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Rise Kagona:  Leader of the Pack– Before Bhundu Boys (Part 4)

The following is Part 4 of an interview with Bhundu Boys guitarist Rise Kagona. It has been over twenty-five years since the band took the UK music world by storm, with their Harare sound. Kagona reflects on his musical journey as he speaks to A.A.V. AMASI.

Rise Kagona:  Leader of the Pack
Rise Kagona:  Leader of the Pack

I understand that they created the World Music category because of you; because they did not know where to place the Bhundu Boys.

First African Band to be signed by Warner Brothers was Franco. And we are the second. They call us World Music I don’t understand that word. It is like things they call ethnic, an ethnic minority. World Music, What is not World Music? People like Michael Jackson sold millions all four corners of the globe.

That is a world music artist, why does it mean World Music to people like us just because we are put in a small box and we don’t qualify to be elsewhere in Europe. It’s just categorizing what they don’t understand. I always think of Bollywood, Asians saw that Hollywood does not rate them. Hollywood was not looking at them, even their music no one rated it.

They decided to form Bollywood so that the world can recognise their culture. If you look at their films and music it caters only for Asians. If you go to Festivals, you won’t see them appearing anyway. They sensed it a longtime ago that they are segregated, so why should they bother? I think the same thing should be happening to us black people. Look at America; America is rich in music because of black people. People like Eminem copy the style of Black people.

In Zimbabwe, they are many categories of music Thomas Mapfumo’s Chimuremga Music, Barbed Wire and you were categorized as playing Jit Jive. Would it not be best if you all the musicians of Zimbabwe conquered the world with one music style?

When Africans come here, everyone says that they are playing African music but we are not playing the same music everywhere. We have got Kanda Bongo Man, we have got musicians from Mali, North, West, East and South. We have different cultures and we play music according to our cultures, but because we are Africans. We are said to be playing African Music.

If we could find an indigenous word that could describe our music, we would be better off. We should have African Journalist who push us, because they understand us. Cameraman, who understand us and know the boundaries of our culture. Music Engineers, when I played at the African Centre a while back. I saw Black guys running the PA. I was very pleased.

At least we have people that have something in common with us and if we want our music to sound a certain way we will get it from them. We suffered a lot during our tours as the Bhundu Boys; we would go to a gig. At that time Reggae was big. We would go on stage. The Engineer was White and he would automatically think these black guys are playing Reggae.

He would put a heavy bass, sometimes you are singing and you would hear echoes like Dub. Yet our music has no Dub, our own way of playing Dub, you know Museve. When we cut the Bass and the rhythm is left playing, that is our Dub but they don’t know that. They just kept putting these noises. One day I just said to the Manager “Go and tell that bastard to shut off that shit”. We were not a Reggae band, why do they experiment with Music they don’t know. Put all kinds of things on it.

What would you advice African Musicians that are looking to penetrate the overseas market like you guys did?

To Musicians coming from Africa, back home people are used to noise. If you listen to the music of Tuku (Oliver Mtukudzi) and compare it with musicians playing Kwasa Kwasa listen to how mild it is, smooth flowing and exciting. The ears of people here like this kind of music they don’t like noise.

This is advice to my fellow musicians who would like to tour Europe. They don’t like noise they would rather listen to someone playing an acoustic guitar or mbira. They are happy when they listen to people like Chartwell Dutiro. Kwasa Kwasa Bands have not made an impact in this country because of noise.

We happened to conquer the European market because our music had no noise. Listen to our music. We used to flow; we didn’t have all that crazy noise. Everyone made sure that his instrument is in line with everybody else’s instrument. They was no need to compete on stage, we were not in competition, we were playing music to the audience.

In Zimbabwe they now have what they call urban grooves, with youngsters copying American music.

One thing I would advice them is that do not come and play rap music or R’n’B in Europe. It does not make sense to the audience here, which is why I am saying that the person who plays Mbira is in a better position. They are people that are playing Djembe here; it’s better than someone coming to imitate Oasis, the Beatles or Black Sabbath.

This is not our culture, people want to hear what your country has, music from your country. If you can mesmerise people playing a traditional instrument that people don’t understand people love that. Its unfortunate for a person like myself. I was unable to learn the Mbira or the other African instruments.

