Wednesday 7 December 2011

Safirio Mukadota Madzikatire the Great

I was staying in Mvurwi when the late Safirio Mukadota Madzikatire used to come for performances. It was at the height of the war and his son Elijah Madzikatire was at his peak singing Vana Tinogumbura and Karate.
I was a small boy at the time. But I recall vividly every time Mukadota toured. His shows were called family shows. They were combos. There was music, sketches and drama. Sinoia "Manyowa" White would provide the Michael Jackson act while Elijah had a more serious musical act. During those days he would don colourful flowing robes. Then Mukadota himself and the late Elizabeth Katarina Taderera would come on with sketches.
Years later after the war, I would run into Mukadota – old and spent – sitting in the Africa Unity Square. At the time, there was talk that he had lost everything to gambling.
And some more years later, I would talk to his son Elijah who told me that his father made it difficult for him to continue with music. He said there were squabbles especially when Mukadota had realised that his days were numbered and that the son was going ahead.
And a few years back, I got what could be a complete picture of Mukadota when I spoke to Laina and Kenneth Mataka who had groomed the man that became one of Zimbabwe’s greatest ever comedians.
Both Laina and Kenneth spoke fondly of Mukadota whom they met in Mbare in the 40s and made sure that he had learnt as much to set him up in life.
Indeed, Mukadota had a very colourful life and career. He is one musician who teamed up with various other artists and then moved on.
Below is his life as told by the people he met or worked with.

Mukadota the great

If the late comedian, Safirio "Mukadota" Madzikatire were a road, many feet would have trudged that road to stardom.
And if indeed he were a road, it would have started sometime in the 1940s in the then Harare Township (Mbare) in general and Majubheki Lines in particular, where music resembled flowers growing in a neglected garden.
Way back then, Safirio was a pupil at Chitsere Primary School in Mbare but one whose life was steeped into the arts. Seeking guidance, he joined the only couple that was always there for many unnurtured talents - Kenneth and Lainah Mataka - in 1948.
"Safirio came to us when he was a child in 1948. He could neither playa guitar nor sing," Kenneth still recalls.
After the grooming in tap-dancing, guitar playing and stage work, Safirio left and became a nomadic comedian and solo guitarist following in the footsteps of many others at the time.
By 1953 when two BuIawayo-based Township jazz groups, Golden Rhythm Crooners and the Cool Four were touring the country, Safirio would mix with them as he blazed the way to stardom.
A Golden Rhythm Crooners member then, Timothy Sekane, who is now with the Cool Crooners, also remembers instances when they would meet Safirio during their tour of the then Salisbury (Harare).
Despite the fact that at the time there were popular groups such as the De Black Evening Follies and others, Safirio had his own place in the sun.
"The late Safirio Madzikatire was there, singing as a maskandi (solo guitarist). His favourite song was Ndatemwa Negogo," recalls Timothy.
Sometime then, Safirio met with the late Jordan Chataika, with whom he held joint shows as maskanda musicians.
In fact, Chataika recorded his debut seven single titled Vana Veisrael in 1961 with Safirio’s help.
“If you listen to that song,” Chataika’s sister, Molly Mungate, who later backed her brother said, “you will hear Safirio’s voice”.
Chataika, who today is regarded Zimbabwe's pioneer gospel artiste, had just moved into town from his home area Mhondoro.
When Chataika left to join the Great Sounds for a stint, Safirio, who had no instruments of his own, linked up with a group known as the Afro Jazz Fiesta. At the time, his son Elijah had matured enough to man the gates when he could not play any musical instrument.
In 1964, Safirio met Susan Chenjerai in the streets in Mbare.
Susan was singing the song Hondo YeChindunduma and Safirio being a great scout of talent readily identified the vast talents inherent in Susan, who had also passed through the capable hands of Kenneth and Lainah Mataka
That meeting heralded the beginning of a creative relationship that would last 20 years and leave an indelible mark on Zimbabwean arts industry.
Their first outfit together was called the Tanganda Tycoons and it focused on both sketches and music.
Besides Susan and Safirio, some of the members included guitarist Leo Chirenda, drummer Richard Saidi, dancing girls - Abigail Dhliwayo, Margret Sibindi, Gladys Motsi and a South African, Emery.
This was the group that backed Susan and Safirio in their duet of her composition, Isaac Hauchandida Here in 1967.
By 1971, the Tanganda Tycoons disbanded and Safirio went on the road again while Susan, who had found a job with a supermarket chain, took a break.
This time, Safirio went to the Skyline Motel, just on the outskirts of Harare along Masvingo Road, where he met Phillip Svosve for the first time with whom he would meet twice again in less than 10 years.
Svosve belonged to the group Delight that was resident at the motel and it was this group that Safirio later took charge of after negotiating with Bernard Mpofu, who owned the instruments.
"I first met Mudhara Safmo at the Skyline Motel. I am not sure whether he had just split from the Thnganda Tycoons or the Afro-Jazz Fiesta but he brought Chirenda, Saidi and his dancing girls," Svosve revealed.
"He was into drama as well as music and had recorded a number of singles. But after three weeks with him, we felt we had had enough. We dumped him after Mpofu had won another contract at the Feathers Hotel in Mabe1reign.
"Safirio retained his members minus instruments.
He had to hire some from a Mbare businessman, Kenneth 'Mr Bond' Chogugudza."
This was when Safirio founded the sea Cottage Sisters that moved with the Ocean City Band and at the same time started a radio programme known as Mhuri YavaMakore that featured, besides himself, Susan, Elijah and Susan’s late daughter Patricia.
Webster Shamu produced the programme that was later taken over by the late Patrick BAnjira when the former had left for the liberation war.
When the programme became a hit, it was adapted for television and a disagreement between the producers resulted in a change of name from Mhuri YaVaMukadota in 1972.
Mukadota, according to interviews given by Susan over the years, was a comical character from her village. And Safirio became Mukadota while Susan was Amai Rwizi with Elijah being Rwizi.

Other characters cropped up. These were the late Absaiom. Mangota (Baba VaPhineas), Cathrine Madzore (Machipisa), Juliet Masunda '(Amai Phineas), Boniface Chinemo (Bonnie) and much later John Muyambo (Chibhodhoro), who came from the Great Sounds among others.
With his sea Cottage Sisters and Ocean City Band, Safirio, who was known then as Mukadota, became a scout for great talent wherever he went to play.
In mid-1970s, he lured Muyambo and the contortionist Simanga "Mashura" Ndlovu to enrich his multifaceted group.
One of Safirio’s richest finds was the late Elizabeth "Katarina" Taderera, whom he found in Mutare during one of his tours in 1977. Katarina became a reliable partner on both stage and television during the Mhuri YaVaMukadota drama series.
Then there was Sinoia "Manyowa" White too, who was discovered after Safirio had asked a group of boys in Mvurwi to dance.
“I was a specialist in robot dance, that Michael Jackson kind of dance. In 1979 when Mudhara Mukadota toured Mvurwi he asked us to dance. After the dance, he gave me his address and invited me to Harare,” Manyowa, who later joined Safirio and spent seven years with him, said.
In the early 1980s, both the Ocean City and sea Cottage Sisters started to flounder after in-fighting over money. Svosve, who had rejoined the group, and other members of group left Safirio and Elijah, whose musical career had taken off well, in a lurch when they left with the name Ocean City Band.
Katarina teamed up with Comrade Chinx's Mazana Movement while Safirio put together a new outfit, the Brave Sun. But it was not the same any more since this outfit too faltered, leading to the formation of the New World Band, which however, failed to bring back the good old days for Safirio.
Other artistes who were discovered by Safirio were the late Tobias Areketa, the late George Pada and Fidelis Cheza who was known then as Chikwama and Danger of Studio 263. Fidelis remembers his time with Safirio:
“He had seen me at work at the Le Coc d’or (a defunct night club in Harare) and sent for me in 1983. Because I had always wanted to act, I agreed.”
Indeed these people are not the only ones that remember Safirio, but the nation does too.

