y the time Kate Bush called Zeke Manyika to ask if he would drum on her new record, he had already helped reinvent one great band of the Eighties and launch two more.
There was Orange Juice, Scottish indie’s consummate cosmopolitans. There was his playing on the first singles by the Style Council, Paul Weller’s group after the Jam. And there was his work on Soul Mining, the debut album by his friend Matt Johnson as the The. Manyika’s show-stopping tom-tom solo on the closer of Soul Mining, called “Giant,” is what got Kate Bush’s attention. She could hear him already on a track in her head with drums at the very front, a driving tempest of a song that didn’t yet have a name. Only later would she decide on “Running Up That Hill.”
Manyika didn’t believe the little voice on the other end of the line was really Kate Bush, and not a prank call from Johnson.
He hung up on her, twice.
“And when it rang for a third time,” Manyika remembers, “I thought, ‘Oh, my God, I may be wrong here.’”
He arrived one surreal day in 1984 to East Wickham Farm, a country villa and recording studio outside London, to find Bush and her parents waiting to greet him at the door. Then he saw the dogs: “These dogs just kept silently bounding towards me — and they’re huge dogs. I remember her laughing and her mum going ‘Don’t worry, they’re friendly, they like you,’ and me standing there, shaking, thinking ‘Oh, my God, I’m being attacked by Kate Bush’s two dogs!’”
There are many reasons why someone might have what Manyika calls a “dubious relationship with dogs.” His reason was Rhodesia. In that white supremacist tyranny, where he grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, the authorities used dogs as tools of repression and terror. “They’re called Rhodesian Ridgebacks,” he says, “which they used to set on us when we were school kids, or during demonstrations, things like that.”
It turned out that Kate Bush’s dogs, her “Hounds of Love,” were friendly. The drummer spent four remarkable days recording there. “It was just like hanging out with a really lovely family. Her mom made all the meals, and when we got a break we’d go into the big kitchen and sit around the big table. Lovely people. Just really down to earth.” He says that Bush even consulted him about lyrics. “You know that line she sings, ‘I made a deal with God’? She wasn’t sure about that. I said ‘No, Kate, that’s a very strong line — you’ve got to keep it in!’”
Manyika’s talent brought him to the center of some of the Eighties’ most forward-thinking records. His c.v. is a playlist of uncommon range and originality that spans five decades, from work with leading lights of his generation in British pop through two pathbreaking, genre-bending solo albums and an ongoing second act as a vocalist and songwriter for dance records by the DJ duo Faze Action and the rising French producer Folamour. He is the sort of clutch professional whose collaborators exhale when he enters a studio, knowing already that, as Robin Lee of Faze Action tells RS, “everything that comes out is gold.”
But there’s another story of how Zeke Manyika got to East Wickham Farm, and how, for that matter, his voice has filled festival lawns and the floors of clubs to this day.
It’s a story about a student who left home, an exile who found companions among stylish young artists and made his way as a working musician determined that his journey would be his own.
And never mind, for the moment, that he has not seen a cent from last summer’s phenomenal rediscovery of “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” That’s part of the story, too.
MANYIKA NOW LIVES in the seaside town of Bexhill, on the channel coast of England. Last summer, his wife, Gina, contracted a mild case of Covid, so he checked into a nearby holidayers’ hotel while she isolated. He and Gina were calling each other a lot — she wondered if he was eating right — and boredom led him to buy a guitar (“which I really don’t need”). Seagulls cawed outside. He was looking out at the water from his room when he began to talk about how music “plays a huge role for all Zimbabweans, but it was particularly useful for us when it was Rhodesia.”
Manyika is Shona, born in Marondera and raised in the Midlands in Gweru, about halfway between Zimbabwe’s two biggest cities, Harare and Bulawayo. His parents, Kennedy and Rahab Manyika, were teachers. He spent his youth living through the ordeal of Rhodesia, a white fantasy of permanent domination and theft that could not last. But “there was always singing,” he remembers.
