Shuffleathon 2007. Part 5

Bhundu Boys – Hupenyu Hwangu

More music from Zimbabwe. This brings to mind evenings listening to the radio programmes of John Peel and Andy Kershaw in the 1980s. Bhundu Boys were one of the first wave of “world music” (an awful phrase, I know, but I am not sure what else to use) to go overground and become genuinely popular and successful in the west.  Theirs is a sad story. After getting together in 1983 and then being discovered in 1985, they came over to the UK in 1986 and toured constantly, building up a hugely enthusiastic audience and actually supporting Madonna at Wembley Stadium for three nights. Their first album Shabhini was a big seller. A second album “Tsvimbodzemoto” was released after which  they signed to Warner Brothers International and then things started to fall apart. Biggie Tembo left the band after internal disagreements, a new member was recruited and the band continued playing and recording but the bands popularity waned during the 1990s. Three members of the band died of AIDS related illnesses and Biggie Tembo hanged himself in a psychiatric hospital in 1995. The band collapsed completely in 2000 when one member was jailed on a charge of aggravated assault. Two members remain in the UK and continue to play music under other names. It really is a tragic story after what promised to be an incredible success story for a group of local lads from Harare.

Putting all that to one side, if you can, try listening to “The Shed Sessions” and not grinning. This is a 2002 compilation of all the music which they recorded in Zimbabawe including their first two albums. This is joyous music, catchy vocal lines over twinkling skipping silver guitars which seem to float out of the speakers with a huge smile on their face. If house music had never happened, I swear that this would be the music that people in the early years of ecstacy would have been listening to.  Brilliant musicianship and songwriting as well. There is no question that when they were playing together in those days they were loving it, the fantastic uplifting music, the camaraderie, the fact that these intricate bouncing sounds looked like they might be taking them from a township in the middle of Africa to the other side of the world and fame and fortune. It is some of the happiest music I know.

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