The jubilance of jit


The Bhundu Boys
Tues, April 9, Old Lion Hotel, Adelaide
Wed April 10, Fly By Night Club, Fremantle
Thurs, April 11, Ozone Bar, Perth
Fri, April 12, The Club, Melbourne
Sat, April 13, Central Club, Melbourne
Sun, April 14, Darling Harbour, Sydney (Benefit for CAA Walk Against Want)
Sun, April 14, Paddington RSL, Sydney
Tues, April 16, Rose, Shamrock & Thistle, Sydney
Reviewed by Jacqui Kavanagh

Words can't convey the atmosphere created by the Bhundu Boys in concert. At a Bhundus gig, the fun which flows from the stage is enthusiastically mirrored by the audience. The rhythms are irresistibly danceable. The melodies are subtle and sweet, yet bounding with sparkling vitality. Vocal harmonies are perfect.

On their first tour of Australia last year, the Zimbabweans were received with acclaim. Expectations this time have been easily fulfilled.

The line-up is Rise Kagona on vocals and guitar, Shakey Kangwena on vocals, guitar and keyboard, Kenny Chitsvatsva on vocals and drums and Stan Zaranyika on vocals and bass (replacing David Mankaba, who is recovering from illness).

The band formed in 1980, the year of Zimbabwean independence. This period gave the Bhundu Boys their name — a tribute to the men and women who fought in the bush for Zimbabwe's freedom.

"Before independence, we didn't really play our music. There was no chance of writing your own material to express what you wanted to express", Shakey Kangwena told Green Left.

"After independence is when everybody came out, and that's when they were really writing what they want to say."

"Vana", a regular feature of their set on this tour, is a song dedicated to the heroes who fought and died in the bushes of Zimbabwe.

Eleven years later, the lyrical content of their songs has evolved to address the future with a great feeling of hope.

"In most of our lyrics, we try to cover a lot of areas. Some of them are encouraging lyrics, saying don't give up hope in whatever you want to achieve. Some of our lyrics are talking about politics also. We wrote a song, 'Dear God, did you forget South Africa?'"

Since nearly all the songs are sung in Shona, the lyrics won't mean much to you. They don't need to. The feeling is perfectly transmitted in the music.

The Bhundu sound is called jit. Derived from traditional Zimbabwean mbira thumb piano music, popularised in the West by Thomas Mapfumo, it is a totally distinctive sound.

"Jit is a type of dance which used to be done by young kids under the moon when you have a good harvest, the moon is shining and the elders are doing their traditional thing in the houses", Kangwena explained. "So if there's some spiritual things going on, the kids would be left a circle outside the room, clap hands and use a big drum and a small drum, singing along with nice harmonies and dancing.

"That's where our music comes from. It has changed a little bit, but if you listen to it, it's all really fast drumming, fast beat, so it hasn't really changed very much."

The tempo is energetic enough to compel frenetic dancing, but the melodies remain delicate and subtle. An exquisite example of this is the song "Chemedzvana", also a regular in their Australian set. The guitar tinkles merrily over the top of an irrepressible rhythm while Rise Kagona's velvet vocals envelop you.

Musical mastery aside, the real essence of a night with the Bhundus is having a Fantastically Fun Time. They'll show you the way.

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