As a young teacher in the countryside, Zeke’s father had led school choirs in an innovative, terrifically popular kind of vocal performance that blended Christian hymns with African styles. Kennedy Manyika was known as a beautiful singer in his own right. In the mining town of Kwekwe, the trio he formed with other teachers, Hip Hip Rhythm Brothers, headlined a benefit so well-attended that its proceeds established a scholarship fund to support the education of two children from the community every year.
But as an older man, a schoolmaster, Kennedy Manyika was wary of his children taking too much interest in music. Instruments were not allowed in the house. “In Rhodesia, especially in a teaching family,” Zeke says, “Black people saw education as the only way out for their children, and anything else as a distraction — a road to ruin.”
Away at boarding school, Zeke would stay up late listening to the transistor radio that made its rounds between the boys’ houses. On those airwaves, he could hear balladeers who crooned like the Nashville baritone Jim Reeves, “but Africanizing it by singing in Shona.” There was American gospel and rumba from the Congo, the BBC World Service, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. “Creedence Clearwater Revival were a very influential band on me,” he says. Above all were the artists from neighboring South Africa: Hugh Masekela, Spokes Mashiyane, Letta Mbulu, Miriam Makeba, Mahotella Queens. “They were our big stars.”
In school theater he found a channel for his creativity and his growing political consciousness. The plays he mounted with friends contained subversive allegories, and just performing them risked violating Rhodesian anti-riot laws that forbade assemblies of Black people. “What we were doing wasn’t directly political,” he later told an interviewer, “but you couldn’t help being political in that atmosphere. Every time you told the truth you were being political.”
His parents were concerned. Boys their son’s age were crossing the border to Zambia and Mozambique to fight with nationalist guerrillas, or they were being jailed and tortured for protesting at home. A family friend, a Scottish woman, offered to make arrangements for him to finish his education in Glasgow.
This was the “way out” Manyika’s parents wanted for him, but a course of study awaited that would surprise all of them.
IN GLASGOW IN THE SEVENTIES, Manyika found a poor city, “very macho, a lot of football hooliganism between Rangers and Celtic, which was very odd.” He felt welcome there, even though small children would point at him in the street, transfixed by the first Black person they had ever seen. “It was never offensive,” he says. “More curious, you know what I mean?”
Soon he’d found a white drum kit in the window of McCormack’s Music Shop on Bath Street. He learned his trade in smoky pubs on bills next to acts who covered Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Eagles. After a few years, he had to choose between school or rock & roll. He dropped out, knowing full well what this would mean to his parents back home.
He had already thrown his passport away, because “there was no way the Rhodesians were going to allow me back in.” He became, in effect, stateless, though Rhodesia had never been a state for Black people to begin with. Even after Zimbabwe won its independence in 1980, leaving Scotland made no sense for him. He had built a life there, and it was an exciting time to be a musician in that city for those who didn’t mind living threadbare and bohemian.
Others were doing it. There were the guys who had a record label called Postcard, run out of a flat on West Princes Street.
He had seen them traipsing around town, looking a bit like princes themselves in their old-fashioned suit jackets and fringe haircuts. Manyika was fascinated. “I thought, ‘These guys are so cool!’ They were just so different in a macho city, you know what I mean? They were just so camp. That takes quite a lot of courage, that kind of fearlessness.”
Their band’s music was unusual. They sounded like the Velvet Underground and Motown and Buzzcocks and Chic, and a bit like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jim Reeves, even. Orange Juice were a kind of “avant-garde boy band,” says Stephen McRobbie, whose group the Pastels emerged out of the indie scene that Postcard Records created in Glasgow.
In late 1981, Orange Juice seemed poised to achieve as much as any indie band could hope to, but a split left them in need of a drummer and in sight of a new opportunity. With the addition of guitarist Malcolm Ross — a missionary’s son who was born near Rhodesia in the British colony of Nyasaland, now Malawi — they had the chance to remake themselves as a tighter, more professional act with an honest shot at the charts. Edwyn Collins, the band’s witty, winsome crooner, asked Manyika to audition on drums. He sailed through.
Bassist David McClymont had dreamed of a drummer who would click with him “like the Bowie rhythm section,” he says. “Dennis Davis, George Murray, Carlos Alomar. That was the feel that I really wanted to get, that kind of loose but also tight, and funky. Zeke had all those qualities. He just seemed perfect.”
