The Four Brothers took time out during their European summer tour in 1998 to record Manga Manga, their last commercial album, and the only time they recorded in the UK. Whilst the CD carried on the 'tradition' of the Four Brothers it also marked an important development in the life of the band.
With a string of best selling albums and hit singles including Makorokoto, released in 1992 on Cooking Vinyl, the Four Brothers were one of Zimbabwe's most successful bands and were now familiar to audiences overseas through exposure on the radio and several tours.
The Brothers had been going for over 25 years, since they were formed in 1977. Marshall Munhumumwe former drummer, lead singer and songwriter learnt his craft from his nephew Thomas Mapfumo, another well-known Zimbabwean musician and subsequently played in Thomas's group. Also in that group was Never Mutare (bass player). The two of them left Thomas Mapfumo’s band to back "The Great Sounds", and later broke away to form their own band - The Four Brothers.
This was the time of Ian Smith's 'Rhodesian' government and his Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Britain. The political context is significant, at that time bands were not allowed to play traditional music on pain of arrest. Consequently, like others at the time, the Four Brothers made their way playing copyrights, rock and roll numbers and covers of Beatles songs. If they played traditional songs it was in a rock 'n' roll style but with a hidden message. Due to the 'Chimurenga', the War of Independence in Zimbabwe, they could only play the larger towns and cities and did not venture into the more rural villages.
After the Chimurenga traditional music again became acceptable and popular in Zimbabwe and the Four Brothers began to establish themselves. The main root of their sound clearly laid in this traditional Zimbabwean music, the rhythm guitar mimics the sound of the M'bira, the thumb piano, whilst the other instruments improvise around it.
The first big hit came in 1980 the year of Independence in Zimbabwe, Marshall Munhumumwe wrote Makorokoto', which means celebration in Shona, this caught the mood of the times and sold more than 100,000 copies - a lot in Zimbabwean terms. There then followed a string of hits in Zimbabwe following the path of others like the Bhundu Boys, The Four Brothers started touring overseas.
Over the years there had been a few changes in personnel and some experimentation with different sounds, for example, when a sax player was added to the group. Alex Chipaika, ex rhythm guitar and one of the band’s founder members developed arthritis later in his life and was unable to play his guitar without pain so he took up the keyboards and still provided vocal accompaniment
Marshall Munhumumwe had been many things in the band: drummer, vocalist, song writer, and spokesperson for the group, many will remember his description of himself as 'the man at the back'. Just as arrangements for the 1997 tour were under way misfortune struck: Marshall was involved in a car accident in Zimbabwe. Though he apparently survived the accident without ill effects he started to get severe headaches and eventually suffered from a massive stroke. He could neither play drums nor sing and, much to everyone's regret Marshall was unable to make the tour.
Marshall's accident had a significant impact an the band. Andy Kershaw remarked: "Many a lesser band, upon losing their leader, main vocalist and song writer would have cancelled the tour", however, being the professionals they were and knowing how important it was to make the trip after the recent disappointments the rest of the band came over to play a month of gigs in the UK and Europe.
In earlier days in Zimbabwe Marshall would concentrate on lead vocals with Albert Ruwizhi, Marshall's long time understudy and backing vocalist, taking over on the drums. Following Marshall's accident Albert took over drums and lead vocals for the 1997 tour, which was a great success.
How were the Brothers to develop without Marshall? Other members had to take on unfamiliar roles and responsibilities, Never Mutare (bass) has become the band's spokesperson. On their 1997 tour, the Four Brothers performed only songs written by Marshall. During their 1998 tour they continued to play Marshall's hits such as Makorokoto', but they also introduced new songs. Manga Manga is a collection of those new songs
The music remains based in Zimbabwean tradition but had also moved on. The lyrics continue to tell stories of life in Zimbabwe retaining a measure of social comment and moralising and, as many audiences will testify, it was equally great music to dance to! It shows that despite the sad loss of Marshall Munhumumwe the band was determined to continue developing and entertain audiences both at home and overseas.
The Four Brothers toured Ireland for the first time in 1999 when they played at the Sligo Arts Festival, sadly this was the last time that Albert Ruwizhi (drummer + lead vocals) toured with the Four Brothers, he died 6 weeks after the tour had finished and played his last ever gig at Kiltimagh in County Mayo. In 1999 The Four Brothers were invited to play at DJ John Peel's 60th birthday party at Peel Acres in Suffolk, they had previously played at John's 50th birthday party 10 years before.
The following year The Four Brothers returned with a new drummer (Levson), a young new vocalist, Antonio Makhosa and Alec Chipaika returned on keyboards & vocals. The Four brothers were now six and back on the road. As usual we toured the Four Brothers around much of Europe and once again toured Ireland. Later that year we brought the Four Brothers back to Europe to play at Hogmanay in Edinburgh for the Millennium celebrations. In mid 2001 and just before the band was due to tour Europe Robium Chauraya (second guitar) died and subsequently the tour was cancelled.
