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Thomas Mapfumo, Rise Up (Calabash) Banned in Zimbabwe, Do-It-Yourself in America:Mapfumo Breaks Out of the Box (Set) on World Music’s 1st Digital Only Release

They say that outspoken musician Thomas Mapfumo is better known in Zimbabwe than the country’s president. As he faced more and more limitations on his own musical freedom (he has been jailed and his songs banned from Zimbabwe’s state-dominated radio and press), Mapfumo moved to America. But according to founder Brad Powell, “When Mapfumo returns to his homeland to perform, the people shout along at the concerts to his outspoken lyrics. They could never do this in the streets. He gives them permission to speak freely.”

Mapfumo will once again break a sound barrier on April 1, 2005 when he releases his new album, Rise Up, exclusively as a digital download via; making Mapfumo the first artist to release an entire world music album in digital format only. Furthermore, the April 1 release will be accompanied by a download package of an entire catalog of his recorded music—over 130 songs—for $99.

The “Mapfumo Files”—as this unboxable set has been dubbed—contain the previously unreleased Rise Up, and fourteen other Mapfumo albums, including a never-released-before recording called Afropop Worldwide Presents Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, Live in New York. Afropop Worldwide’s Sean Barlow says: “Our landmark live recording at SOB’s in 1991 catches Thomas and his band when they first achieved their fully matured sound. With two mbira players right up front, the repertoire alternates between traditionally based songs and uptempo dance tunes with the swing of African jazz in Thomas’ unique horn arrangements. One of Afropop’s most sublime recordings ever.” The recording features key band members Sebastian Mbata (drums), Charles Makokova (bass) and Ephraim Karimaura (guitar) who have passed away since the recording was made.

“Here we have possibly the most prolific voice for a generation of social protest in Zimbabwe,” explains Powell. “He has tried the path of working with record labels and is now seeking a more direct route to fans, cutting out some of the middle-men in the process. He has spent recent months recovering the rights to his music and publishing. And now he has found our fair trade model which earns a higher royalty than any other record deal he has had in his life, in 40 years of being in music.” is the premiere world music only digital download website. The company has established a Fair Trade model in which independent artists get half of retail sales. Calabash is fast-establishing a reputation for creating forward-thinking strategic partnerships that bring the music industry into the modern age.

Calabash is the provider of content for the digital retail store of national radio program Afropop Worldwide. Afropop makes its exclusive recordings such as the live Mapfumo concert and the recent Festival in the Desert -- The Tent Sessions, a intimate set of live “field recordings” available as digital downloads solely through Calabash. The Tent Sessions were also released as a video documentary, which was broadcast exclusively by Link TV, America’s only national TV broadcaster of world music videos.

Calabash plays a similar role with LINK TV, who also use Calabash’s catalog of music to power their online retail outlet. This satellite channel broadcasts up to four hours of world music videos each day. Viewers are directed to Link’s website where they can purchase MP3s and CDs by the artists performing on their screens. Calabash also just launched a weekly video premier of new music videos available as streams on the website, timed to coincide with Link’s broadcast of a new video.

The three organizations are leveraging their respective technologies and unique positions in relationship to world music artists and fans to shorten the distance between musician and music consumer. Since they are working across national boundaries and cultures, they offer an insight into how new technologies will serve niches worldwide and assist artists in their music careers. In the hands of the Calabash Music network, Thomas Mapfumo’s new release ‘Rise Up’ could prove to be a rallying point for empowering independent artists from around the world.