Four Brothers one group that suffered death

The closest I got to the late Marshall Munhumumwe was meeting his son, Marshall Munhumumwe Jnr. The young dude came to complain about an article I had written where I said that he had destroyed his father’s band. In the article, I discussed Fred, James Chimombe’s son and the Tazvidas.
At the time – 2006 – Marshall Jnr – was running some butchery in Seke and Fred too had opened some grocery store in Goromonzi.
When I explained to him that he had fought James Nyamande, the man who could have kept his father’s legacy alive, Marshall Jnr threatened to sue me. I dared him. Until today, he hasn’t.
I also met and spent time with James Nyamande, the man who could have revived and perpertuated the Four Brothers’ legacy. He is a humble man who believed that he had what it takes to push on the Four Brothers ahead into the future. But somehow riding on borrowed fame does not take you far. James never made it into the future.
The last time I saw him was during a show in the Harare Gardens. It was supposed to be a great show but the stage and attire marred the show.
I recall writing about the poor performance and the man came to see me, tears standing in his eyes. I have no doubt that with his silence today James has tears in his eyes. He real wanted the Four Brothers dream to live.

Four Brothers: Fallen giant

While the now defunct Four Brothers were born of the remains of another great band - The Great Sounds - in 1977 there are no signs of another band growing big from its remains.
In fact, the Makombe Brothers led by James Nyamande should have been the tree that got its life from the manure provided by the death of the Four Brothers but that did not work and the once mighty foursome’s legacy is to remain a legacy with no heir to perpetuate it.
Seeking a permanent group, the three - Marshall Ticharwa Munhumumwe, Alex Phiri Chipaika and Never Mutare - co-founders of what later came to be known as the Four Brothers met by chance just when the Great Sounds was dying.
First to appear on the scene was Chipaika who came to join the Great Sounds after the departure of John "Chibhodhoro" Muyambo, who went to join the late Safirio "Mukadota" Madzikatire's group around 1978.
Phiri had met the Great Sounds in Highfield at Mutanga Night Club while Munhumumwe and Mutare hitched on the dying group in Chitungwiza where they played at the Chikwanha Hotel.
These were the people who renegotiated for the renewal of the Great Sounds contract with Chikwanha Hotel management after Banda's departure.
Although they were awarded the contract, the trio could not continue using the name Great Sounds that had been formed some 10 years earlier by Elias Banda, Daram Karanga, Grant Ndowa, Moses Kabubi, Pius Makokoba and Elias Chimwara.
Banda and Karanga had just left the Thomas Mapfumo-led Springfields in which they had belonged together with the nomadic stars - Madzikatire and Susan Chenjerai.
Munhumumwe had had stints with groups such as the Black Jack before teaming up with Thomas Mapfumo, the late Jonah Sithole and Leonard Chiyangwa in Mutare to form the Blacks Unlimited that disbanded after Jonah's departure for Harare where he founded The Storm.
The other three members also headed for Harare where Mapfumo joined the Pied Pipers at Mushandirapamwe Hotel and Chiyangwa went to join the Acid Band, a group that• was playing at Mutanga across the road in Highfield.
Later, Mapfumo would join Chiyangwa at Mutanga and with time lead the Acid Band with which he released his earlier songs before reviving the Blacks Unlimited after Sithole's return to the fold.
Munhumumwe went out of town to join the Domboshava-based Mawonera Superstars that was owned by Mawonera Hotel and was led by the late Tineyi Chikupo in 1976.
While there, the group released the single, Kapfumo Kandibaya.
A year later, Munhumumwe was on the move again, this time back to Harare where he joined the Great Sounds before its demise.
Since they were three - Munhumumwe (drums), Alec (guitar) and Never (bass guitar) - they had to recruit a fourth member who was Frank Sibanda, the only surviving original founder of the Four Brothers today.
While the group got its name from being the foursome, they had by 1987 brought in another member, Edward Matiyasi, who played another guitar and in 1990, Albert Ruwizhi, drummer and vocalist, appeared on the scene.
Ruwizhi was a stand-in for the ailing Munhumumwe.
In fact, when the great vocalist's health failed him completely, Ruwizhi took over and even recorded an album Maminimini before he passed away ironically ahead of Munhumumwe in 1999. Robium Chauraya replaced Ruwizhi when he passed away but he also died two years later thereby opening the way for Nyamande, another drummer and vocalist from Kwekwe in 2001 after Tymon Mabaleka of Gramma who produced both the Four Brothers and Makombe Brothers had seen it wise to incorporate him.
Nyamande's musical curriculum vitae included stints with Dawn Groovers, Livewire and Pengaudzoke where he played drums in 1993.
Before being called to put on Munhumumwe's shoes, Nyamande had in 1997, together with Juweti Mujajati, Evans Vheremu, Philemon Sakala and Simba Ndowa founded his own group, the Makombe Brothers that was based in Kwekwe.
The group release two albums, Mudyandigere and Pfuma Yenhaka in 1997 and 1998 respectively.
However, Nyamande's stay with Four Brothers was not a rosy one because of numerous squabbles he encountered with Marshall Munhumumwe (Junior),
Among these was the claim that Nyamande was copying his father's music. But Nyamande, who says he had a natural liking for the Four Brothers from an early age, gives the main reason for their endless rows on poor remuneration.
Described by many people, as poetic and gifted, Munhumumwe would dig deep into literature from where he came up with lyrics for most of his songs. His source for brilliant songs such as Vimbai, Rugare, Siya Zviriko, Zuro Chisara and Pfimbi Yema Shoko were poems written by the late Aaron Chivaura.
One of their best albums during the group's heydays was Tonosangana Ikoko that carries songs composed by Patrick Mukwamba in 1990. Some of the hits on the album are Bonasi and Usanyare Basa Raunoita.
Besides this, the group was among the first to tour Europe and participate during the WOMAD Festival in England in 1988.
The group also toured Japan with Clive Malunga in 2002 after Munhumumwe's death.
That Munhumumwe and the Four Brothers were one of Zimbabwe's most prominent groups is doubtless and that its death will not give life to another equally popular group is also doubtless.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

He-e Tazvida Wezhira irombe

The Growth Point Music maker who made it big and broke into the hearts of the urban dweller

There are, mostly probably, two known Zimbabwean musicians who made a name from ridiculing themselves and their humorous approach to social issues.
There was Kenneth Chigodora of Sisi Dori fame and then System Tazvida. Both are late.
Although I met Chigodora in his last days and tried to prop him back into the business, I never met System but I met his brother Peter and Isaac. I have also met Lee Roy Kamusena Lunga who had a long-drawn battle for control of the band after Peter’s death in 2002.
I met Peter when they launched their album Rimi Remoto at the National Sports Stadium where the late Tsitsi Mawarire and Eric Knight were Emcees in 1999 after System’s death.
I spent a weekend with Isaac in Shamva when he performed at a bar there and he visited me on several occasions.
Like I said, System made his name by being himself. He tapped into his rural background and made music for his type of people. And that music was later embraced by those who saw themselves as being living outside System’s world.
By making music for the previously uncatered for, System created a very active market. Calling himself Rombe, System managed to break through urban barriers.
His first hit Mabhauwa where he was backed by the Khiama Boys that had Alick Macheso in the line-up was received by all. Also in the line-up were Tineyi Chikupo, Cephas Karushanga, Nicholas Zakaria, Ephraim Joe and Sailas Chakanyuka.
The song, Mabhauwa was written by Cephas Karushanga and given to System to sing. Later Karushanga and System left Khiama Boys to form Mabhauwa Express hoping to cash on the success of the song. But System did not last long with Karushanga when he left to join the Sungura Boys before setting up his band, Chazezesa Challengers in 1993, with the help of Peter who was playing with Nyami Nyami Sounds; Lunga from the Super Sounds and Kasongo Band; Lucky Mumiriki of Hurungwe Sounds and the Sungura Boys.
With Chazezesa Challengers, System who was born Fanuel Nyasha Tazvida in 1968 in Zaka became the voice of the voiceless while his mates nicknamed him System the microphone wizard.
The group’s debut seven single Vaforomani spoke about bad leadership and what power does to people. Accompanied with a humorous video, the song peaked high on the charts thereby launching System’s career.
System had a very humble beginning in the music industry when one day he chanced upon the Spiders during their show. They asked him if he could sing and he told that he was a reggae artist. They then gave him a chance to sing and he did much to delight of the fans. That launched his career which saw him churning one album per year.
All his albums had songs which taught but without rebuking. Rudo, Tsika Nemagariro (93); Rwendo Rweupenyu (94); Mutunhu Une Mago (95); Wadenha Mago (96); Wazosvorwa (97); and Huni Nyoro Mumoto (98) spoke about life.
Although most people tried to distance themselves from System’s music, they hopped back because he offered them another window through which they looked and laughed at themselves.
In the history of Zimbabwean music, System is also one of those who were organised. His band members were well catered for and he kept a happy intact group throughout his career.
But problems came when he died and then Peter too died leaving Isaac to take over.
Although Isaac was not a band member, he muscled his way in. I covered the row between Isaac and Lee Roy over the leadership of the band. In the end, Lee Roy had to leave and form his own group, Boyz DzeSena while Isaac struggled with Chazezesa.
One day I ran into him in Shamva when he was playing alongside Hosiah Chipanga at Shamva Bar. Although Isaac says that he helped System to put the band together and funded his brother, he does not have music in his veins.
Maybe he is unfortunate that his brothers who preceded him set a high standard which he can’t beat. Apart from delivery, Isaac has problems in management. At one time, I wrote about him losing instruments to a record company after failing to pay.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Maraire Trilogy - Chiwoniso

