The Cool Crooners from Bulawayo performed at Alliance Francaise last week Friday as part of the premiere of a new musical concept called Friyay at Alliance.
The internationally-acclaimed marabi outfit entertained the audience with their sleek dance moves and smooth singing reminiscent of the 1950s when the band graced prominent venues such as La Gondola, Windermere, Mzilikazi Gardens, Cecil Hotel, and countless other functions.
The band performed days after the untimely death of legendary jazz musician and producer, Kelly Rusike, who passed away on May 17. Rusike, who was supposed to play with the group, had a long history with the Cool Crooners, having recorded their first album, Blue Sky, in 2001 and played bass guitar alongside Sam Mataure on drums. In the same year, they embarked on a month-long tour of France together.
The Cool Crooners are credited with exporting Zimbabwean township music to the world, blending swing and soul music in a style known as swing jazz. The band, celebrating its 24th anniversary, is led by Liccan “Lucky” Thodhlana, George Salimu and Abraham Ncube.
Speaking on the sidelines of the show, Salimu, who doubles as the band’s spokesperson, told IndependentXtra that they had some songs that they wanted to play with the late producer.
“We won’t be doing them anymore,” he said. “We will just do a few as a remembrance of the great musicians that have passed away, including members of the Cool Crooners and other late great musicians such as Oliver Mtukudzi and Kelly himself.”
Rusike’s death caused a setback for the band as they were anticipating the release of their third album, Blue Sky 2, in which Rusike was set to be involved.
“We had a number of songs that we wanted to showcase with Kelly so that he would make a decision of when they would be recorded. We will just have to see whom we can talk to so that we can make those recordings a possibility,” Salimu added.
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During the performance, the Cool Crooners were supported by Mataure on drums, James Buzuzi on lead guitar, Josh Kwesha on bass guitar, and Nick Nare on the keyboard. They played popular songs like I Van Enkulu, MaKhumalo, Umam’ Uyakhala, Malaika, Bhulugwa Lami and Blue Sky.
They were later joined by songstress Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana who did a rendition of the traditional Xhosa folk song Qonqothwane, also known as The Click Song.
, taken from the Cool Crooners’ second album titled Isatilo (2006). Vintage disc jockey, Tony Friday, kept the crowd dancing in-between breaks by playing some old school music.
Mataure, who began working with the Cool Crooners in 1998 after seeing them perform at the Bulawayo Jazz Festival, also paid tribute to Rusike.
“I am happy to have had the privileged to be part of the Cool Crooners all these years even though I was in and out. Playing with them tonight is very emotional as it brings back memories, especially because one of our key members Kelly Rusike passed on.”
The band is the offspring of two groups that were popular in the Rhodesian township of Bulawayo in the 1950s, namely The Golden Rhythm Crooners and the Cool Fours. Between them, the bands had members such as George Chagasa, Andrew Chakauya, Phenias Tapona,
Champion Banda, Ben Pula Pulani and Liccen Thodhlana, among others.
According to Salimu, a function dubbed the Bulawayo Music Revival Show held at the Large City Hall in 1987 was the catalyst for the creation of the group now known as the Cool Crooners.
Current band members are retired seniors who have left their day jobs, reside in different
locations, and only get together when shows are planned. Ncube resides in Bulawayo, Salimu
stays close to Jambesi, and Thodhlana is in Insiza.
At 84, Thodhlana is the only remaining founding member. Most of the members are now late.
Over the years, members such as Salimu and Ncube have joined so as to ensure that the band’s
tradition is upheld.
The band has made numerous tours to both Europe and the Americas.