The rise and fall of the Frontline Kids

05 Mar, 2012 - 22:03 0 Views

The Herald

possible due to the fear that I might be misconstrued as an egotist.
A friend of mine has often warned me against egotism and name-dropping. He describes an egotist as someone of low taste, who is more interested in himself than others. However, over the past 18 months that I have been writing this column, I have met so many people who have asked me why I have never written about the Frontline Kids. I have now decided to succumb to the pressure. So here we go!
It was on April 17 1987, on the eve of Zimbabwe’s seventh independence anniversary when I was Director of Ceremonies and stage manager of the Independence Celebrations at Rufaro Stadium in Harare.
The celebrations began around 6pm. At around midnight, The Rusike Brothers, Lovemore Majaivana, Paul Matavire, Robson Banda, The Four Brothers, Ilanga, Talking Drum, Comrade Chinx and Simon Chimbetu had done their performances.
I was just about to introduce Thomas Mapfumo on the stage when I was suddenly interrupted by this young man who jumped onto the stage before the bouncers could stop him.
He said: “Mukoma Fred tiri chikwata chekuDzivarasekwa. Tine shungu dzekuridzawo nhasi. (We are a group from Dzivarasekwa and we want to be included on the bill tonight).”
I politely thanked this young man and told him that the show had been organised months before tonight’s event and there was no way we were going to interfere with the programme to accommodate his group.
However, I gave him my telephone number if he wished to participate in the following year’s celebrations. I forgot about this incident until three months later when I received a call from Bob Manwere reminding me about my promise to include his band in the following year’s independence celebrations.
I asked him several questions about his band and whether they could play. He told me they did their rehearsals in Dzivarasekwa and that I was free to come and listen to them.
I made an appointment for the following Saturday. On arrival, I learned that the band comprised school kids and was called Scanners International. A gentleman called Tedious was managing them.
Their lead singer was a 17-year-old chap called Peter Tembo and the backing vocals were supplied by another 17-year-old called Jevas Dzotizei.
The rest of the band consisted of Manwere aged 17, who played the bass, Emmanuel Thomas on lead guitar and Philbert Marova on rhythm guitar, both aged 16. Then there was Wellington Masvosva, aged 14, who played the drums.
They were playing on some battered acoustic guitars and a makeshift drum kit with torn skins. Together, they could hardly play, but I saw the passion they all had for wanting to be something in the world of music.
After an hour, I had heard enough and I bid them farewell with the promise to get in touch. I didn’t.
It was not until November that Manwere phoned me again. Then I made a commitment. I went to see the band again, this time armed with management contracts and made the group sign individual contracts.
I became their manager. I went to buy the band a new set of instruments and offered to change their name to Frontline Kids.
Peter Tembo, however, did not like these swift changes and chose not to sign. We soon replaced him with a girl from Bulawayo, one Primrose Sithole, and later Noel Zembe, who took over the vocals.
As I had bought a keyboard, we advertised for a player and found David Nyadore, who was good at it but soon left for Bulawayo to work as a draughtsman. It was at this juncture that I persuaded Marova to learn to play the keyboards and he obliged.
I even paid for his lessons at the Zimbabwe College of Music. The band was now complete.
We then formed The Frontline Kids Band in December 1988 when their average age was 16 years. Within two years they had recorded three albums “Children of the Frontline”, “African Jive” and “Hupenyu”, two of which were in Zimbabwe’s top 20 charts for over eight weeks each.
In 1989, soon after the formation of the group, they were invited to perform for President Mugabe during the National Youth Week and in 1990 they were the supporting act for well-known South African musicians, Brenda Fassie, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and the Soul Brothers. They also shared the stage with visiting Jamaican singer Dennis Brown in the same year.
The Frontline Kids — Jevas Dzotizei, Sithole and Zembe on vocals, Manwere on bass, Thomas on guitar, Marova on guitar, and later on keyboards, and Wellington Masvosva on drums — defined their music as Afro-acid, which was a fusion of jiti and Western music.
This music saw them going as far afield as Botswana, Mozambique and the United Kingdom.
One of the highlights while touring the UK in 1991, was when they were invited to perform at St Andrews University.
Because of the hype they had received over the radio from one BBC 1 Radio DJ, John Peel, the attendance ballooned to 5 000 people. At another venue within the same university was the British reggae band, UB40, performing. They had less than 50 people in attendance.
On that occasion, Marova started the stage antics we had been familiar with in Zimbabwe in which he wore six pairs of trousers and would shout to the audience in Shona “Ndobvisa here?” and we would shout back “Bvisa”. He would then take one pair off at a time until all six were done.
This time, in Scotland, it didn’t work as he tried the English translation of such antics. He would say: “Shall I take off?” and the English audience would reply: “Take off!” thinking that he wanted to fly. I was embarrassed.
In 1992 The Frontline Kids split after most of the band members had reached the age of 20 when by consensus they no longer represented the kids. Members went to seek individual careers, with Marova joining the Rusikes, Jevas joining the Ndochi Stars and Thomas becoming a gospel musician.
Wellington went back to school while Zemba formed his own band. Sithole, the only female member, got married and later died after a long illness.
In 2002 the group re-formed with three of the original members — Emmanuel, Jevas and Noel — and a new album, “In Africa”, was released. Due to their advanced ages the group was renamed Frontline Krew in 2003.
It failed to compete with the new groups of youngsters who were now on the scene and the Frontline Krew died a natural death.
That’s my story!

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