Chiwoniso Maraire died in Harare on 24 July 2013. She was 37. She died of lung infection. REST IN PEACE. For more on how Chiwoniso rose to stardom, you can check out on this blog The Band that made Chiwoniso Maraire as well as her father and mother's stories The Maraire Triology on this blog. - Wonder

I came face to face with Chiwoniso Maraire when she came to complain about a report we had carried in 2006. It was around 10 in the morning. I had attended a launch of her album in Greystone Park a few months earlier. And had attended another launch a few years back at the Alliance Francaise when she performed with her father a year before his death. This was long after a performance at the Harpers, Oasis Motel when she used to back Andy Brown.
When she visited the Herald, she was visibly angry. All she wanted was to be sought for a comment in the event such a report was to be written again. I managed to convince her though and she left.
But I recall how she spoke glowingly about her mother during the launch of Ancient Voices at the Alliance Francaise in 1998 before their performance with her father, Dumi. And when she performed the song Mai dedicated to Linda Nemarundwe, her mother who had passed away a year before, she moved the audience.


Sometimes I imagine I hear yo voice
In the trees whispering
Ahh… Ahh…
Mai, fambai zvakanaka (*1)
Mai, tichazomuona (*1)

Forever I remember your loving smile
Sunshine to my eyes
You had a spirit so full of joy
Ahh, the sweet surprise
I still find myself searching for your face
Though I know you’re gone
And its so hard to say goodbye
But I know it won’t be long
Mmm, til we ‘re together
I know it won’t be long
Mai, fambai zvakanaka
Mai, tichazomuwona
Sometimes I imagine I hear your voice
In the trees whispering

You had this way of understanding
Anything we say
Time was there whenever we needed
Oh anything we said
We search the whole world over for your smile
Though we know you’re gone
You will always be in our hearts
Oh, it won’t be long
No-no, till we’re together
No, it won’t be long
Mai, fambai zvakanaka
Mai, tichazomuwona
I imagine I hear your voice
Mai, tichazomuona
Mai, fambai zvakanaka
Mai, tichazomuwona

I also recall Dumi saying that Chi would crawl to the basement of their apartment in the US where he would be rehearsing for shows when she was just very young. He also said the girl would play around with mbira. And that at five, she showed an understanding of the music.
At 9, Chi recorded Tichazomuona with her father’s group Dumi & Minanzi. By 11 years, she was performing with her parents’ marimba band, Dumi & Minanzi 3. When she reached 14, Chi was a member of Mhuri yaMaraire alongside her sister and brother Tawona and Ziyanai.
At 15, the family returned to Zimbabwe where Chi enrolled at Mutare Girl’s High in 1990. A year later, while on holiday in Harare, she met Herbert Schwamborne and Tony Chihota who called themselves A Peace of Ebony. They were impressed with her performance and Chi was invited to join the group as the only female rapper.
POE, made up of Zimbabweans, German, American, Russian and Malawian, composed songs in Shona and English. The group’s hit, From a Native Tongue, rode high on the charts.
In 1994, the group composed Vadzimu for the Radio France International contest, ‘'Les Découvertes''.
At the time apart from Keith Farquhuarson, there were two others – Tendai Vikci and George Phiri as well as Karen Stally who came as a session musician.
The group won the Best New Group out of southern Africa award. They were then invited to Madagascar for a performance in Antananarivo for the finals where they were third.
Unfortunately, they split on their return to Zimbabwe. Chi was offered a contract by LusAfrica when she was already working with Andy Brown. She went on and recorded Ancient Voices.
After Andy Brown, she put together Vibe Culture. She has collaborated with Marie Boine, Brilliant, Kris Kristoffersen and Sinead O'Connor on the cd celebrating the 100th commemoration of the Nobel Peace Prize Awards, composing and performing for the UNDP Africa 2015 song project "Les Tams-Tams de l'Afrique" alongside Salif Keita, Habib Koite (Mali), Ishmael Lo, Youssou Ndour, Manu Dibango, Baaba Maal (Senegal), Achieng Abura (Kenya), Saintrick and Koffi Olomide (Congo).
She contributed to the Women Care cd recorded last year along with women artists from other African countries and from Norway.

Below is the interview she did with the Nordic Africa Institute

Chiwoniso Maraire was born 1976 in Olympia in Washington State in the United States, where her father Dumiso Maraire was studying and teaching music. She composes, writes lyrics, and plays mbira with her band Vibe Culture.