Manyika “didn’t really know much about Orange Juice,” McClymont remembers. “That was good, too. No preconceptions about the group and what we were.” With his pre-punk chops and open musical mind, Manyika was comfortable trying new things, Ross says, “things that people from our background would’ve gone, ‘Oh, that’s not going to be very cool to make a record like that’ — that didn’t come into it with him.” Orange Juice became “more cosmopolitan, in a way.”
Other musicians in town took notice, including a drummer named Craig Ferguson who had never been much impressed with Orange Juice and the “cool kids’ table” of Postcard — and who, in another life a couple of decades later, would host his own late-night talk show in the United States. When Ferguson met Manyika in a pub one night and they hit it off talking shop, drummer-to-drummer, he realized he might have gotten Orange Juice all wrong: “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, they can’t be that bad — if he’s the drummer,” Ferguson tells RS.
In the studio for Orange Juice’s next album, Rip It Up, “we had that sense of a new beginning,” McClymont says. Collins’ willingness to try new ideas and share the spotlight, to really “rip it up and start again,” made the album one of the era’s brashest pop experiments.
“It’s difficult to convey now quite how different this version of the band was,” says Mat Osman, a fan in these years who went on to co-found one of the most acclaimed British groups of the Nineties, Suede. “I don’t think there’s a better indication of how far Zeke took them from their roots than ‘Hokoyo.’”
That song, along with the disco rave-up “A Million Pleading Faces,” featured Manyika on lead vocals, singing in Shona. Collins was “pushing me to put my voice in there,” Manyika remembers. “There was pushback from some of the early fans of Orange Juice, obviously. It was new territory for them. But that’s one of the reasons why I love Edwyn, because he was so brave. He knew he wanted to do something. I think he just thought, ‘I’ve got this other aspect in my band now, why wouldn’t I use it? Why wouldn’t I go there?’ And that was Edwyn’s attitude all the time.”
The album carried a single, “I Can’t Help Myself,” that joined McClymont and Manyika ball-and-socket behind Collins — loose, tight, and funky — plus the album’s title track, a hit at last. This was when Manyika’s phone started to ring with invitations from Paul Weller, Matt Johnson, Marc Almond, Kate Bush.
There was one problem for Orange Juice: Their drummer had no passport. Caught in the red tape of three countries, one of them brand-new and another no longer existent, Manyika risked losing everything if he left the U.K. “That was always a tension” in the group, Ross remembers. Manyika offered to rehearse a touring drummer for Orange Juice, but the rest of them refused. “In some ways, I think I should have just really put my foot down and insisted on that happening,” he says, “because it sort of stifled Orange Juice’s career.”
Orange Juice never became as popular as the Smiths or the Cure, but they made the records that only they could have made — which is more than can be said for many of the groups who “aped what they thought was the Orange Juice DNA,” as Mat Osman puts it. For Ray Aggs, who as a member of Shopping, Trash Kit, and Sacred Paws makes a lot of the most invigorating music coming out of Glasgow today, the appeal of Orange Juice has always been the cocktail, not the concentrate. “Listening to those records, I really related to the amount of funkiness and just obvious influence of other cultures that aren’t Western pop or British guitar music,” they say. “This is a band listening to many different global sounds and really excited about finding a groove.”
Keir Starmer also embraced the experimentation. The current leader of Britain’s Labour Party has been an Orange Juice fan since his student years in the early Eighties. “I kept up with them through all the albums and various different genres,” he tells RS in a break between afternoon meetings.
The Postcard era of Orange Juice usually “gets the coverage,” McClymont says, “but you know, there was an awful lot of good about the second group which doesn’t really get said.”
Dennis Bovell, the legendary producer who recorded the last two Orange Juice records, agrees. “I’ve been listening back to our days together,” he says. “Ah, there are some awesome tunes, man. And to think that Zeke played all those without a metronome. He was the metronome.”
IN 1985, THE YEAR that “We Are the World” and Live Aid paired images of desperate Africans with heroic pop stars, Zeke Manyika had a solo album to release. “My stuff will always be a bit weird,” he admitted to an interviewer. “I’m just as amazed as any British person is by African music. I’ve been here ten years and it now sounds a lot different because I’m looking at it from the outside. But, at the same time, when I start to react to it my African influences come across, from the inside.”
