotHouse.” And a “Best of Chicago” award opined “from European avant-garde jazz acts that don’t even play in this hemisphere to performance art to world music to the city’s more esoteric acts, [HotHouse] has consistently pulled in some of the planet’s most innovative acts.”

For two decades the organization maintained two award-winning cultural centers where it presented its programs-the first catalyzed growth in the Wicker Park neighborhood (1987-1995) and the second spurred development in the South Loop in downtown Chicago (1995-2007). The board of directors is currently pursuing plans to build its third site.

HotHouse develops its programs in response to a variety of community needs and seeks to extend the milieu of the academy and position high caliber (and international) arts innovation before underserved populations throughout the Chicago metropolitan region.

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