How did you become an mbira player?
I was born into a very musical family, both my parents were musicians. My father was an amazing mbira player, my mother was a beautiful singer, so I was surrounded by this music from my conception really because they used to teach classes in the house as well, so this music was always going on.
But at the same time they loved to listen to other people, so I grew up exposed to James Brown, Michael Jackson, Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Bach, Mozart, you name it, it was being played.
My early years until I was about eight were in Seattle, Washington, and it was a beautiful time. My parents were surrounded by all of these people of different origins, and a lot of American people as well, and they were just making beautiful music. And they wanted to know about Africa, they and the sound, so my parents were special in the community that we were living in. I started playing mbira when I was three.
When we came to Zimbabwe the first time I was about eight, and already by that time I knew I was different to the children around me because we always sort of lived in the suburbs, upper middle class, and I was going to schools where there is a lot of white Zimbabwean children, Indian Zimbabwean children and a small percentage of black Zimbabwean children. I was not in the environment where I would encounter other children my age that were playing mbira.
We lived here for about six years and then we went back to the States again because my Dad was finishing up his PhD in ethnomusicology. So once again I was surrounded by all these great musicians and academics and people that were deep into Africa and music in general. This is when I started performing on the stage, with my father, with songs that my Dad was writing.
It was when we came back when I was fifteen that I really started to come out as a composer and with my own songs, in 1991-1992. I was very nervous about bringing my music out. I had started building relationships with other mbira players, but it was mostly men and most of them older than me. There were just a few women mbira players: Stella Chiweshe, Beaulah Dyoko, Irene Chigamba.
And all of them were playing the same style, deeply traditional, beautiful music, but all in Shona. Nobody was then even thinking about singing in English. I was afraid, like "Are they going to think I am diluting the sound? But I had a lot of sort of support from my father and my husband at the time. After about three years, my first CD, "Ancient Voices", came out. People think it is new, because it has only begun to be accepted.
One thing that has intrigued me is that the phenomenon of mbira music seems to be much stronger here in Zimbabwe than elsewhere in Africa where you also find similar instruments. Why?
One of the reasons is this depth that it has as far as a spirituality is concerned. There are many very strong spiritual believers in this country. They do not come as much into prominence as people practising Christianity, but they are strong force within the country.
And for them mbira is essential as much as drums, hosho, and songs sung in certain ceremonies. The instrument is so connected to the spiritual world, besides being of entertainment, I think this is what helped it survive the transitional period that the country went through.
There are lots of people in Zimbabwe right now that are going into the gospel music thing. I respect that, as musicianship it is OK. But one gets a very strong feeling that a lot of people are doing it because they have found out that it is easy money, because generally when people are going through something difficult their faith in God tends to rise because they need to believe that at the end of all their suffering something good will happen.
What worries me is that there is no questioning or deeper studying of the religion and the concepts of the religion and what it is saying. I say it very strongly like this because a lot of people within that circle will really disrespect the strength of the mbira instrument. If they bothered to listen to the message they would realise that it is saying exactly what they run into churches to try and find. It is right there in your traditional music, if you would open your ears for the message given to the people all the time.
What is your own personal experience of mbira ceremonies?
I am not a spirit medium but I am very much in tune with the spiritual world and most of my close friends are also very in tune. There have been times when I have been in ceremonies and you are just overcome by the strong energy, and how it affects other people deeply. I always taken these experiences them as a reaffirmation that we are not alone, that there is so much more about existence than what we are able to see and perceive.
The experiences I have had have always been very moving, very powerful.
What do you say with your songs and music?
The singing and playing of the mbira is not just about personal enjoyment. I have come to a point where I literally feel like I am a vessel. Some of the stuff I will be singing will be about myself and experiences that I, or maybe people close to me have gone through. But a lot of the songs that we sing with my band "Vibe Culture", are more about things that we have to do to maintain morality and just the genuine love for the next person and the decency of humanity.
I would like to ask you whether you touch on any of these themes: love, land, traditions, HIV/AIDS, diaspora, poverty, ancestors, women's rights, violence.
I think I pretty much touch on all of them. Love, definitely. I have got a song called "Wandirasa", which I sing in English and Shona, where this young woman sings to her lover: "You and I, when we're together alone I am pretty much the world to you, but then when we're around other people I am no longer as important and why have you thrown me away. So yes, I have written a few love songs.
I have written a song that touches directly on violence and women's rights, whose title translated to English is "Give me love". Again it is a woman singing to her husband who is physically violent and not really wrapped up in the life of the children and she sings: "Give me love, my husband. Did we not build our home together? Give me strength, my darling. You are meant to be my friend and your family's tried to speak to you, your friends have tried to speak to you, you don't listen and I would much rather leave now while I am still young and have my life intact than wait for you to kill me". So that song gets some women crying sometimes in the audience.
Poverty, yes. "Madam Twenty Cents" is a song on my first CD. I'd just I had started up at the College of Music and the street situation was beginning to be bad, and I remember with friends of mine we were saying:
There was this blind guy who would sit on one corner every day and he would sing “Amanda tambura, Amanda nitida, Amanda tambura, Ambandi batudi", which is "My family, my kin, my family, look at me, my life has gone hard for me”, please help me". I would hear this every day and I went home and I am just hearing this thing. And a song just dropped out. It is basically a young boy asking "Madam twenty cents, please, I have no money today, my mother's sick and disabled and my father, he ran away to the city 5-years ago. He was looking for a job, he never returned and now we are all alone".
I touch on land, I did an old song on how the land of Zimbabwe came through war. It is not like a war cry song and I am not telling everyone "Okay, grab all the shovels and guns and start killing each other again", no, but it is a song to say that we should remember that for us to get where we are now it took a lot of pain and difficulty and some people died for that, and it is just nice to have a moment to stop and think about that.
So yes, I do touch on all of these things. But without being political. We don't get into that. "Vibe Culture" doesn't get into singing politics and stuff, but we do talk a lot about the other elements and entities of life.
I tend to like to go to the root emotion. I like to make the kind of music that regardless what you do in your life you will be able to feel something in that song. And whether it makes you feel a little painful or a little uncomfortable you can relate to it. I think Bob Marley's music was very much like that.
And now you are going to Senegal, tell me more about it.
I am very excited about it. Basically it is UNDP, United Nations Development Programme, and United Nations itself, - I guess world leaders are realising that there is a lot of things that are wrong with the way things are happening on the African continent. I mean, definitely without a doubt the first thing is the corruption amongst a lot of the leaders, and I say this without disrespecting African leaders because I think that you have to be strong to be a leader on a continent like this. But that cannot be ignored, that there are people that are taking their whole role way beyond where it should be.
But then on the other side is the reality that there are a lot of outside forces that affect what goes on, and people in Africa don't know this. This is part of what this whole project is about. The date has been set until 2015 to really get people wide awake about poverty, wide awake about AIDS and the related diseases, wide awake about their own strength as African people to make the decisions.
They want to start now, and get this message out through the music with the help of what they consider the strongest voices coming out of the continent at the moment, which made me feel very honoured. And I think that that is really great. UNDP is actually not just saying to the musicians "Listen, could you give us a song about this, we are going to do a CD". No, they say: "Look, let's all get together in one room because these are the issues that you guys talk about and what do you think we should include in this project over the next twelve years".
I have spent the last three days speaking to friends of mine in different levels, like other artist friends of mine and business friends of mine and banker friends of mine and CIO friends of mine and my domestic workers at home, the people that help me out at home, and just finding out people's different feelings about what's going on right now. I have made it like a very conscious thing to do these last few days because I feel like it is important to include these thoughts in whatever I say in Senegal, it is not just about where I am coming from but a whole nation.
Did you find any consensus in what they are saying?
Yes, definitely. Everybody agrees that land had to be redistributed but now there is arguments, that is where the argument starts it is either some people say "The process was too fast" other people say "It was too slow". There is the general concern amongst everyone about title deeds, whether or not people are getting title deeds.
What I love the most is that there is knowledge, especially amongst black Zimbabwean people, that the decisions that were taken in this country have - okay, some of the things have made life difficult for Zimbabweans, but on other parts also it really did expose the fear that the especially western politicians have towards an African country or a Third World, as it is so badly described, country saying "We're going to change the rules". There is a very serious fear of that, which is sad but it is also cool that it comes out in the open.
And there is concern amongst Zimbabwean people about what's going to happen in this land, not only dealing with corruption within the government but also dealing with this fear now that has caused western leaders to say "Place sanctions on them" and those sanctions are hurting a lot of people right now. Or to say "Okay, if they're going to travel anywhere make the visa's difficult to obtain". The Zimbabwean people now carrying a Zimbabwean Passport just to go into England, just to apply for a visa, you have to pay $134 000. That is non-refundable. Now that is a lot of money in Zimbabwean dollars, it is a lot of money.
My whole thing about life goes way beyond colour and religion. My concern is about mankind and it shows that there is still this element of politicians There are some people that are very badly treated because the ones that have the power are placing importance on very destructive elements of living, and that is just go to change. It may not change in my lifetime, it might not even change in my daughter's life time, but at least it is great to know that people that are conscious of that are doing something about it.
[Interview in Harare on 26 July, 2003]

Below is another interview done in January 2011 by Dzana Tsomondo

As I stepped into Joe’s Pub in downtown Manhattan, the first thing I heard was an mbira, which resulted in that odd feeling of experiencing something familiar in an unfamiliar place. I grew up in Zimbabwe and even though, thanks to the instrument’s growing popularity, it is no longer a complete shock to hear the sound of an mbira outside of Africa, I still associate that playful lilt with the land of my youth. The mbira is an idiophone, or as it is sometimes known colloquially, a thumb piano. The legendary Nigerian musician and scholar Babatunde Olatunji called it the “finger xylophone” and the mbira is the Zimbabwean version of a musical instrument that is found in many African cultures and their diaspora. And right now, the woman who represents that diaspora is on stage, the Zimbabwean-American singer Chiwoniso.
I have arrived halfway through the show, her first in New York City, and despite the healthy ticket prices, it has sold out. The crowd is diverse, young and old, white and black. Zimbabweans are well represented but the cheers are just as lusty when she shouts out New York as they are for Harare. No matter, she has them all in the palm of her hand, playing the crowd like a seasoned veteran. Although, knowing her history, that shouldn’t surprise me either. Her father is the late Dumisani Maraire, a man whose name is to the mbira what Shakespeare’s is to the stage. He was not only a master of the mbira and the marimba, Maraire also created the numerical system and accompanying notations that standardized mbira “keys” and underpin modern instruction in the instrument.

