Bhundu Boys

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By Elizabeth D.T. Taderera

During the years 1983 to the year 2000, Zimbabwe got to experience Jit in the form of a boy band. The Bhundu Boys was made up of 8 members and they were signed with Mango/Island/PolyGram Records, Rugare Records, and Discafrique Records. Their style “jit” is quite popular across Africa with some international success and has influenced groups like Nehoreka and Mokoomba. The band got positive reviews appraisals from people like British world music DJ Andy Kershaw who said that they were the most natural and effortless catchy pop band ever and they made BBC’s John Peel break down in tears the first time he saw the band perform live.

The name Bhundu means Bush or Jungle, this was in reference to the young boys who used to aid the nationalist guerilla fighters in the 1970s war against the white minority government of what was then Rhodesia. The band recorded their first 7” vinyl single at Shed Studios in Harare on the 1st of February 1983 as part of the studio’s drive to promote local music. The Bhundu Boys reached the top of the Zimbabwean music scene on Shed Studio’s Rugare Label with four number one hits “Babamunini Francis”,  “Wenhamo Haaneti”, “Hatisitose” and “Tsvimbodzemoto”.

They got some success in the UK, attracting the attention of Owen Elias and his colleague, musician Champion Doug Veitch who released an EP by the band in the UK under license from Shed Studios in 1985. Their first UK album was “Shabhini” released on the DiscAfrique label in 1986 for a live tour organized by Elias. Scottish graphic artist Gordon Muir became their manager. The Bhundu Boys toured the UK for a year. They were based initially in Hawick, Scotland with Muir and travelled relentlessly. They appeared to be on the brink of a commercial breakthrough. They were celebrated by Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello and Madonna asked them to be her supporting act at Wembley Stadium in 1987. In the same year their second UK album “Tsvimbodzemoto” was released by Elias on the Discafrique label and they chose not to renew their contract with Shed Studios and Muir signed them to Warner Bros. Records. Much of their £80,000 advance from WEA was spent buying a house in Kensal Rise, West London that is still a source of dispute.

The band played in North America, Australia and Hong Kong. The first WEA album “True Jit”, produced by Robin Miller was considered too far a jump in style from the original Shed Studio recordings (produced by Steve Roskilly) and was unfavorably received. The band had a long period of live performances and released CDs independently but they started falling apart. They were dropped from WEA after the commercial failure of their second album on the label. Their lead singer Biggie Tembo achieved some celebrity status on TV and in the press which irritated the rest of the band, especially guitarist Rise Kagona and Tembo was asked to leave the band in 1990 following an altercation at the Harare airport.

The band continued without the writing and vocals of Tembo but they never again produced the same reaction in the music press or public. Three of the members sadly passed away from AIDS: David Mankaba died in 1991, his replacement Shepherd Munyama died in 1992 and Shakespear Kangwena died in 1993.

Tembo tried a comeback collaborating with a Bristol band, “Startled Insects” without success. He returned to Zimbabwe in the early 1990s and tried to self-produce some more music at Shed Studios including two albums “Baba of Jit” and “Out of Africa”, neither of which were properly released or published. Tembo became ill with depression and became a practicing Christian eventually hanging himself in a psychiatric hospital in 1995 where he had been sectioned for violent outbursts.

The band soldiered on, recording two more albums. Muir left as the band’s manager as their income began to run dry. In 1996 he sold the band’s house in Mortimer Road, Kensal Rise as part of winding up the band’s assets with surviving band members reporting they received almost nothing from the deal. They suspect that Muir had used the band’s money to buy it in the first place without permission. Muir countered that there were no profits to divide up and the band finally called it quits in 2000 after bassist Washington Kavhai was jailed in the UK on an aggravated assault conviction.

In 2001 Shed Studios issued a compilation album of all the Bhundu Boys recordings made in Zimbabwe entitled “The Shed Sessions” for release in the UK on a double CD under license to Gordon Muir.

Currently, Rise Kagona lives in Scotland. He has written a short account of the band’s history, he plays in “Rise Kagona” and the “Jit Jive Band” who frequently perform in Northern England and Scotland. He co-wrote and sang on “She Told You So” on Ben Avison’s 2013 “Good Day Mr. Magpie” album. He has also played with Gordon Veitch as “Culture Clash” in recent years recording an album, “Tanzwa Nekutambura” in 2007.

Kuda Matimba lives in London and plays with “Harare”, a group he started in 2005 together with Kenny Chitsvatsva. Moyo Tembo formed a group called the “Chinhoyi Superstars” who released their debut single “Woiteyiko”. And Biggie Tembo Jr. the son of Biggie Tembo has followed his father’s footsteps and released his debut album Rwendo in 2010. He was convicted of assault against a woman in 2015.

Band Personnel:

  • Kenny Chitsvatsva – Drums, backing vocals
  • David Mankaba – bass guitar, backing vocals
  • Rise Kagona – guitar, backing vocals
  • Biggie Tembo – guitar, lead vocals
  • Shakespear “Shakie” Kangwena – keyboard, backing vocals
  • Shepherd Munyama – bass guitar he replaced David Mankaba
  • Washington Kavhai – bass guitar and vocals replaced Shepherd Munyama
  • Kuda Matimba – keyboard, vocals he replaced Shakie

Discography:
Shed Studio release in Zimbabwe

  • Chekudya Chose (Rugare 1983)
  • Hupenyu Hwangu(Rugare 1984)

Discafrique release in UK under License from Shed Studios

  • Shabhini ( Discafrique, Afril02,1986)
  • Tsvimbodzemoto (DiscAfrique, Afrilp03,1987)

Warner Brothers release UK

  • True Jit( WEA 242203-2, 1987)
  • Pamberi (WEA, 1989)

Independent Releases in UK

  • Live at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut( DiscAfrique, Afrilp007, 1990)
  • Friends on the Road( cooking Vinyl, 1993) Featuring: Latin Quarter and Hank Wang ford
  • Muchiyedza( cooking Vinyl 1997)

Gordon Muir release in UK under License from Shed Studios

  • The Shed Sessions( Sadza 2001)

Contributing Artist

The Rough Guide to the Music of Zimbabwe( World Music Network, 1996)