A cross-genre traveler in the studio himself, Dennis Bovell recognized what Manyika was up to with his collaborators: “He was known as a real tight drummer, but then for him to say to them, ‘You know, my rhythms stretch further than just playing pop music, I’m actually a rhythm addict’ — he started to unleash the rhythms that he felt comfortable playing, Southern African style. And he made a fusion of that, which was, at that time, unheard of.”
Building on tracks like “Hokoyo” and “Giant,” Manyika experimented with that fusion on the solo LP Call and Response. The record showcased his ear for pop melody, but neither the label nor the music press knew what to do with it, according to the bassist Camelle Hinds. “Polydor at the time, they weren’t really pushing as they should,” says Hinds, who plays on Call and Response and credits Manyika with helping to keep his career afloat after the end of his band Central Line.
Just a year later, Paul Simon’s Graceland proved how winning — and how controversial — African music could be in Western markets. Manyika was conflicted: He shared the indignation of groups like Artists Against Apartheid, who condemned Simon for bypassing the cultural boycott of South Africa. He also couldn’t help but admire the project for unlatching a door he knew was ready to be opened. “Musically,” he says, Graceland “was a triumph, obviously.”
Manyika knew he “had to do a political album about apartheid. It was just something I had to get out of my system.” Simon’s gumbo included Louisiana zydeco and the Everly Brothers, but Manyika was sampling different ingredients, “hanging out with people from all sorts of musical backgrounds” in London in the second half of the Eighties. He listened to dance records and West African electronic and industrial music like West Berlin’s Einstürzende Neubauten. He was looking for points of connection.
Cut to 1988. The Beira Corridor, a roughly 200-mile stretch of road, railway, and pipeline connecting landlocked Zimbabwe to the Indian Ocean through Mozambique, full of landmines and under threat by apartheid-backed rebels of the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO), was not an obvious place to film a music video.
Manyika argued his case to Mozambican authorities that the Corridor was perfect for “Bible Belt,” the lead single from his new anti-apartheid record, Mastercrime. No place more vividly represented the resolve of Africans working across borders to see the liberation of the continent through to the end. Not only did Mozambique grant Manyika’s appeal, they lent him a train, a military helicopter, and an armed security detail. The resulting video is astounding even three decades on.
“It’s such a beautiful, powerful song,” says Sharon Manyika, Zeke’s niece, who still remembers the impression the video made on her as a child in Gweru. Sharon is also a musician, an award-winning gospel singer now living in South Africa. She’s never forgotten the chorus: “Mwari ndewe vanhu vese, vese vese vatema nevachena.” God is for everyone, everyone, Black and white. Even if you can’t parse the lyrics, Sharon says, “it just hits you in a certain way. I think that’s what they mean when they say music is a universal language.”
Manyika seized on a moment when labels were buying stock in “world music” and made a record with a truly expansive sound — dance, funk, R&B, rock, industrial, choral — and a direct political message. The budget for videos was crucial. “We were very keen to have a counter-narrative to that whole idea that Africa is this kind of basket case where people could not do anything for themselves,” he says.
Released in 1989, Mastercrime spoke to a world under rapid revision, inviting listeners to join in the excitement of apartheid’s inevitable collapse without papering-over hard political realities or downplaying that moment’s special significance for Africans and the African diaspora. “You could almost see the end of that chapter. You could see the possibility of it,” Manyika says. “And a lot of the energy was coming from other people outside of the Black culture, understanding what was going on and giving their support to it and saying, ‘No, this is out of order. This has got to change.’”
In December 1989, Manyika found himself in freezing Poland, playing the Gdańsk Shipyard on a bill of London reggae musicians invited by the trade union Solidarność (Solidarity) for a gig in support of the anti-apartheid movement. When a troop of furious fascists arrived, the show stopped and something remarkable happened: “The whole audience just turned around,” Manyika remembers, “and started singing a Polish song — to this day I don’t know what song it was — and clapping their hands and stomping their feet and just shamed them out of the room… And then the show went on.”