Since we are both Zimbabweans, first things first, what are your thoughts on the power-sharing agreement just signed [between the MDC and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF]?
Well, I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction. A lot of people were looking for something like this to happen in Zim, I mean, it’s not going to be the answer to all the problems but it will definitely alleviate a lot of the stress that this conflict has caused in the country. At the same time, I do hope that it will get to a point where it doesn’t have to constantly be about power sharing. We need to get to a point where if two parties go to elections and one of those parties wins, that has to be respected. That is my real feeling; it’s a good thing but it is not the “end” answer, especially for the future.
So would it be fair to characterize that as “guarded optimism”?
Yeah…that is as good a term as any other, I guess. I think things are gonna work out, it couldn’t stay the way it had been but to be honest I wish it had worked out in a different way, you know? Because now the government is saying “We are gonna acknowledge the fact that you guys did win the election but at the same time, we are not going to completely give up power”…is just a very uncomfortable frame of mind for me to get my head around. I think it would have been better to call it a “transitional government”…I think people, we the people need to choose our words with care when we say what we say. I know Zimbabwe is going to be okay, but it is going to take some serious work to sort it out.
Are you a Zimbabwean citizen?
No I am not, I am an American citizen and a permanent resident of Zimbabwe but I have lived in Zimbabwe longer than I have lived [in the U.S.].
When you were growing up what was transitioning back and forth between the U.S. and Zimbabwe like?
When I first went to Zimbabwe I was about seven. I lived there till I was eleven and the second time was when I was fifteen and I lived there until now. So the transition when I was young did not affect me so much but the second time around, when I was fifteen, was a culture shock. But not from the language, our parents had kept us closely linked to [Shona] so communication wasn’t the problem. Where I had the real difficulty was that I had been living in this huge musical community, sort of surrounded by musical people, in Seattle. And they were all people who were learning marimba and mbira from my dad, so there were all these musicians around me and when I found out we were going back to Zim I was excited. I thought, “Well, I am going to get to Zim and find all these musicians playing this music” and it was a real shock to find out that was not the case. So I had to do a lot of searching to find out why the reason was and it came out that it was because of the whole colonial hangover that was attached to mbira and marimba…especially mbira as an instrument, because of its spiritual connection and its power. So I went to my father and he was like “look, there’s a space that needs to be filled here and maybe you are one of the people who is supposed to do this, try to bring mbira back into people’s consciousness”. So I started very seriously doing that…I was part of a hip-hop group at one point called Piece of Ebony and we incorporated it…but yeah, that was one of the hard things. That aside, it wasn’t a huge “thing” to move back to Zimbabwe because we had been connected to it for so long.
Tell me about your family. Are you the oldest?
My father had eleven children with four different women, so out of that whole line, I come in fifth. With my dad and my mom, there were five of us and I am the oldest.
Was gender an issue, or part of the culture shock in moving back and forth?
Not really, I mean gender issues didn’t affect me at that time because I was in high school. It really started becoming something I was more aware of as I got into my twenties and then became a mother. To be very frank with you, I am very proud of being a Zimbabwean woman, a Zimbabwean-American woman, because Zimbabwe is one of the countries in Africa where I think women are much more liberated, one of the countries Vice-President’s is a woman, you know what I mean? I think that the challenges that women face across the globe, you find some of those issues in Zimbabwe as well but not as much as the Western World assumes it to be. If you go back into the Shona culture women have always been important, if you look at Shona tradition, the family cannot make decision without [the sisters in the family] being present because they hold that power of deciding what direction things are going to take. So if a woman’s rights are being disrespected while living in Zim, for example, I am not going to take it as being because she is in Zimbabwe because women’s rights all over the world are an issue…
What sort of trajectory has your recording career taken? Have you been on [your current record label] Cumbacha for a while?
I have been working with Cumbacha for about a year. Rebel Woman is my third CD, my first CD was about ten years ago, Ancient Voices and that was under the label Lusafrica, which I was working with at the time. And Ancient Voices did really well, especially in Zimbabwe and in Europe, it was really well received and brought in a lot of awards which was great. And then I took some time off, I’m a single mom with two daughters and I didn’t want things to get like, extremely hectic while the kids were still young. You have got to give them attention and I was traveling, performing and working on a lot of different projects, making music for films and stuff like that but I tried very much to keep my attention at home. I tried not to travel more than once or twice a year and when I did I tried not to go for long; I think the longest I ever left for was six weeks. Then I did a second CD about four and a half years ago, that was an acoustic record called Timeless. I wasn’t on my label anymore so I was mostly selling the CD at shows when I was touring with my acoustic trio…it did have distribution in Zimbabwe. I have brought it over here and been selling it at shows, so we are probably going to [re-release] it but who knows, we have to focus on Rebel Woman. And right now, yeah, I’m on tour supporting Rebel Woman.
So when you are on a tour like this, how do you deal with the fact that you are a single parent? How old are the kids?
Twelve and eight, two daughters. They are in the States, living with me and my sister, so right now my daughters plus my sister’s sons are with her husband and my brother. My brother came up to be there, so they have their uncles there. In Zimbabwe it was a different situation, of course I had someone staying with me, live-in help. But because she was there for so long she really became more of an aunt than anything else, and of course with the whole “family circle” it was very, very different having kids in Zimbabwe than it has been having kids here. There is far much more of a family thing in Zimbabwe and it is so much easier to get to someone’s house [laughs]. Things are closer. Being aware of that was one of the reasons why I took such time before I started doing this music as seriously as I am doing it now. I was always serious about it but now I can add the different dimension, you know what I mean?
They were born in Zimbabwe?
They were both born in Zimbabwe and are both American citizens. I have traveled with them before though; this is their second time coming to the States. Also, at the same time, I have taken them to Europe, South Africa, England…they are quite well traveled.
What are you listening to lately?
That's a good question. I've been listening to different stuff. Mostly, I've been listening the radio to get an idea of what is going on here. I've also brought some CDs from Zim, friends of mine that I love to listen to. Bruno Bokelo, from Angola, has this really funky thing going on that I love.
Have you encountered resistance being a woman playing what was traditionally a male instrument in the mbira?
I haven't encountered resistance to me playing mbira, as such. I have encountered people who think I should be playing something else and interestingly they both were women. I usually don't pay this type of thing any mind.
What is your favorite type of Mbira and why?
Nyunga nyunga, the one that I play! There is always room to improve on what you are playing. I love all the different mbira so I don't like to choose favorites. It's like choosing between good friends.
Going back to the situation in Zim, the European Union initially announced that they were going to withhold aid until they assess how this power sharing plays out. How do you feel about that and how do you feel about the way that the outside world dealt with the Zimbabwean crisis that essentially began on an international level with Mugabe’s “land reform” programs. I think it’s important to add our voices as Zimbabweans outside the country, who are exposed to the Western media, into the history of all this.
I was not surprised. Look, the IMF and the World Bank are [institutions] that were set up by the West, so they are meant to serve the Western World first and everyone else after. I was invited by the UN VP, a couple of years ago, to do this big recording project with these different artists from the African continent… so we sat down at this meeting with the guys from the [United Nations Development Programme]. They were talking about the Millennium Development Goals-that’s what the recording was for-and they were saying that one of the main things they wanted to do was eradicate poverty, and they were talking about places like Latin America, Africa and so on. So then I said “Well, if you want to eradicate poverty, instead of the whole world being told to follow what the IMF and the World Bank say, we need-as the African continent, for example- to create our own rules and means of figuring out how to work with each other, using rules that apply [regionally]. And one of the guys from the UNDP, who had been talking, kind of froze up and it was a very uncomfortable moment. As far as sanctions are concerned, I understand where they were coming from but things like that don’t hurt those in power, they only hurt the man on the street. It was very frustrating…but by that happening it also exposed the Western powers who basically said “If we can’t control what is going on in your country then there is not going to be in any money coming in, we are going to stop trade”. I have a big problem with the whole “Aid” thing. A lot of these countries that claim to be giving aid to a country like Zimbabwe are countries that used things like slavery to establish themselves as they are now. That is the foundation of countries like America, for example, they sold people, they came and colonized or took diamonds or land or wealth, so that isn’t aid to me. You owe these countries something. So again, it’s that choice of words and uncovering the mentality behind it.
I also am of two minds about the Western condemnation of Mugabe’s regime. Without a doubt, Mugabe has exhibited classic traits of despotism, tyranny and basically, a regime that has been corrupted by power. But it also seemed very self-serving of the British to refuse to pay the white farmers for their land because of moral reservations about Mugabe’s regime. These are the same people who give money to leaders in the Middle East and China who refuse to even hold elections and who’s secret police are far more deadly than Zimbabwe’s. It seemed to be as much about race as anything else, and it also seemed to me that the West was eager to hold Zimbabwe up as a warning to South Africa. South Africa’s situation seems like the elephant in the room…
Exactly. The land issue in South Africa…why do you think Mbeki was not saying much about the Zimbabwe situation, they know they are going to have to deal with the same stuff. And the [Afrikaners] are not people that you want to mess around with, compared to them, the Rhodesians are puppy dogs. It’s going to be a very serious issue. South Africa has not even started yet. Zimbabwe is a tiny country, South Africa has a huge population and a brutal legacy as far as the system that they became independent with. So the South African government is going to have to be really, really careful in how they deal with this issue and if they are wise, they will address it before it blows up in their face.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

