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The Bhundu Boys' Jive

NEW KIDS IN TOWN

April 03, 1988|DON SNOWDEN

Artist: The Bhundu Boys.

Personnel: Biggie Tembo, guitar, vocals; Rise Kagona, guitar, vocals; Shakie Kangwena, keyboards, vocals; David Mankaba, bass, vocals; Kenny Chitsvatsva, drums, vocals.

History: Talk about long-shot success stories! The Bhundu Boys formed in their native Zimbabwe in 1980. The group's chief influences were both home-grown: chiefly Thomas Mapfumo, the godfather of Zimbabwe's pop scene whom the Bhundus have described as being like the Beatles to them, and rock hits by British and American stars. The group released an album in Zimbabwe in 1983, but the breakthrough came three years later when it arranged with the Discafrique label to release its next album. Gordon Muir, a Scottish graphics artist and music business novice, heard advance tapes of that record, "Shabini," and was so enthralled that he went out and convinced a few small clubs in Scotland to book the band. Muir then contacted the Bhundu Boys in Zimbabwe and flew them to Scotland in mid-1986. Nine months later, based only on word of mouth and underground radio airplay, the Bhundu Boys had racked up ecstatic press notices, played 70 live dates, and opened London stadium shows for Madonna at the personal request of the Material Girl. "Shabini" became a big seller on the independent LP charts, and the Bhundu Boys were ardently pursued by major labels there before signing with the WEA (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) conglomerate. But neither the Discafrique follow-up "Tsvimbodzemoto" nor the "True Jit" album for WEA stirred up as much attention in 1987 as "Shabini" had the year before. The latter has just been released in the U.S. by Carthage Records and "Jit Jive," a retitled version of "True Jit," will soon be released by Island's Mango subsidiary here.

Sound: Like most pop music from Zimbabwe, the Bhundu Boys' \o7 jit\f7 sound melds local traditions with South Africa's township jive style and the Zairian sound popular through much of Africa. It's a buoyant, upbeat sound sung principally in the Shona language over the loping, staccato rhythms of South Africa and the light, lilting guitar melodies characteristic of the Zairian school. "Shabini" is an effervescent album, but it's the glowing reports of the Bhundu Boys' live performances in England that whet the appetite for the group's local debut.

Shows: The Music Machine, Saturday.

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