All that jazz with The Cool Crooners

The Cool Crooners of Bulawayo is an internationally-acclaimed group of vocalists who have taken Zimbabwean township music to the world.

The group’s music is light, polished and old-school.

They combine perfect harmonies performed in a seamless manner, a brass section, rhythm and electric guitar.

Singing in Ndebele, mbaqanga is the main body of their music.

They then improvise to give it bounce and swing, fusing it with jazz.

This music was spawned in the 50s when African townships were bursting with creativity.

Musicians mixed Western sounds with African rhythms and traditional chants.

This way, The Cool Crooners created a laid-back, cool sound that is uniquely Zimbabwean.

They explore the themes of the liberation struggle, prison, and the youth absorbing Western culture at the expense of African traditions, poverty and the reality of migrant workers, police raids, love and sorrow.

There are also lighter themes on township life at weekends and how cellular technology has transformed the way people communicate.

The Cool Crooners’ music has captured the hearts of many jazz enthusiasts around the world.

The group has to date recorded and released Isilato (2006), Bulugwe Lami (2002) and Blue Sky (2001).

Their music is relaxing and easy to listen to.

Their most popular songs include Blue Sky (a notorious South African prison), Bulugwe Lami (My Trousers), Umkhulu lo Msebenzi (A tough job ahead of us), Gubuzela (Mugger), Cell Phone, Itshomi Yami (My Friend) and Baleka Mfana (Run Away, Boy).

On their last album, Isilato, The Cool Crooners incorporated the excellent vocal talents of Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana to produce a rare work of art.

Prudence heralds the arrival of a new generation on the township music scene.

Now in their late 60s and early 70s, The Cool Crooners can still pack a powerful punch in a live performance.

Their set at this year’s Harare Jazz Festival was elegant and explosive.

They left the audience calling for an encore.

They were the only group that came back on stage to perform one more song after their time was up.

They are the true masters of township jazz.

Their act has attracted capacity crowds at festivals and venues across Europe and North America.

They have performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Palco Festival (Nyon, Switzerland), in San Sebastian (Spain), in Cannes (France) and in New York’s Central Park.

With music careers spanning from the 1950s, the resilient musicians have set a foot in both the past and the present.

The band, as we know it today, is made up of the surviving members of The Cool Four and The Golden Delicious Rhythm Crooners. In that bygone era of unmatched creativity, the groups were fierce but friendly rivals.

Their artistry and polished acts made them very popular and won them a lot of contests in Bulawayo and Harare.

The Cool Four mastered stage performance with their unmatched dance moves – the footwork style.

The Golden Delicious Rhythm Crooners, on the other hand, were masters of harmonies and vocal instrumentation.

When the survivors came together to form The Cool Crooners in the 90s, these two characteristics were blended and fine-tuned to create the polished act we now know today.

In the early days, they drew inspiration from the legendary Manhattan Brothers, Miriam Makeba, the Mills Brothers, the Woody Woodpeckers and Dolly Rathebe.

They were also influenced by the swing and soul of Harlem’s golden age to produce a unique interpretation of jazz using Ndebele, Zulu and Swahili.

In the 60s the musicians used their music to ignite the flame of the struggle for independence and to protest colonial injustice as espoused in the Rhodesian government’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence of 1965.

At the same time, Zimbabwean nationalists escalated the liberation struggle. Members of The Cool Four and The Golden Delicious Rhythm Crooners joined and participated in the struggle in various ways.

Some went into exile while others were jailed.

A member of the group, Abel Sithole, had this to say:

“The Organisation of African Unity (now known as African Union) told us to fight for the liberation of our country.

So I joined and went for training.

I did my military service for a year-and-a-half.

At the same time, they asked me to leave the frontline to go and collect funds to free Zimbabwe.

I was captured.

The judge condemned me to death, which was later changed to an 18- year prison sentence.”

Sithole was released at independence after serving 10 years of his sentence.

The song Blue Sky was inspired by the hardships he endured in a Rhodesian prison.

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