The Maraire Trilogy - Dumisani Maraire

This is the second in the Maraire Trilogy. It's the story of a family that brought mbira music to the world.Dumi showed the world that mbira music is peaceful and unifying. Today, some of his students across the world and across the colour, race and religious barriers are following in his footsteps. Like he used to say: Let the spirit be upon the people . . .

I met Dumisani Maraire for the first time in 1998 just a year before his death and a year after his wife’s death. He was a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe then. It was at the Alliance Francaise in Harare. He was a proud father since his daughter Chiwoniso was launching her debut album that had won her an international award.
I had heard and read a lot about Dumi. Being a rooky in the media and working alone, meeting the man who colonised the Americas with a simple musical instrument was a great honour.
Dumi was a simple man himself. Short and spoke with ahorse voice which could, maybe, have been a result of years of singing, his hand shake was firm. He had this thing of peering at you while humming under his breath.
An unassuming man whose traditional life was not tainted by his stay abroad, Dumi believed in unity – family I suppose and his famous saying was always: Let the spirit be upon the people, so that we can all move together.
And he made it happen for Zimbabwe when he spearheaded the introduction of the ethnomusicology programme at the UZ as well as the creation of the College of Music.

But who can tell his story better than his son, Baba Tendai Maraire?

Dumisani Abraham Maraire was born in the small village of Chakohwa inZimbabwe, to the parents of Dikani and Nozipo Maraire. Dumi was introduced to music at an early age. As he got into his late teenage years Dumi began to pursue music more seriously. By the time he was 21 years old, Dumi had already written two musicals, arranged and composed music for the United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe and conducting musical choirs in his community. This is when Dumi was discovered by Dr. Robert Kauffman. Dr. Kauffman discovered Dumi while watching one of his musicals that he produced. Very moved by the musical, Dr. Kauffman wanted to know the teacher who produced it. Later he found out it was no teacher, but one the students which happened to be Dumi. Dr. Kauffman then asked Dumi if he would be interested in teaching his music to others, while studying music in America. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dumi came to Seattle in 1968 to the University of Washington to study music. It was at this time Dumi would also go play his mbira at local open mic clubs in the area. His popularity grew very quickly, as Dumi would build a fan base for his talent at a time that the black power movement was on the rise. Soon Dumi would pack out pubs playing mbira for crowds of people who wanted to hear the sounds of the mbira, accompanied by his raspy voice. “What made these shows popular was that they involved crowd participation, so not only did you get to here him sing but you also joined in" – Lora Chiorah. In Zimbabwe they believe if you can walk then you can dance, and if you can talk you can sing.
In 1972 Dumi decided to expand his horizons and not just teach the music but to starta band. That's when Minanzi was born. Dumi put out a few releases earlier in his career, but all of those releases were on the mbira. This time Dumi got a group of his best students and formed Minanzi. The name of the release was "Rufaro", which was first available on vinyl in 1972. Minanzi went on to perform at several festivals and even went on tour in the United States. This album featured some traditional as well as contemporary Shona pieces. Dumi entrusted in the talent of the first Minanzi to come up with there own arrangement called "Mardi Gras". For those who still own the vinyl, hold on to it, it’s a classic.
Do to personal reasons Minanzi broke up and some years later Dumi formed his second band, The Maraire Marimba Ensemble. By this time Dumi was starting to build a grass roots movement of marimba that was to be the birth of Shona music's influence on western culture. This band went on to record Chiwoniso. This album would be the only one that Dumi would record with his wife Linda (Mai Chi). By this time Dumi was starting to peak with his style of composing. This album featured songs like "Kapotso" and the classic "Mweya" sung in Shona. By this time Dumi was on the bill to perform at such pubs as the Rainbow Room on 45th in the University District. You could almost guarantee a packed house.
By his third release and third band Minanzi III, Dumi had a cult following in the northwest that sung what we call here at Maraire Enterprises, the Maraire Marimba Movement. Soon people all over the United States were packing their bags to study with the God Father of Shona Music. What started out with one band soon grew to five, then ten, then twenty, until today where there are now hundreds on marimba groups around the world who can trace their roots to Dumi. This was the point where Dumi would give us his last marimba release, "Mweya", which is one of the most popular songs he created. This band went on to perform all over the United States and spread the music of the Shona people.


`Dumi' Maraire Gave Northwest sweet taste of African Marimba

Abraham Dumisani "Dumi" Maraire, a dynamic musician who introduced Northwest and North American students and audiences to the joyful sound of African marimba music, died yesterday (Nov. 25) in his native Zimbabwe.
Mr. Maraire, 56, suffered a stroke.
His death has saddened members of the ethnic-music community in the Puget Sound area, where he was a beloved teacher and ensemble leader.
"When he was on stage, he would forget who he was because he put his whole heart into playing," said Lora Chiorah-Dye, a fellow musician and the mother of his first three children.
"He was so energetic and so charismatic, people would just jump up and dance. He hypnotized everybody with his music."
Mr. Maraire also played piano and guitar at home, and he loved the music of James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack.
Born in Mutare, Zimbabwe, and educated by family musicians and at his homeland's college of music in Bulawayo, Mr. Maraire was widely considered one of the masters of mbira music. The mbira is a thumb piano, usually made of hammered iron keys fixed to a wooden body, and can produce two or three melodies at the same time by a single performer.
Mr. Maraire was a visiting professor in the University of Washington's ethnomusicology department from 1968 to 1972. Composing in his native language, Shona, he specialized in marimba music, singing, dancing and drumming.
He taught at The Evergreen State College in Olympia in the 1970s and had numerous private students. He also put together and led several marimba bands that played throughout the Northwest and British Columbia.
"Dumi was very important in Seattle for his charismatic performances leading his Zimbabwean marimba ensembles and for his promotion of African music," a friend, Larry Israel, wrote in an e-mail.
"His life greatly impacted the lives of hundreds of his students, and his infectious and danceable music was heard and loved by thousands."
Israel and ethnomusicologists credited Mr. Maraire with bringing marimba music to Seattle and North America. Mr. Maraire arranged or composed scores of pieces for marimba ensembles.
In 1982 he returned to Africa to develop an ethnomusicology program at the University of Zimbabwe. He resumed teaching in Seattle from 1986 to 1990, when he earned a doctorate in ethnomusicology at the UW, then returned to teach at the University of Zimbabwe.
Mr. Maraire recorded a number of compact discs, as did his three local marimba bands. He was dedicated to preserving and expanding the traditional music of Zimbabwe.
Mr. Maraire is survived by his daughters Chioniso Maraire of Harare, Zimbabwe, and Tawona Maraire of New Haven, Conn.; and his sons Ziyanayi Maraire of Seattle, Dumi Jr. of Harare and Christopher Sparks of Seattle. He is also survived by the children he had with Chiorah-Dye: their daughter, Danai Maraire of Washington, D.C.; and their sons, Tendai and Dumi Jr., both of Seattle.
Mr. Maraire's wife, Linda Nemarundwe, and another son, Rusununguko Maraire, died before Mr. Maraire. - By Carole Beers, Sara Jean Green

Tuesday 18 October 2011

The Maraire trilogy - Mai Chi

In this trilogy, I will trace the lives of Chiwoniso's mother, father and Chi herself. Although I never met Linda Nemarundwe, the mother, I met and shook the father - Dumisani's hand in 1998 when Chiwoniso launched her album Ancient Voices at the Alliance Francaise in Harare. It was a year after her mother's death. I saw father and daughter putting up a tearful performance in honour of the mother whose story I tell below.

