Home Arts & Entertainment Legendary Bassist Kelly Rusike Of The Rusike Brothers and Jazz Invitation Remembered

Legendary Bassist Kelly Rusike Of The Rusike Brothers and Jazz Invitation Remembered

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By Terrence Mapurisana

Kelly Rusike, the influential bass player revered in the jazz world for the spirituality of his work will definitely be remembered by some of us who interacted with him almost every day, especially during his last days.

Because of his small stature, a good number of those who saw him live on stage at various Jazz festivals, thought Kelly Rusike was a young boy who could strum the bass with so much passion. But no, he was a big man, with a big heart too. According to his brother Phillip Rusike, Kelly was 59. He was born on the 17th of March 1964.

As far as some of us who interacted with Kelly Rusike during the early days of hosting local jazz festivals at places like Sports Diner, and Jazz 105, among other places, when I was first introduced to Kelly by veteran jazz drummer Sam Mataure, the Legendary jazz guitarist, pushed the boundaries of his instrument and used music as a method of uniting all lovers of jazz music in whatever form, despite his small stature, the man was a musical giant.

It was not only when I listened to the self-titled album, Jazz Invitation by the same group that he helped found together with the likes of Sam Mataure and pianist Philbet Marowa, Victor Duarte, Richie Lopez, and Prudence Katomeni Mbofana, but I had listened to a number of his solo productions, collaboration with a number of local, regional and international artists who also included some Symphony Orchestra, that I first acknowledged his bass playing. I always tell him “Kelly you sound like Sipho Gumede, or is it vice versa”. This is also evident in his own version of Mantombi (a Sipho Gumede composition).

Described by a number of jazz artists and radio presenters as “both startlingly minimal and arrestingly gorgeous in his guitar playing”, most of his productions are a spellbinding fusion of classical, contemporary, electronic, afro and jazz music. I would advise you to listen to others such as Ndafunafuna, My Children, Ruva Rangu, and Africa. Listening to the popular BP song by Jazz Invitation- a song written by Filbert Marowa and sung by Prudence Katomeni Mbofana, It was unlike anything I had heard before, but what stood out to me most was the enchanting yet haunting tone of Kelly Rusike’s bass playing.

When I played one of his songs Titotenda on ZBC Classic263 Radio last Sunday on the program Sunday Jazz as I wished him well after his hospitalization, having had problems with diabetes for the past twenty years, little did I know at the time of broadcasting and listening to that song that it would be the last time to communicate with him on the radio, yes he did respond on the Studio Transmission Whatsapp platform, “Zikomo”.

Let’s take a closer look at his life and the legacy he left on music. Kelly played on more than a dozen of albums, including and frequently performed live at shows. The last show I saw him playing live was when he backed Louis Mhlanga when he jetted into the country last year in June for the Zimbabwe Jazz Community Trust Festival organised by Filbert Marowa and held at the Alliance Francaise. He was in a good mood. We later had a photo shoot afterwards and he said to me in his favourite word, “Zikomo”.

In Zimbabwe, after the “death” of Jazz 105 Club which was founded by Josh Hozheri, Mannenburg and the popular Book Cafe, a lot of jazz fans were disappointed and thought that was the end of Jazz in Zimbabwe, but Kelly Rusike played a key role in the boundary building up jazz movements, he also helped popularise various guitar playing techniques. Sharing notes with Bob Nyabinde soon after the death of Kelly Rusike, Nyabinde told me that Kelly played with a number of local and regional artists, and he also played bass on Tanga Wekwa Sando’s song Paida Moyo.

He also collaborated with many other influential jazz artists, including Louis Mhlanga, Tanga WeKwaSando, and being a producer, he worked with artists like Mallorca from Spain and others from South Africa and Denmark. He also worked alongside keyboardist Tammy Chirema, his son drummer Cole “Coolstix” Rusike, Spanish saxophonist, Marin Finding from Denmark and vocalist Oshaan Musical and Santiago Caballero from Spain. Other songs that topped the charts included Tha 1 and his own rendition of Ikosore. Kelly helped introduce a number of younger generations of music listeners to jazz music through his branding. On the day of Kelly Rusike’s death, veteran radio broadcaster and UK- based Classic263 Radio Presenter John The Boss Matinde gave me a call and said, “I had arranged for an interview with Kelly for the Classic263 Radio Sounds on Saturday interview, I am shuttered, but we are all blessed to have his art stay with us forever.”

