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Obituary: Brian Rusike (1956-2018)

I can’t begin to express my sorrow at the passing away of Brian Rusike as I cannot accept that he is gone.

in the groove by Fred Zindi

The news was first broken to me by Abbie Rusike (of the Rusike Brothers), who had come to my office for some other business on Wednesday November 14. He told me that Brian’s body had been found in a decomposed state at 14155 Griffin Road, Gunhill, where he lived with Janet, his European partner from Holland until they separated before she relocated to Mozambique and then to Jordan with their son, Mura. Post-mortem results revealed that he had died from a heart attack two to three months prior to being discovered.

Those who had tried to contact him assumed he was out of the country as Brian had lived a rather secluded life since leaving his Zimbabwean wife, Amai Thoko (now based in the UK), with whom he had two children Thoko and Tawanda. It was a friend who dared to scale the walls of his house only to discover that he was no more.

After hearing the news from Abbie, I opened my Facebook page where I saw hundreds of condolence messages, which had poured in from friends and fans across the country.
I am still shocked by this sad news. He was someone I had known intimately since the 1970s.

I first met Brian in Mutare in 1972 when he was a bass player in a three-piece band called Stardust with the late David Matondo on guitar and the late William Mhlanga (Louis Mhlanga’s brother) on drums. The band had been formed in Kambuzuma, where Brian lived and it started off as a four-piece outfit with Nicholas Zindi on guitar.
Their stay in Mutare was by accident. They had come there to look for Nicholas (Samaita Zindi), who had decided to quit the band. When they failed to locate him, they decided to stay for a while. While in Mutare a musician called Elias Fero (SaFero) offered them residence to perform during what was known as Teen Time Scene at Sakubva Beit Hall every Saturday and at Moffat Hall every Sunday. The band became so popular that they decided to stay in Mutare for another three years.

After Mutare, Brian and William Mhlanga teamed up with Chowasi Mudoka, Fungai Neganje, Gideon Neganje, Elisha Hwata, Tendai Masango and Evans Chatewu, who had formed Pied Pipers Band. This time Brian had learnt to play the keyboard. He wrote many songs for this group. His most famous composition is, no doubt, Ruva Rangu, but he had several other notable compositions, which included tracks such as Fatherland, Kure Kure, Makwiro, We As One and Manana on the Pied Pipers’ album titled People of The World Unite.

It goes without saying that Ruva Rangu has not only been Brian’s, but also Zimbabwe’s most covered composition with over 200 groups doing cover versions of the song. In fact, the song became more popular than Brian himself. Even some of those who did the cover versions of Ruva Rangu say that they never met Brian Rusike in person. I have no space for all those who did the cover versions of the song, but I will mention a few. These are: Kelly Rusike’s Jazz Invitation (Kelly is Brian’s cousin) with Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana on vocals, Takura, Decibel, Varaidzo Nyakunika, who did the song at StarBrite’s grande finale performance, David Chifunyise, Anne of Those Guys Vacho, Mono Mukundu, and Kyle College Boys Ensemble.

With Gideon Neganje, who was the lead singer, Brian also co-authored the song African Woman.

In 1981, when travelling to do a concert at Golden Mile Hotel in Kwekwe, Pied Pipers were involved in a near-fatal accident and Gideon, the soul of the band, who did the vocals on Ruva Rangu, never recovered from that. He eventually died a year later.

In 1985, Pied Pipers had problems with John Grant and Tony Rivett of Gramma Records who had released their recording overseas without the band’s knowledge. When Brian heard about this, he confronted Tony Rivett and told him that the band would cut ties with Gramma if they were not paid for this release. Brian was given $4 000 and told not to tell the rest of the band. The band eventually got to find out about this deal and suspected Brian of having given permission to Gramma Records to have the album released. Brian eventually quit the band.

He later joined Talking Drum, which was fronted by Michael Lannas, and was instrumental in playing the keyboards on the albums African Journey and Red Sun.