I played guitar because I thought that was the time, but I tried to make my guitar not sound like anyone else in Europe. I have got my own way of playing, which no one else has. Living in this country. I have met musicians who I want to gang with and make a group. I have met a lot and a lot have gone because of musical misunderstandings.

We play same Chords but they are certain tricks that we do which throws their heads in a spin and they will never understand that.  I can do it because I grew up in Zimbabwe and it’s within us. If I play it to you, you will automatically switch on. However if I play it to someone here they won’t understand it.

You used to be in Group called Culture Clash and now you are in a Band called Rise Kagona and the Jit Jive Band

Let me tell you something about Culture Clash. It wasn’t a band; it was journalist who misrepresented the facts. I said at the time we are trying to clash cultures because I had Doug (Champion Doug Veitch) who is a Scottish musician.

I was hoping he would bring his culture and I bring my culture, meet in between and make music. That was the idea; someone just started writing “Culture Clash”. It became like a name, I didn’t name this band Culture Clash. It was just a clash of culture coming together, a statement. I had to demolition this name, its no more. 

Is that when you decided to start Rise Kagona and the Jit Jive Band?

I looked at it this way. I am playing Jit music after all that is what I am good at. I will just put it as a Jit Jive Band. Jit is my band and people will Jive, simple.

Who owns the right to the name Bhundu Boys?

It belongs to me as well

Why are you not using that particular name?

Yeah, aha, I used it after the death of the other three guys. I kept on with the Bhundu Boys, when I worked with people like Kuda Matimba who is now with Harare. I just thought now with these other White people I am working with. It won’t look good.

Can you explain further, why do you say that it will not look good?

Bhundu Boys is an established name. It’s a Black Band; it wouldn’t look good with me and White people at the back. After all that we have been through people will look at me and ask, “What kind of Bhundu Boys is this?” Plus they have been too many rumors that all Bhundu Boys are dead.

On that note, is Kenny Chitsvatsva still alive? Because some reports say that he is still alive and some say that he is dead.

He is in London. I read the article that said Kenny is dead. Unfortunately it was a Zimbabwean media outlet. They were interviewing his nephew Roki. Roki and his mum were interviewed in Harare. The reporter then went on to say, “ Roki who’s Uncle is the late Kenny Chitsvatsva of the Bhundu Boys” and yet Kenny is alive, imagine. Talking to his nephew who knows his Uncle is alive and you write something like that? If it were in this country he would be sued. Once something is written down you can’t change it.

Your music is available for purchase on iTunes. Do you receive the Royalties?

My answer is if I am getting it. I don’t know who is collecting the money.

What you saying is that someone else is collecting what should be coming to you?

No, the thing is so complicated. The reason why I say it is complicated, before it was my record company taking charge of this. Every penny and where ever my record appeared. They are responsible for recouping that money. Now I have got a record company like Disc Afriq.

Owen and Doug were running the company they don’t run it anymore. If they don’t run it, so who is collecting the money? I have seen albums with Biggie (Biggie Tembo) on the cover and we don’t recognise those albums. If people are downloading those songs, where is the money going? Biggie is not here to represent himself and ask, “Who put my picture on YouTube” 

When you were signed to Disc Afriq. Did you have a publishing deal in place?

We had a publishing deal. Steve Roskilly was our publisher. He should be the one looking into this. All the songs we did in the eighties, like the Shed Sessions. He should be accountable. If he doesn’t know who is bootlegging us? It is his responsibility that is what our contract says. It is not for us musicians to fight these people.

They’re musicians such as Kuda Matimba and many others who have used Bhundu Boys songs. Did they ask for permission?

Kuda has not asked for permission at all. It should be common courtsey to do so.  Chekudya Chose and Wafungei are Safirio Madzikatire Songs. Chekudya Chose we took it from his play. Safirio was a comedian. We took the words, story and composed the instrumental.

We went to him and asked him “you know the play you do Chekudya, we want to make it a song”. He gave us the go ahead and when the royalties came, he got his royalties, He bought a very nice jacket and came to us. You know what he was like. He came to show us his jacket; he said, “Thanks guys, I bought this jacket because of your royalties”. We were happy; he was one of our Gurus in Zimbabwe.

A.A.V. Amasi is a Barchester Scholar at the National Film And Television School. His contact details are [email protected] or http://www.chauya-chauya.co.uk