Considering the amount of ‘world’ music that JP played, it is staggering to think that only two tracks from the African continent ever made it into the Festive Fifty.
‘Bhundu’ means ‘bush’ or ‘jungle’, and the ‘bhundu boys’ in the name of the Zimbabwean band so favoured by JP (two sessions were recorded) were in fact part of the guerilla movement there. One of them, Biggie Tembo, formed a band that played ‘jit’, a kind of hybrid of chimurenga, rock’n'roll, disco and pop. The Bhundu Boys were a great success on vinyl in the early to mid 80s, but it was not until Peel and Kershaw picked up on a 1985 EP release (licensed from Zimbabwe label Shed Records) that they began to verge on a breakthrough in England. JP listed Shabhini as one of his all-time favourite LPs, and a support slot with Madonna at Wembley seemed to seal their success.
Alas, something akin to greed intervened, and they broke their contract with Shed to sign with Warners. The resultant album True Jit belied its title and was, to say the least, not well received, mainly due to the fact that they elected to include English lyrics alongside Swahili, and a new producer, Robin Millar, who attempted to smooth out their wild and beautiful sound, with mixed success. The track My Foolish Heart (FF 1987 #30), with its hushed, choral repetition and bell-like guitars, was standout but songs such as Happy Birthday are best forgotten.
Thereafter, Tembo achieved some celebrity in the British media, to the chagrin of the other members, and he was asked to leave (i.e. kicked out) in 1990. The ensuing years read like a melodramatic, twisted soap opera, as three members died of AIDS, Tembo hanged himself in a psychiatric hospital, and the bassist Washington Kavhai was imprisoned in 2000. A far cry from the days when Peel hailed them as ‘the only genuinely unmissable combo around’ and when Biggie babysat for Thomas during the Reading Festival. Of their recorded output, The Shed Sessions is highly recommended.
‘Shalawambe’ is a word from the Bemba language and literally means ‘to stay behind and gossip’. Hailing from Zambia, three are brothers and one a cousin. Emmanuel “Dolenzy” Kabwe (guitar / vocals), Julius Chanda Kabwe (drums), Claudie Kabwe (bass guitar), and Ricky Chota (guitar/ vocals) are also successful farmers in the country’s Copperbelt, forcing their musical activities to be seasonal as well (they farm when not making music). The fifth member, Gerlad Bwalanda (keyboards/ percussion), is a Lamba, and comes from the Copperbelt area. The band was formed in 1985 and Kamusisi was their debut single. The upsurge of interest in African music during the mid to late 80s led to a European tour and a Peel session, whence the immortal, infectious Samora Machel (FF 1988 #37). His liking for their music got JP out of trouble on a trip to Zimbabwe:
We cycled on to what was formerly the Zambian border with the intention of crossing to see the Falls from the other side. The border guards didn’t seem too keen to let us pass until John commented that he was hoping to go into Livingstone to buy some records. One of the guards wanted to know which records, and when John mentioned a few names, he seemed suddenly interested. ‘Do you know Samora Machel by Shalawambe?’, he asked. ‘Of course!’, replied John. And after he’d duetted with the border guard on a few verses of the song, we had our passports stamped and were waved cheerfully through. [Margrave, p. 406]
A demonstration of the power of the universal language, to be sure.