The Real Sounds, an 11-piece line-up based in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare and consisting entirely of Zairean musicians, are the most successful proponents of the rumba outside Zaire itself. The group was founded by guitarist Ghaby Mumba, who was born in Kinshasa and played with a variety of local bands before joining the Government-sponsored Orchestre Diables Noirs, playing a mixture of jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and rumba in the OK Jazz mould. In 1967, two years after the end of the civil war, Mumba left for Zambia, capitalizing on the local interest in Congolese music with a soukous band called OC Jazz. His second outfit, Les Elite Bantous, with its less-than-subtle reference to the influential Congolese band Bantous De La Capitale, took the name game even further. He formed the Real Sounds in 1975. The band moved from Zambia to Zimbabwe in 1978, when they were invited to take up a residency in a hotel in Umtali. As the Zimbabwean war of independence hotted up, they left Umtali, the centre of regular fire fights between guerrillas and the army, and moved to Harare. In the capital, the Real Sounds found an eager audience for their own brand of soukous, which resulted in two hit albums, Harare and Funky Lady - and a string of top singles. Of these, ‘Dynamos Versus Caps’, about the competition between two leading national football teams, followed by ‘Dynamos Versus Tornados’ on the 1987 album Wende Zako, showed the extent to which they had become involved in local issues. Their rhythms changed too. In the late 70s, the Real Sounds experimented with sungura, but soon changed back to the mellower, Zairean rumba sound. By 1986, the band had moved one step forward, one step back. The single ‘Non Aligned Movement’, commemorating the meeting in Harare of delegates from the non-aligned nations, extolled the Mugabe government over a smooth rumba beat. The b-side dug into a mixture of rumba with Zimbabwe’s mbira sound, which by now the band had titled rhumbira. The same year, the band took another surprise step by re-recording the 1973 OK Jazz hit ‘Azada’ - further proof of the continuing appeal of Zairean rumba in Zimbabwe. The Real Sounds made their first European tour in 1986, and have since returned several times. The following year they were the subject of a British television documentary on The South Bank Show, which accompanied their European debut for Cooking Vinyl Records, Wende Zako. The follow-up was recorded in Harare with producer Norman Cook, formerly of the Housemartins and Beats International. They returned the compliment by guesting on Beat International’s album.
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