One keeps wondering whether yesteryear’s stars, The Rusike Brothers, are still in existence or not as their performances seem to have come to a standstill lately.
By Fred Zindi
The Rusike Brothers, a family band, was formed in 1978 in Lusaka, Zambia. The Rusikes had moved from Zimbabwe to Zambia in 1965 during the liberation struggle. Their father, Abiathar Rusike, simply known as ABC, was a teacher and journalist in the then Rhodesia. He was also a musician in a band called The Boogie Woogie Stars in the 1960s. When he found it difficult to continue to write freely in an oppressive state, the senior Rusike relocated with his family to Zambia, a country which had just attained its independence from Britain. The boys were aged between three and 12 years at the time. Kelly and Colin, the twins in the family, were only three years old at the time of their move to Zambia.
The siblings, Tawanda, Abbie, Kelly, Philip and Colin, with the influence of their father became southern Africa’s answer to the Jackson Five. ABC had seen the Jackson Five become stars and he decided, like Joseph Jackson, to also coach his five boys to become music superstars. Most of their early music was influenced by the Jacksons and their dazzling dancing styles were modelled around top Black American pop acts of the 1970s. They performed in front of large audiences in Zambia.
In 1980 when Zimbabwe attained independence, the family packed their bags and returned to the newly-independent Zimbabwe where they were an instant hit with Saturday Night — their debut single. However, a follow-up single, Club Soca, did not make a big impression on the market.
With an aggressive push from ABC, who was also their manager, they were given several advertising jobs. These included voice-overs on the Post Office Savings Bank advertisement, Roller Meal videos, Merlin linen, newspaper and video advertisements. The most popular advertisement they ever did was Ngwerewere Sadza, which advertised the Ngwerewere brand of mealie-meal, Zimbabwe’s staple food.
Two singles were released between 1981 and 1985 and despite this seemingly lack of progress in the recording business, the Rusikes made a lot of business in the top nightclubs of Harare and Bulawayo. They also made a great impact at live shows. In 1982, the Rusike Brothers were the supporting act for a reggae group from England, Aswad, when they toured Zimbabwe. In 1988 their debut album Rhythm of My Heart was released. This included their hit single, Cecilia, a version of the same song by Simon & Garfunkel. This single featured on the local station Radio 3’s Hitpick for 12 weeks.
Towards the end of 1990, the Rusikes were the main support act for Randy Crawford’s show in Harare. Work on a second album began at the same time, but a few snags at the studio plus the untimely death of their father, ABC, forced the Rusikes to abandon the work on the album. Instead a re-mix version of Saturday Night was released.
In 1992, they toured England, but due to poor planning on the part of their Malawian promoter, Jeff Macadam, their trip did not make a big impact overseas. The Rusikes became Zimbabwe’s top family group, which stayed together for a long time as performers. It was also the Rusikes who started off artistes such as the now internationally-acclaimed Rozalla Miller whose hit single, Everybody is Free to Feel Good wowed the world a few years ago. In 1995 they recorded an album that included a version of the Paul Simon classic and hit song, If You Really Need Me.
Towards the end of the 1990s, the name — Rusike Brothers — started to fade, but Kelly who had seen this coming had formed Jazz Invitation, a local jazz group.
I asked Kelly whether he no longer belonged to the Rusike Brothers and why he found it necessary to form a band without his brothers. I also asked him to give a brief history of Jazz Invitation. Here is what he had to say:
“I will always be a part of the Rusike Brothers because and most importantly, we are family. I owe a lot of my musical journey to my brothers. Even though Jazz Invitation is my pride and passion, I still do play with them from time to time and will continue to do so when time allows.
“Jazz Invitation, I would like to think, is a unique concept. It was started in the late 90s by my good friend Sam Mataure. He called the concept, The Moving Jazz Cafe.”
Drummer Mataure initially “invited” different musicians to play at mini festivals around the country. The novel idea caught on like wild fire, as apart from having a wide appeal, it brought together musicians of varied styles and tastes. Mataure eventually branched off to play in South Africa and later became Oliver Mtukudzi’s drummer/manager, while Jazz Invitation continued with Kelly Rusike on bass, Victor Duarte on drums, Richie Lopez on saxophone and Manasa Mujawo and Filbert Marova on keyboards. They played the circuit in Zimbabwe and cultivated a healthy following, spicing the line-up with the sultry Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana on vocals. The group’s debut CD, Rehearsal Room, was released and well-received in Zimbabwe, and a few tracks received a considerable amount of airplay on Khaya FM in South Africa.
“Over the years Jazz Invitation as we also know it, has been a launch pad for a number of artistes and that is the way I like it to be. The nucleus of Jazz Invitation will always be me as it were. Some of the artistes who have played with Jazz Invitation include Katomeni-Mbofana, Yulith Ndlovu, Patience Musa, Bernie Bismark, Sam Mataure of course, Abby Rusike, Rene Hale Swanepoel, Mathew Ngorima, Eve Kawadza, Courtney Rusike, Dexter Shumba, Owen Chimuka and Nick Nare,” Kelly said.
“Katomeni-Mbofana was on vocals with the hits that made it in jazz circles such as Zafuna-funa and BP Yangu Yakwira.
“I have also just released my first solo album titled Collaboration. This is basically a collaboration with a lot of musicians I have worked with and continue to do so. I, unfortunately, could not include everyone, but some of the musicians I collaborated with on the album are Louis Mhlanga, Owen Chimuka, Vee Mukarati, Kelvin Tapie, Richie Lopez, Bernie Bismarck, Enock Piroro, Nick Nare, Alexio Kawara, Bryan Paul, Martin Finding and Courtney Rusike.
“Over the years we have done a lot of gigs all over Zimbabwe and in Zambia too. In 2015, we did a three-month stint at the L’attitude Club in Ruwais, United Arab Emirates
, which was a major experience for us.”
Indeed, despite the numerous changes of manpower in Jazz Invitation, Kelly continues to move the Rusike name forward. “We might have our differences, but the important thing is that we are family”.
In June 2014 some music promoter in Slovakia visited the social media platform, YouTube and saw The Rusike Brothers doing their thing. He was impressed. He called Zimbabwe to find out how he could get in touch with the group. In no time at all, he had invited the Rusikes to do a two-week tour in Slovakia where the three brothers Tawanda, Philip and Abbie teamed up with their prodigal brother, Kelly of Jazz Invitation, Jose on drums, Kurt Rusike on vocals and Ishe Jera on keyboards to showcase to the rest of the Czech Republic and Slovakia what the promoter saw and liked. Missing from the original team was Colin, who went to the UK some 20 years ago and has not been heard of since.
Twenty-five years ago, I remember writing, and I quote: “The Rusike Brothers will still be doing what they are doing now when they are well into their fifties.” I am not a prophet, but I am told that prediction came true in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. As the classics rolled out, their once-futuristic chrome sheen still untarnished, they treated the Slovaks to their first single, Saturday Night, followed by songs which were in the pop charts of the 1980s such as Simon & garfunkel’s Cecilia, The Real Thing’s You To Me Are Everything and Michael Jackson’s Shake Your Body To The Ground. Each song was punctuated with some wicked dance routines and soon beads of perspiration began to pour down their cheeks. The tour proved that indeed Kelly is still with his brothers despite his ventures into Jazz Invitation.
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