Monday, 19 November 2012

The Bhundu Boys – Edinburgh – 1992

8th March 1992

Edinburgh Queens Hall

I genuinely attempted to give “World Music” a go when it first came to the fore in the mid 1980s.  I listened with an open mind to the likes of The Burundi Drummers, King Sunny Ade and his African Beats, and the sometimes aurally challenging stuff the NME would occasionally release on cassette.  Sadik Diko & Reshit Shehu and their Albanian bagpipe dance anyone?

But whilst I could appreciate the pull of the dance-based rhythms, I always struggled to maintain my interest beyond a few songs, much as I wanted to. Or, at least, felt I should.

The one exception were The Bhundu Boys, who I thought were just great, particularly their Shabini album; full of dancing guitar, toe–tapping tunes and joyous vocals.  Hailing from Harare in Zimbabwe, the band had come to the UK in 1986 and had gigged incessantly, culminating in a stint as support to Madonna at Wembley. 

The Bhundu Boys appeared to have the world at their feet at this point, but the following year’s True Jit release received a stiff kicking by the music press, and internal ructions led to charismatic front man Biggie Tembo leaving the band - ostensibly to forge a successful solo career, but in reality on a path to a psychiatric institution back in Harare.

With guitarist Rise Kagona taking on lead vocals, the remaining members based themselves in Scotland and set about their grueling gig schedule once more, this particular concert being just one of their regular appearances in the Capital. 

It was a fine enough evening, with an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd, but a deal of magic had assuredly left the band with Tembo’s departure.  Kagona could certainly sing a bit, but he and the rest of the Bhundus all seemed so bloody serious.  Lighten up chaps, I remember thinking, this is supposed to be fun.

With hindsight, what we witnessed that evening were the early death throes of the band, in more ways than one.  For within four years, four former or current band members were dead: three from AIDS and another (Tembo) at his own hand.

Of the remaining three I believe one is now a taxi driver in London, another is presently in jail, whilst the third (Kagona) somewhat surreally, lives on a farm in Kirkliston, a few miles down the road from me.

He must on a daily basis ask himself “How on earth did I get from Wembley Stadium to here?”

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