In 1987, when the Bhundu boys were on the rise in the United Kingdom, Brian was keen to join them. He kept writing to Rise Kagona to see if he could replace Shakie Kangwena on keyboards, but Rise was not in a hurry to respond to him when everything seemed to be going well for the Bhundu Boys.

It wasn’t until Brian heard that the Bhundu Boys were the supporting act for popular American singer Madonna at Wembley Stadium that he became hysterical. Brian decided he would fly to London and take the bull by the horns.

I was a student in London at that time but followed all the groups that were coming from Zimbabwe with a lot of enthusiasm. Brian notified me that he would be coming to London to watch the Madonna show. He came straight to my flat. Unfortunately I had visitors staying over that weekend so I booked him into a bed and breakfast at King’s Cross near where I lived, in Islington. I later took him to the house where the Bhundu Boys lived. There he met Biggie Tembo who told him flatly that there was no room for him in the band, but he was allowed to come backstage with the rest of the group for Madonna’s Who Is That Girl UK Tour. Backstage, I recall, Brian went to greet Madonna in her dressing room and these were his exact words: “Madonna, I am a great fan of yours from Zimbabwe and I have flown all the way from Harare to attend your show.”

Madonna asked him: ”Which favourite songs of mine do you like?” “Like A Virgin and Material Girl,” he replied. Madonna was impressed. I wasn’t. I said to Brian afterwards, “You have lost an opportunity there. Why didn’t you tell her that you are also a great musician from Zimbabwe just like the Bhundu Boys? Maybe she would have hired you to play in her band. Fans go and sit with the audience and they do not have the privilege to talk to Madonna backstage.” He responded, “You are right.”

The following week Brian and I went to see the Bhundu Boys’ performance at Brixton Academy. Their supporting acts included Mark Knofler of Dire Straits and Hugh Masekela. We sat backstage with Herbert Murerwa, who was then Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the UK. The academy was filled to the brim. There were over 5 000 people in there and Brian was amazed.

Brian said to me afterwards: “Fred, we are wasting our time in Zimbabwe. If I don’t scale to such dizzy heights as the Bhundus have done, I think I am going to quit music for good. After all, you know I am better than those guys.”

I told him that it is not only about ability or being better talented, but about being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to manipulate opportunities given.

I did not see Brian again until around 1996 in Zimbabwe. He had met Janet, who worked for Unesco. Janet lavishly showered him with a white convertible BMW and a house in one of Harare’s poshest suburbs, Gunhill. He became a recluse and was living in seclusion. His elder brother Eki, whom I used to interact with at Elizabeth Hotel when the Pied Pipers were contracted to play there, told me that Brian did not allow even his closest relatives to visit him since moving to Gunhill. (That probably explains why his body was not discovered for months after he had died.)

I used to see him on my way to work in the mornings when he was jogging in Gunhill and I would stop and have small talk with him about music. The last time I saw him was in August this year when I told him that Lannas had told me that he wanted to come back to Zimbabwe and do a Talking Drum reunion. He said he was no longer interested in live performances.

Brian was born on the September 11, 1956. At the time of his death, he was aged 62.

He was buried last week on Saturday at his rural home in Dema, Seke. No body viewing was allowed as his body was totally decomposed.

Prayers, hugs and love came from all those whose lives had been touched by this awesome musician and friend. We are all grateful for his great talent.

I am so glad to have had the opportunity to know Brian and to have his music. He will live on forever in his music and in our hearts.

Rest in peace, Brian. You will be greatly missed, but never forgotten as you have left an indelible imprint in our memories.

Feedback: frezindi@gmail.com

One Response to Obituary: Brian Rusike (1956-2018)

  1. Unzo wekwa Zvimba November 26, 2018 at 12:53 pm #

    @Zindi , is skokiaan by August Musarurwa not Zimbabwes most covered song ???

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