Despite its undeniable vision, Mastercrime did not bring Manyika international stardom. He appealed to his label to release it in the United States to no avail. The American listeners Manyika hoped to reach with the “Bible Belt” video never had the chance to see it.
A few years later, Manyika was at a restaurant in Shoreditch, London, when Dali Tambo, the son of African National Congress leader Oliver Tambo and founder of Artists Against Apartheid, approached his table and extended his hand. The ANC was well aware of Manyika’s work, he remembers Tambo explaining. “Bible Belt” had been popular with young activists in South Africa ever since the ANC began using the video as an educational resource. If he ever wanted to perform there, a warm reception awaited him. Manyika was stunned. His call had found a response after all.
IT WAS ONLY AFTER Zimbabwe won independence that Manyika learned the extent of his father’s activities during the war. The headmaster and former choir director, who had been so concerned about the safety of his eldest son, worked as a key organizer for the nationalist resistance all along. For years, the Rhodesians had harassed Kennedy Manyika and threatened his life. He went on organizing in the countryside, sending books to comrades languishing in prison, and educating his students to be ready for the day when the land would return to them and they would finally govern themselves.
So it came as a surprise to Zeke when in 1982, the same year Orange Juice made Rip It Up, the new Zimbabwean government promoted his father from school headmaster to the nation’s first ambassador to Yugoslavia. While Zeke was drumming on television, his father was helping a new country gain its footing on the international stage.
What was Zeke doing in Britain, exactly? His parents weren’t totally sure. Then one day a call came from “some big guy in the Zimbabwean government,” Manyika remembers. The official had been in a car from Heathrow to central London when he “saw all these posters of my name, when the first single from Call and Response, ‘Heaven Help Us,’ came out,” in 1985. “He called my dad and said, ‘Isn’t that your son? He’s all over London. There’s posters of him.’”
This caught Kennedy Manyika’s attention. During his next trip to London, on official business, he decided to stop by his son’s band practice.
“So he popped over, and then he enjoyed himself so much, watching the band rehearsing, he canceled his meetings or postponed them, and he started coaching the guys,” Manyika remembers. “A couple of the guys were English and they were singing in Shona, and he started coaching them on how to pronounce it properly.”
And “that was the day, really,” when the distance between Zeke and his father separated them no more — all tension resolved in the unlikely scene of Kennedy Manyika as choirmaster once again, a teacher and diplomat, gently correcting his son’s band on the right way to sing his language.
WHEN MANYIKA FINISHED recording with Kate Bush at East Wickham Farm in 1984, he left her dogs and the fans waiting outside and returned to London, never to hear from her again except for a brief note, something about a change of direction in favor of some custom drums made by her brother, Paddy. “It’s a strange one,” he says. “I’m still not sure what happened there.” (A representative for Bush did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.)
Stuart Elliott, who is the credited drummer on “Running Up That Hill,” tells RS that Bush sent him a demo cassette prepared by Del Palmer, her engineer, to review before he entered the studio. On that tape was a programmed drum track that Elliott then replicated live in the studio, adding the fills himself. He never saw Manyika. “It was strictly a one-at-a-time affair, working with Kate as producer,” he says.
Manyika’s Orange Juice bandmate Malcolm Ross wonders if money came between them: “I remember [Zeke] asked me, he said, ‘I don’t know how much I should charge.’ And I said, ‘It’s Kate Bush, y’know — charge a lot.’”
Is this an all-too-familiar story — one of the very oldest in rock & roll, in fact — of a musician getting pushed out of a song he has a claim to have helped create?
Manyika doesn’t think so. “There are no issues there,” he says. He had fun, he got paid, and he got a great story out of it. “There’s a slight pinch when I hear it. I think, ‘Oh, my God, I love this track!’ But I’m pleased for her. She’s a lovely lady.”
For Manyika, collaboration is “a two-way thing, really. I look at it, I suppose, as a gift, and also as someone opening a door for me into a world, or another culture, which is exactly what I’ve been doing all my musical career.”
