THIRTY five years ago, the Bhundu Boys were so big they even found themselves in the prime real estate spaces of two of America’s biggest newspapers.
Biggie Tembo and his Boys had just played at Wembley, as an undercard of Madonna, in 1987.
The following year, they were starting to be given rave reviews by the American media.
One particular review, in the Los Angeles Times, which was written by Robert Hiburn, on April 11, 1988, captured the impact the Boys from Zim were making.
It went under the headline, ‘Bhundu Boys, An African Sensation.’
“The Bhundus have been one of the surprise sensations of the British pop scene for more than a year, thanks to almost constant touring there and an album, ‘Shabini,’ that was at or near the top of the independent album charts in England for most of 1987,” wrote Hiburn.
“Though previously available here only in import editions, ‘Shabini’ has just been released in the US by Carthage Records, and the Bhundu’s two subsequent LPs are now also available domestically.
“While the albums (especially ‘Shabini’) are attractive introductions, the Bhundus are best appreciated live, where they infuse their music with such an enticing sense of rhythm and life that the group makes most Western rock bands seem haplessly stiff.
“Radio airplay – the key to widespread acceptance in this country – may be difficult for a band that doesn’t sing in English, but it’s nice to think that the music itself may be enough for the Bhundus.
“If the quintet shifts its attention from England to the United States, it could mark the start here of a lasting appreciation of African Pop.”
They had just made their debut in the United States.
“The Bhundu Boys, the deliciously appealing quintet from Zimbabwe that made its local debut Saturday at the Music Machine in West Los Angeles, may finally be the band to break the African Pop stalemate in this country,” noted Hiburn.
“US audiences have shown affection for African groups touring here for the first time, but they’ve also exhibited a discouraging tendency to look ahead to the next newcomer rather than build permanent attachments to those they’ve already seen.
“On one hand, it’s easy to dismiss the pop audience here as simply cultural sightseers who respond to the novelty and colour of an evening with an exotic foreign band.
“But the African musicians too may contribute to the problem. Many of the groups − including King Sunny Ade and Ladysmith Black Mambazo − appear to play all their cards the first time around.
“So what makes the Bhundus different?
“The quintet plays a tough and focused form of dance music, called jit, that is seasoned with a strong Caribbean lilt and some Louisiana R & B reminiscent of the Meters.
“The Bhundus also seem to share the Western fondness for musical change, so that you do sense some movement from album to album.
“Mostly, however, this is simply a sensational group.
“Singer-guitarist Biggie Tembo is a charismatic and convincing frontman who works hard at involving the audience.
“Though he sings mostly in the Shona language, he speaks between songs in English.
“The group’s style mixes guitar and keyboard textures in ways that serve up both the silky zest associated with Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album and the warm sense of community identified with a roots-conscious American group like Los Lobos.”