Later in 2001 Marshall Munhumumwe died at 49 years of age and the following year bass player Never Mutare died. Of the original band who recorded Manga Manga in 98 and toured Ireland in 1999 only Frank Sibanda remains aliveFOUR ON THE FLOOR – A review from FRoots in 2000 Rick Sanders hears how the Four Brothers fight adversity.
There's a sad irony at work here. For many years Zimbabwe's Four Brothers have been annual visitors to Britain, more reliable than our so-called summers at spreading sunshine. For joy and frenzy, few can hold a candle to their high-intensity twin guitar, bass and drums Jit music, the ultimate party band - they were asked to play at John Peel's 50th and 60th birthday celebrations, and think who he could have had - but their reward for untiring work for needful humanity has been a rotten share of grief.
The first blow came when the original leader, Marshall Munhumumwe songwriter, lead singer, and drummer had a car accident followed by a stroke just before the 1997 British tour. There were hopes that he might recover enough to rejoin the band, but no. Most would have failed to keep going with the loss of such a central figure, but Marshall's pupil and understudy Albert Ruvvizhi stepped into the breach, proving himself a much more than adequate replacement. All looked good.
Phil Bergen of PCP, tour promoters and the band's record company, continues the story: "Albert toured with the band for the last three years. A couple of years ago when he came over he kept saying he was worried about a swelling on his foot that was giving him pain. He always said he was going to see somebody about it, but never did. The following year when they came over, the bad foot had got worse. He hadn't done anything about it in Zimbabwe, largely because if you're not rich and you get sick, you're probably not going to get better. Medicines are extremely costly, and there's always the suspicion that the drugs you are paying so much for may have been diluted, adulterated or substituted."
"Even though the Four Brothers are quite big names, they are not rich. They didn't have a record company behind them and fees in Zimbabwe aren't good, even relatively speaking. Also, for years their previous management had been pocketing more than half the gig money. It's far better to get treatment in Britain. As an ex-colony, there's some kind of agreement and Zimbabweans can get fixed up on the NHS. I took Albert to a GP who instantly referred him to University College Hospital. They did some tests, got the results, and said that unless he stayed in and got treatment, he would die. He started receiving radio and chemotherapy."
"'The problem was, the band were on tour and Albert didn't want to let them down -there were lots of Zimbabweans following them around from gig to gig - so we were effectively breaking him out and taking him to the gigs and getting him back in the ward at 2 am, Albert complaining all the time that he felt sick. When the tour was over we tried very hard to get him to stay in London but he insisted on going back. I got a letter from him some time later saying he had made a mistake the medicine was getting too expensive and not doing any good. A couple of weeks after that I heard that he had died
A further heartbreak for the band was the spreading arthritis that stopped original member Aleck Chipaika from playing guitar, forcing him to switch to keyboards and then looking after the PA. But the band determined to continue, still faithful to their uplifting music.
In May, they - along with Tarika, Ayub Ogada and others-were all invited to play a major concert in Mauritius to raise money for Madagascar cyclone victims. Two band members needed passports quickly, which meant a lot of racing around and paying five times the normal 500 Zimbabwe dollars fee, a considerable amount-and then a couple of days before it was due to happen the event was called off. More Four Brothers luck...
But, if it's not tempting the fate which seems to be keeping such a hard eye on them, we can state that the Four Brothers are going to be in Britain from early August to mid-September. More than that, they are going to be not tour, but six, with two new members (Revison Chakanyuka & Austin Marongedza) with Alick Chipaika playing keyboards, with wild and snazzy colourful clothes in place of their former suits, real stage movement and dancing instead of just standing there and playing -and a fatter, fuller sound, with proper arrangements and proper endings. The band are as strong as ever and looking forward to their customary visit to our lands. And they'll be playing a benefit on Saturday 26th August for Albert Ruwizhi's family. Where else but the celebrated Trades Club, Hebden Bridge?
As Phil Bergan says, it only holds 150 or at a squeeze 200, but it's probably the best club in the country. "It's where all the old hippies moved to in the days when you could buy a house for £500. Now they're all grown up, but they're still there and they're just fantastic, always up for it. They have a lovely attitude. Every time the Four Brothers play there it's a riot, people dancing on tables, everyone out of their heads. It'll be a fitting place to pay tribute to Albert."
Hear Audio from The Four Brothers CD Manga Manga. Copies of this CD can be bought for 15 Euros + postage by contacting us
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This site is dedicated to the memory of my very good friends Albert, Robium, Frank & Never