In 1998 the late Dumisani Maraire and his daughter Chiwoniso performed together at the Alliance Francaise along Herbert Chitepo Avenue in Harare. The occasion was the launch of Chi’s debut album, Anciet Voices. Then Chi was still hooked to Andy Brown who was also there. The late Mendy Chibindi who later joined Oliver Mtukudzi was there. I remember Japhet Ncube who is now in SA was there. So was poet Chirikure Chirikure.
Apart from celebrating the launch, the occasion was also used to congratulate Chi for winning the coveted Decouverte Afrique award given by Radio France International for the album that carries one of her most emotional songs – simply titled Amai.
I recall Dumi speaking glowingly about his late wife – Amai Chi and wishing that she was there to see the daughter they had mentored to be like them. It was a tearful affair.
A year later, Dumi passed on leaving a legacy of great mbira playing and music making in his children. Most know Chi but there are other Maraires who follow their father’s footsteps. There is Tendai who is also known as Baba Maraire from Dumi's marriage to Lora Chiorah Dye.
But this is Mai Chi’s story as I captured it eight years later after attending the launch of Chi’s album that celebrated her mother’s life.

Mai Chi: Rare Breed of Mother, Musician

The late Linda Nemarundwe Maraire or just Mai Chi, was a rare breed of a mother, musician, teacher, entrepreneur and arts promoter.
Brought up in a Christian family where western values were inculcated and sent to schools where education was supposed to wash away any traces of traditional values, Linda instead fought back and remained herself.
She became a great marimba and mbira player who even taught others who were drawn from a wider cultural divide.
With the backing of a husband, the late Dumisani Maraire, who understood music, Mai Chi founded her own marimba and mbira groups such as Boka, Dandaro, Kudana, Shumba and the electric band Mai Chi and Kubatana.
She also worked and recorded with the backing of the Portland Girls Symphonic Choir, Mhuri YekwaMaraire and Mimhanzi Ensembles among various others.
Besides this, she worked as the African Student Union adviser at Portland State University and helped in the formation of the Mutare-Portland Sister City Association.
As a music promoter, Mai Chi organised the inaugural Zimbabwe Music Festival that was held in Portland in 1994 and was tour manager for Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited, and the Bhundu Boys when they performed in the United States.
Off the stage, Mai Chi had a Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education attained from Antioch University.
She taught briefly in Zimbabwe before joining the Save the Children Fund in the late 80s.
As a mother, she taught her children the beauty of mbira music and to admire African traditional ways despite staying in the US where they could have easily adopted the western lifestyle.
Mai Chi, who died at 44 in 1997 in Portland, Oregon, the US, where she had taken residence was born in Masvingo's Ngundu area and attended schools in the area before going to Bulawayo.
It was during her time as a high school student that she met Dumisani at a workshop while she was teaching a song the he had written.
Although she was told that the man who had written the song was present and that he was teaching in the US, Mai Chi did not show any lack of confidence in her presentation.
After the workshop, Dumisani proposed marriage but she turned him down only to accept the offer when they had communicated over a long time by letters.
They married in 1975 and she joined Dumisani in Seattle, Washington, where he was teaching and performing Zimbabwean music.
The family returned to Zimbabwe briefly in the early 80s where Dumisani took up a post with the University of Zimbabwe and Mai Chi went to work for the Save the Children Fund.
When the family returned to US, in the late 80s, Mai Chi chose to stay behind in Portland where she ran a catering business.
Although Mai Chi's life reads like a very simple story of a rural girl who made it after marrying a man who had made it abroad, it is her adherence to traditional life that gives depth to what appears to be a simple story.
Mai Chi's father, Michael, who went to South Africa in search of fortune, was
converted to "Methodism and European ways' and got a job as a teacher at a missionary school on his return to the then Rhodesia.
Because of his adopted lifestyle, he wished his family to practice the western lifestyle. To achieve this, he made sure his daughters attended the best schools in the country.
To some extent, the girls too wished to live a western lifestyle until they moved to stay with their grandmother who inculcated in them the virtues of African traditional lifestyle.
"Raised traditionally is really when people understand about their ancestors.
Many people don't even talk about those things (ancestral history) in their families. Everything is church. Kids don't see it being practiced. They're not
participating. So when things happen, they don't know what to do. A traditional upbringing includes teaching children the ways of hospitality.
"How you give and take from elders. There are different ways of doing it. Like for example, if an elder walked into this house, we would be the first to greet them rather than waiting for them to greet us. If they need a place to sit, we'd have to offer them a place to sit," she told Joel Lindstrom and Catherine Heising shortly before her death.
Lindstrom is the manager of Kutsinhira Centre in Eugene, Oregon, and Heising is the principal organiser of the 1993 Marimba Fest in Eugene.
But her first encounter with music was when she met an uncle who played ngoma (drums) and was very famous in their home area.
Ndava, for that was the uncle's name, would invite her to attend sessions at a local beerhall and she would secretly leave the house.
While one would have thought that a girl brought up in the traditional way of life should have fallen in love with the western ways of life, Mai Chi chose otherwise.
And this is the life she taught her own children to live and cherish. Today her oldest daughter, Chiwoniso, is a shining example of what Mai Chi was about.

Below is an interview Mai Chi had in 1993 with Joel Lindstrom, director of the Kutsinhira Center in Eugene, Oregon — a school for the preservation of Zimbabwean musical culture in North America.

