The Four Brothers playing Hit Song Vimbai Live in London around 1990
The Four Brothers are perhaps the most internationally successful and recognised group to come from Zimbabwe. The members are not literally brothers and at times there have been more than four. They play fast-paced guitar-based pop music with songs sung in the Shona language. Their lead guitar string-plucking sound is reminiscent of the sound of the African mbira instrument and is a style known as ‘jit‘.
Founded in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in 1977 by Marshall Munhumumwe and Never Mutare with Edward Matigasi and Aleck Chipaika, the band gained international recognition in the late 1980s with UK BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel being their most well known advocate.
Marshall Munhumumwe was the nephew of Zimbabwean star Thomas Mapfumo.
At the time the Four Brothers formed bands in Rhodesia were not allowed to play traditional African music. The Four Brothers therefore played rock and roll cover versions of well-known artists such as the Beatles. They took up a residency position at the Saratoga bar in Salisbury (now Harare).
After the ‘Chimurenga’, the War of Independence in Zimbabwe, it became possible to again play traditional music. The band’s format and instruments are clearly influenced by western rock and roll but the sound is evidently originating from Africa. The lead guitar is played in such a way as to sound like mbira.
Marshall Munhumumwe wrote most of the band’s songs and music as well as unusually being both the lead singer and drummer. Their first big hit in Zimbabwe, ‘Makorokoto’, celebrated Zimbabwean independence. Makorokoto means ‘Congratulations’ in the Shona language.
After signing a deal with British record label Cooking Vinyl the band toured the UK and Canada. This apparently brought the band a greater degree of musical freedom enabling them to buy new instruments and to record more.
BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel championed The Four Brothers in the UK. They recorded four radio sessions for his show between 1988 and 2000. The band played at Peel’s surprise 50th birthday party at his home and he selected ‘Pasi Pano Pane Zviedzo’ as one of his favourite records of all time on the radio show Desert Island Discs in 1990. Peel is often quoted as describing the Four Brothers as “..the best live band in the world”.
In 1997 founder member Marshall Munhumumwe suffered a stroke, following a car crash. He was unable to continue to perform with the band and was replaced by Albert Ruwizhi. Munhumumwe died in 2001 at the age of 49 and the following year bass guitarist Never Mutare died. Finally, the last surviving member, Frank Sibanda died peacefully in December 2010.