As for Orange Juice, four decades after Rip It Up there are no signs the band will reunite. Last summer, Malcolm Ross listened to “Rip It Up” for the first time in years after his wife put it on by surprise. It sounded better than he remembered. David McClymont is still making music from his home in Australia, but a rhythm section like the one he made with Manyika doesn’t come around often in a career. “I kind of think, for me, he was the perfect drummer,” he says.
IN BEXHILL-ON-SEA, perhaps at this very moment, Zeke Manyika is at work on more music.
These days, he reaches listeners around the world as the secret weapon of any producer who can get him. His collaborations with Simon and Robin Lee of Faze Action go back 25 years now; last summer, they released Maswera, the last in a series of four kaleidoscopic dance EPs that draw on disco, house, Balearic, Latin, and African influences. The records are deeply personal. For the EP called Sununguka, Manyika included his niece, Sharon, the gospel singer (“I was just so excited,” she says, “and I just went crazy in the studio”). He sings in whichever language suits the rhythm. The Lees still remember the look of sheer befuddlement on the face of a Warner Brothers executive when they played him “Kariba,” with Shona lyrics, at a high-rise Manhattan office in the Nineties. The brothers were undeterred — assuming, correctly, that Manyika’s voice would find its floors to fill.
A couple of years ago, a French DJ named Folamour called Manyika after hearing Faze Action’s “Mangwana.” Folamour could hear him already on a track in his head, a song about the feeling of leaving home and about immigration, “a topic I always have in mind,” he says, “because of the story of my family leaving Algeria to come to France.” Unlike Kate Bush before him, Folamour didn’t want Manyika’s drumming. He wanted his voice.
Released in summer 2021, “The Journey” is a poignant meditation on rootlessness by two musicians born 35 years apart. Still early on his own path, Folamour looks to Manyika as a model for what’s possible in a career: “It’s always really impressive to me to imagine that Zeke was an Orange Juice member 40 years ago, and now he’s doing something really modern and groovy and something that a young crowd can dance [to]. And nobody would think that this guy was the drummer from this band from the Eighties.” Every time Manyika has made a stylistic move, he says, “it’s always with so much taste, and so much reason, and so much groove.”
In the last year Manyika has recorded two tracks for the Italian producers Aura Safari, who revere his “incredible versatility as a vocalist,” says the group’s Lorenzo Lavoratori. No doubt, there is more to come with these and other collaborators.
Most exciting, though, are Manyika’s designs for a new album of his own, which would be his first in more than 30 years, “I can sense it, I can feel it, I can hear it,” he says. “It’s not there yet, but it’s going to be the album.” Just what the record will sound like — and who else might appear on it — is anyone’s guess. At the moment, he says, “I hear a lot of choral voices.”
In 2021, Manyika returned to Zimbabwe to bury his father in Gweru. Kennedy Manyika had long since retired from a distinguished career as a diplomat and peace broker, but when he passed, Zeke says, “in some ways he was a very, very broken man.” He was anguished by the misrule of former leader Robert Mugabe, an old comrade he’d known at teachers’ training college. “They don’t take advice from people like me anymore,” Zeke remembers his father saying more than once. After Kennedy Manyika died, Zimbabwe honored him with the state title of Liberation Hero. He was 99.
Rhodesia still haunts the world. From the gutter circuits of the internet, its flag will surface on the jackets and tactical vests of white supremacists from South Africa to South Carolina.
“They feed into each other,” Manyika says, his voice heating as he talks of these global fascists. “They get desperate, they look for validation.” He sees it as part of a wider problem with the right’s clinging to “a convenient nostalgia. A regressive fantasy for a world that doesn’t exist. Like a comfort blanket for them, this old world that was supposed to have been beautiful and glorious. It’s ridiculous.”
Zeke Manyika is not bothered very much about commercial success. He knows what it feels like when you play a huge show, like at Glastonbury, and you go to the audience “and you sing the line once or twice and then the next minute thousands of people are singing in a language they’ve never spoken before, and you just think: ‘That is the best of humanity.’ That faith, that togetherness of ‘I don’t care what language you’re singing in, you are another human being like me and we’re all going to sing together, because I know the things that you’re saying. I can relate to them to myself as well.’”
“Do you understand?” he says. “That is a beautiful feeling.”