A well-known figure on the jazz circuit in the late 1980s, Kelly Rusike is credited with shaping much of 20th Century jazz music, especially the days that that he played with drummers Sam Mataure, Victor Duarte, saxophonist Richie Lopez, keyboardists Manasa Mujawo and Filbert Marowa. He also played alongside several greats, including Rute Mbangwa, Patience Musa, Prudence Katomeni Mbofana, Cool Crooners when they visited France, Postical Toes, Sabhuku, Sharon Manyika, Cherry Hill, Rozalla Miller and Michael Lannas. I think recording solo albums gave him more creative freedom because he began fusing jazz with all other forms of music, birthing the sounds admired in his next musical group of what was now termed a new version of Jazz Invitation.

Adding funk and Rythm & Blues grooves, some of his songs topped the Classic263 Radio Top 20 Chart Shows alongside Fungai Paul Malianga’s Tuchembere. “We are devastated. Always and forever the most beautiful human being, may he rest in peace,” said Fungai Paul Malianga, who worked on a number of projects with Kelly Rusike. Reggae empress, Eyhara Mathazia said, Kelly was such a kind-hearted elder. He recorded my first album Kibo, the calling at his Shed Studios when he was still in Hatfield. He gave time and opportunity to the youth. He even gave us free time…he was not part of the band, but often would pop his head in and give advice.” Kelly was part of the Rusike Brothers, a family band formed in 1978 in Lusaka, Zambia. The Rusikes had moved from Zimbabwe to Zambia in 1965. Their father, Abiathar Rusike, was a teacher, journalist and musician who coached his five sons to become music superstars. The siblings were Tawanda, Abbie, Kelly, Philip and Colin. Their performances were influenced by the Jackson Five and other Black American pop acts of the 1970s. They returned to Zimbabwe in 1980 after independence and were popular with such songs as Saturday Night and Cecilia. They also did several commercial jobs, including the famous Ngwerewere Sadza advert.

Kelly Rusike was also a sound engineer at Shed Studios, a major recording production house that produced jingles and songs. He also worked with musician and another sound engineer, Clancy Mbirimi who said, “I took over from Kelly when he left the Rusike Brothers. I had to work hard to fill his space. Thanks for the time shared…”

Former Manager of Assegai Crew Rex KB Kabwato remembers, “Kelly Rusike deserves an honour for his immense contribution towards the local music industry. He was the Record Engineer on Assegai Crew’s second album Nyarara in 1988 at Shed Studios. We would go spend time in Masasa, eat sadza from nearby and would work patiently on the project, he even played electric thumbing bass on the song, Vakuru Woye-the remix….” Co-Founder of the group Jazz Invitation and composer of the track, BP Filbert Marowa said, Kelly Rusike was a household brand for the Zimbabwe Jazz Community Trust as he curated shows and Festivals.

Last year at the 2022 Zimbabwe Jazz Festival, Kelly put up a spirited performance backing up a fellow legend Louis Mhlanga in a performance that left the Jazz lovers present mesmerized and yearning for more. Kelly’s bass guitar was unique and vibrant each time he was on stage. With his Jazz Invitation brand, Kelly was a marvel to listen to and watch as he played the instrument he loved.” Kelly Rusike will be remembered as one of the pioneers of Zimbabwean jazz music. Tributes that poured in from social media shared a common sentiment: gone, but not forgotten. That of course reminds me of the late South African Jazz bass player Sipho Gumede’s album with the same title.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Song by Brantley Gilbert

Like a set of black marks tattooed on a highway

Like some cheap light beer or that Georgia clear

That got us a little sideways

Like a first love’s tears and taillights, so long

Hand-me-down Ford, “For Sale” sign

Along with her shotgun seat

Gone but not forgotten

All those memories, we got ’em

These small towns change

And glory fades like all our yesterdays

Gone but not forgotten

Gone but not forgotten

And there’s a little white cross on the side of the highway

In memories of the ones we loved and lost that got to fly away

Reminders of the good-die-youngs all over this old town

Like all of the tears and beers we poured out on this hallowed ground

Gone but not forgotten

All those memories, we got ’em

These small towns change

And glory fades like all our yesterdays

Gone but not forgotten

And here’s to all the some-gave-alls

The ones that done come home

The ones that do, those

That died fightin’ the same damn war

Gone but not forgotten

All those memories, we got ’em

Gone but not forgotten

All those memories, we got ’em

These small towns change

And glory fades like all our yesterdays

Gone but not forgotten

Gone but not forgotten

Source: Musixmatch Songwriters: Jay Brunswick / Brantley Keith Gilbert / Jason Blaine / Robert Brock Berryhill Gone But Not Forgotten lyrics © Sony/atv Tree Publishing, Indiana Angel Music, Don’t Be A Gypsy, Songs By Jay Brunswick

The writer Terrence Mapurisana is a ZBC Classic263 Radio Station Manager and Producer/Presenter of the programme, Sunday Jazz.