Sunday, 22 January 2012
Rusike Brothers pacesetters
I tried Brian Rusike for an interview on the Rusike Brothers. I called him mid-morning. He was angry. He had nothing to say. I followed up on Kelly’s number through the Book Café. Kelly could not talk either. But he referred me to Tawanda and Abby. Tawanda was working for a fresh fruit company in Graniteside then. After a painstaking search, I finally met him around 4pm. He still spotted the famous ‘perm’ which made the Rusike Brothers distinct. Abby had already briefed him about the meeting. So we sat in his car as he narrated how they became household name. After meeting Tawanda, I then engaged Abby on the phone for his side.
It is not every day that one meets a group that maintains a clean image in an environment where controversy is the order of the day, a group that inspite of the vast talents of its members opts to play music for leisure when others are dying to hog the limelight and a group that performs at selected functions and fundraising gigs only.
If at all one is to meet such a group, it has to be the Rusike Brothers who were at one time referred to as the Zimbabwean version of the Jackson Five.
Although Tawanda, the elder of the Rusike Brothers was not keen on any comparisons, there were two similarities though: both were groups made up of five brothers and were managed by their fathers.
While the Jackson Five have since gone separate ways with Michael courting attention for both his music and weird lifestyle, the Rusike are still together – three of them to be precise – and are leading normal lives untainted by the fame brought by the entertainment industry.
‘Our clean image has something to do with our upbringing. We are Christians,’ said Tawanda.
Another member, Abby agreed, ‘We were not exposed to drinking alcohol because our father was strict.’
The Rusike Brothers started small as a family act on the Copperbelt in Zambia in the 70s. The outfit then had Tawanda, Phillip and Abby. They became five when their twin brothers Collin and Kelly joined them.
‘We started at school where we took part in choirs and dramas and at church,’ said Tawanda.
Their father Abiathar was a son of a Methodist reverend, Mathew Rusike who founded the Rusike Children’s Home in Harare. He was a journalist who fled the country in 1963 and settled in Zambia.
‘The formation of the band was easy because we grew up listening to the same type of music,’ explained Tawanda.
Their inspiration came from their father who was a member of the Boogie Woogie Songs Stars, a township outfit that played in the early 60s in Southern Rhodesia.
Their mother Janet was a member of the Methodist Church choir. In fact, music runs in the family since their cousin, the legendary Brian has been a face of Zimbabwean music for years playing for Pied Pipers and Talking Drums.
The Rusikes played disco music which was the dominant beat at the time. They did not compose any music with local flavour though.
‘It was not by design that we sought to play music that can be described as elite. We simply filled in a niche, a vacuum on the local music scene.
‘There are other guys who can compose sungura music. Talk of guys like Alick Macheso and others. We had our own influences and decided to stick to a particular beat,’ said Tawanda.
Their first recording was Saturday Night, a massive hit that brewed some storm in the region. It was recorded in Zambia in 1979.
The success of their single saw them sharing the stage with US musician Taj Mahal during his Zambian tour. At independence, they returned home and stuck a working relationship with Steve Roskilly and Martin Norris who owned Shed Studios in Harare. They reissued Saturday Night and then did another single – Heartache.
In mid 80s Andy Brown, Temba Gumbo and Victor Duarte joined the group that toured the country.
The Rusikes became a trade name such that most adverts featured them. One such advert was about a brand of mealie meal that had the phrase ‘everybody sadza’.
Songbird Rozalla Miller who was born in Zambia joined the group when she returned home in 1985. Her chart topping song Party Nights and Forever were written by the Rusikes. This relationship lasted until 1989 when Rozalla left for England.
Having made themselves a household name, the Rusikes had one of their songs Club Soca featured in a locally produced movie Consequences.
Then it was time to experiment with sound and the Rhythm of our Hearts, an autobiographical piece was produced. The album relied heavily on the Zim mbira rhythm and guitar riffs that blended well with the western beat. English lyrics backed by Shona, Zulu and Swahili chants give it a perfect balance.
Off that album is a rendition of the song Cecilia originally done by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel when they performed as a team in the late 60s.
Branding their style of music heart beat dance, the brothers embarked on a tour of the UK where they played in clubs and halls such as the Africa Centre, Bass Clef, the Banana Tree and Pegasus.
They also had an opportuinity to work with one of Europe’s best recording studios, the Red Bus Studios which made George and Culture, Five Star, Right Said Fred as well as many others famous internationally.
In 1995 they were part of the Aids awareness programme which resulted in the recording of the single titled Song from the Heart.
They then spent a few years working with up and coming artists and touring countries in the region. They shared the stage with UB40, Dr Alban, Lucky Dube and PJ Powers.
‘We made enough money to enable us to live comfortably,’ Abby said. ‘But when we started getting into relationships we had to slow down.’
Family, he said, always came first hence the need to spend quality time with their loved ones while keeping their music alive through performances occasionally at selected private and corporate functions.
It was only in 2003 that they travelled to Zambia at the invitation of the cancer association and performed a series of fundraising gigs.
Today there are three brothers left in the band. Colin has gone overseas while Kelly who has had a passion for jazz now plays with Jazz Invitation.
‘Kelly left becase we had a different taste of music. There is nothing much to it,’ said Abby.