The Bhundu Boys were a Zimbabwean band that played a mixture of chimurenga music with American rock and roll, disco, country, and pop influences. Their style became known as jit, and is quite popular across Africa, with some international success, and has influenced later groups like Nehoreka and Mokoomba. British world music DJ Andy Kershaw said that at the height of their magical powers they were "...the single most natural, effortless, catchy pop band I've ever heard"; the BBC's John Peel famously broke down in tears the first time, when he saw the band perform live.
The name came from bhundu (meaning "Bush" or "jungle"), in reference to the young boys who used to aid the nationalist guerrilla fighters in the 1970s war against the white minority government of what was then Rhodesia. Lead singer Biggie Tembo (Biggie Rodwell Tembo Marasha) was a Bhundu boy.
BeginningsThe Bhundu Boys recorded their first 7" vinyl single at Shed Studios in Harare on 1 February 1983, as part of the Studio's drive to sponsor more local music. They were one of a number of more adventurous bands that had not been contracted by the two record labels. Shed Studios was a collaboration between Steve Roskilly, Martin Norris and Bothwell Nyamhondera. The Bhundu Boys reached the top of the Zimbabwean music scene on Shed Studio's Rugare Label, with four number one hits ("Baba munini Francis", "Wenhamo Haaneti", "Hatisitose", and "Tsvimbodzemoto") between 1981 and 1984.
Success in the UKThey attracted the attention of Owen Elias and his colleague, musician Champion Doug Veitch, who released an EP by the band in the UK under licence from Shed Studios in 1985. This attracted the attention of DJ's John Peel and Andy Kershaw who promoted the band. Under further licence from Shed Studios, their first UK album, Shabhini, was released on the Discafrique label in 1986. The band travelled to UK in 1986 for a live tour organised by Elias, and Scottish graphic artist Gordon Muir became their manager.
After touring the UK for a year, basing themselves initially in Hawick, Scotland with Muir and travelling relentlessly, the band appeared to be on the brink of a major commercial breakthrough. They were feted by Eric Clapton and Elvis Costello and Madonna asked them to be her support act at Wembley Stadium in 1987.
In 1987, just as their second UK album Tsvimbodzemoto was released by Elias, on the Discafrique label, The Bhundu Boys chose not to renew their contract with Shed Studios and Muir signed them to Warner Bros. Records Controversially, 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. But first WEA album True Jit, produced by Robin Millar was considered too far a jump in style from their original Shed Studios' recordings, (produced by Steve Roskilly) and was unfavourably received.
Downfall and breakupThe band began a long period of further live appearances, releasing other independent CDs, but started to fall apart. They were dropped from WEA after the commercial failure of their second album on the label. Leader Biggie Tembo achieved some celebrity 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 Harare airport. The band continued but without the writing and vocal talents of Tembo, the band never again produced the same reception by the music press or by the public.
Three members died of complications from AIDS: David Mankaba (d.1991), his replacement Shepherd Munyama (d. 1992) and Shakespear Kangwena (d.1993).
Tembo tried a comeback by collaborating with a Bristol band, Startled Insects, without success. Returning to Zimbabwe in the early 1990s, he 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, became a practising Christian, eventually hanging himself in a psychiatric hospital in 1995, where he had been sectioned for violent outbursts.
Meanwhile, the band soldiered on, recording two more albums. Muir left their management in difficult circumstances as the band's income dried up. 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 actually used the band's money to buy it in the first place, using their Warner advance without permission. Muir has countered that there were no profits to divide up. 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 UK on a double CD, under licence to Gordon Muir.
Current whereaboutsGuitarist Rise Kagona is divorced and currently 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 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, who has lost contact with Rise Kagona.
Moyo Tembo formed a group called The Chinhoyi Superstars, who released their debut single "Woiteyiko".
Biggie Tembo Jr., the son of Biggie Tembo, has followed in his father's footsteps and released his debut album, Rwendo, in 2010. He was convicted of assault against a woman in 2015.