African drumming is not just music for entertainment, to dance to, or to admire. It’s a stage for learning ethics. The marimba and mbira music that many of us are involved in, too, is a place to learn to listen to others and still play our part, to be patient, to understand being alone and being together. To drum well requires poise and purpose. A good drummer must be able to hold her part within complexity, to stay balanced while being pulled in many directions, to hold steady and still converse with the other drums. When I hear Mai Chi (Linda) Maraire Nemarundwe perform, I know she is a good drummer.
Mai Chi involves herself not only in the music but also in the community surrounding Zimbabwean music in the Northwest. Here in Eugene we’ve seen a lot of Mai Chi this past year. At last year’s MarimbaFest, Mai Chi: catered the meals, taught two classes, lead a group ritual, sang, danced, and drummed. Her singing, mbira, and marimba workshops here at the Kutsinhira Center have been well-attended. She spent months working with Kudana on vocals for their Spirit Song recording, and has performed with Kudana several times this summer, delighting audiences with her full, resonant voice and bright African costumes. Through all these endeavors Mai Chi builds a community here in the Northwest and connects our community with Zimbabwe.
Since becoming ill earlier this year with kidney failure, Mai Chi has become more inwardly focused, more graceful and dignified. We are grateful that she has shared her journey of healing with her friends in the Northwest Marimba Community. She has reached out to friends and found healing by giving and receiving music, performing with Kudana, or listening to “command” mbira serenades at the home of a friend. She was also a key member of the 1994 Zimbabwe Music Festival committee. I interviewed Mai Chi twice for this article, once in Eugene after my best attempt at a Zimbabwean dinner, and the other on a Sunday morning at Marian’s house in Portland, a map of Zimbabwe spread on the floor in front of us. Mai Chi shared part of the life she led in Zimbabwe before coming to the United States. Through stories of her childhood, I see the seeds that have blossomed into Mai Chi’s music, her teaching, her interest in community. I see glimpses of the people who helped her learn strength and humility.
Linda Nemarundwe was born on November 25, 1952 in the Ngundu area of southeastern Zimbabwe. (Mai Chi, the name she prefers, means mother of Chiwoniso, her eldest daughter.) Received by her grandmother, she was the second of seven children, preceded by Lora and followed by Ruth, Mickey, Alma, Marcel, and Appel. Her father Michael Nemarundwe ran one of the two stores in Ngundu at the junction of routes leading east to the low veldt, south to South Africa, and north to the city of Masvingo. The other store was owned by Europeans and sat across the road from their building, which housed a store and a cafe as well as Mai Chi’s family.
Though they lived on a major trade route it was “Bush,” Mai Chi recalls, “real bush,” with the nearest neighbor a mile away. She never lacked company, she says, because people were always coming by to trade their corn, groundnuts, or other crops for merchandise in her father’s store. Due to the long walk, visitors often spent the night on her family’s verandah. The only regret Mai Chi has of growing up in the back rooms of a brick store is that “we never had an opportunity to live a real traditional life except when we were visiting our relatives.”
Mai Chi’s childhood visits to her mother’s family were hard. Her parents’ was a “mixed” marriage. Her mother, Nyembezi, was raised a strict Seventh-Day Adventist in Chibi, to the north and west of Ngundu, and there were dietary restrictions to be heeded, lots of praying, and no cooking on Saturdays. “When you’re kids, little things like that are significant,” she says.
Her father, Michael, was raised in a traditional way in the village of Zimutu, north of Masvingo. His parents farmed and raised cattle, and his father was a medicine man — a dreamer, not a forecaster. As a boy Mai Chi’s father wanted more of an education than he could get in rural Zimbabwe, so in his early teens he left his parents’ house — without telling them — and walked all the way to South Africa. He didn’t return for fifteen years.
During his stay in South Africa, Michael converted to Methodism and also gained a liking for European ways. An entrepreneur at heart, his first job on returning to Zimbabwe—teaching at a missionary school—lasted only briefly. He soon arranged to buy bread and, using the bicycle he’d brought back with him, deliver it to the areas where Africans lived. One area he delivered to was Chibi.
At that time it was difficult, almost impossible, for an African in Zimbabwe to be self-employed. If they had jobs, Africans worked for Europeans. So Michael Nemarundwe with his bread-delivery business was looked upon as someone well-off. Lots of families wanted to match him up with their daughters. Nemarundwe was first matched with Mai Chi’s mother’s sister. But, on meeting, he preferred Nyembezi, and married her after waiting for her to finish school. Then they moved to Ngundu.
Michael Nemarundwe believed it was best for his children to be raised in a European manner. So when his daughters Lora and Linda were old enough, he sent them sixty miles away to Masvingo, where he thought the schools were better than the local ones. At first Lora and Linda lived with someone their father hired to care for them. Michael picked the girls up in his lorry (truck) every Friday afternoon and took them back on Sundays to start another week of school. When their paternal grandmother found out, and was so incensed by the thought of two young girls living alone in the city, she moved in with them and assumed their care.
Mai Chi remembers that living with her grandmother was wonderful. She remembers her grandmother’s traditional cooking fondly, but says, wryly, that she never really learned to like peanut butter, a standard base for Shona sauces. She’s grateful her grandmother told the kids what her father thought were not the “right things.” For one thing, her grandmother pronounced Mai Chi’s European name as Lindá which means “to look after” in Shona (as in looking after a baby). Mai Chi changed her name further. “I didn’t like using that name [Linda], simply because it didn’t really reflect anything of me. So I interpreted it to Shona and called myself Chengeto [which also means to look after or to take care of things].”
Though they lived in a brick house in the city, her grandmother raised the grandchildren traditionally. She told them stories of her childhood, Shona oral history. Mai Chi’s grandmother had grown up when the Zulu chief Tshaka’s son, Lobengula, came north from South Africa with his armies to raid the Shona. She remembered men from the village watching for the dust clouds raised by the armies and then blowing a wamanda (cow horn) in warning so people could gather a few things and hurry off to the caves to hide.
But being raised traditionally meant more than stories. Mai Chi gestures with her hands as she says,
“Raised traditionally is really when people understand about their ancestors. Many people don’t even talk about those things [ancestral history] in their families. Everything is church. Kids don’t see it being practiced. They’re not participating. So when things happen, they don’t know what to do. Like, for example, if I was home being sick like this, I would go to my aunt Mai Liza [her father’s sister who inherited her grandfather’s medicine bag], and they would pour some beer, talk to the ancestors. It’s not like they’re always going to get an answer . . . but it is to let them know. That way you are dealing with the problem together.”
A traditional upbringing includes teaching children the ways of hospitality. “How you give and take from elders. There are different ways of doing it. Like for example,” Mai Chi explains, pointing at the front door, “if an elder walked into this house, we would be the first to greet them rather than waiting for them to greet us. If they need a place to sit, we’d have to offer them a place to sit.” Here at Marian’s house Mai Chi was given the entire couch but made herself more comfortable seated on the floor, her back resting against it.
In African tradition, a young child would stand up to give an elder a place to sit. You do that automatically. That’s if you are raised in the traditional way. But if you’re not, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s very easy, when we go to people’s families, to say, ‘Oh, these people are raising their children the English way’ or ‘They’re raising their children in a traditional way.’
Mai Chi’s grandmother was a strong, traditional woman who protected her grandchildren. Mai Chi remembers, “one time we got punished by our schoolteacher because we were asked to write a composition using the word ‘cruel’, and I decided to say that our teacher was as cruel as Hitler.” She laughs. “He used to hit us with a ruler [on the knuckles]. It was painful, I tell you. And he was the only one in the whole school that was doing it.” Mai Chi crosses her legs in front of her, remembering that distant day.
Once he denied the whole class to go for lunch. So when my sister went home for lunch, my grandmother says, ‘Where’s Lindá?’ [When my sister told her] my grandmother said, ‘Teachers are not supposed to do that. Children are supposed to have their food anyway.’ So she packs a little sadza and vegetables with peanut butter, ties it in her little duku, [puts it] on her head and goes. We’re sitting [in the classroom]. Everyone’s kind of miserable and somebody says, ‘Linda, Linda, isn’t that your grandmother?’ At first I don’t know what to do. So one of the students says, ‘Well, open the window and take whatever she has.’ So I opened the window and she gives us the sadza and . . . oh, did we enjoy it. That was the best time I ever liked peanut butter.
After delivering the food, Mai Chi’s grandmother didn’t go away. She waited until the teacher came back and asked to speak to the headmaster. Mai Chi’s father heard about it later and took up the matter. “At least we stopped the knuckle-hitting. What was so funny was that he was a distant relative of my grandmother. Well, in a small place like that, everyone is related. So he had to listen.”
In 1964, the number of school-age children in her grandmother’s care having grown, Mai Chi’s parents moved to Masvingo. Her father had a building built — the first in the area with display windows — to house his store and new photography studio. Unfortunately, 1964 was a time of political unrest in Zimbabwe. The following year, Ian Smith’s white minority government would issue its unilateral declaration of independence from British colonial authority. Controls were being tightened on Africans. Loans weren’t available for African-owned businesses. The banned political parties Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and its more radical offshoot Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) both asked for monetary support from the people. Michael Nemarundwe’s business survived but didn’t flourish.
Mai Chi did well in school and enjoyed going. Though not the “number one” student, she got good grades, and, because of her involvement in the school, was called an “all-’rounder”: she sang in the school choir, played netball (a version of basketball), and ran track for her school. Her favorite events were the sprints and the long jump, but not the high jump, she remembers, drawing her knees up to her chest and laughing.
Most of us know Mai Chi through the music she helped bring from Zimbabwe to the United States. Many of us have taken Shona singing classes from her. But Mai Chi’s first exposure to African music was not in a class.
As you grow up, every African child, whether in the city or the rural area, is exposed to African music. We grow up singing. Your grandmother or your aunts or whoever is taking care of you as a baby, that’s what they sing. So you’re exposed to traditional African music. And through stories, because that’s how we learn most of our songs actually, through being told folk stories.
In addition to the stories and songs from her grandmother, Mai Chi’s uncle Ndava (her father’s brother) also influenced her musical interests. Ndava was a traditional ngoma player (a drummer). Ndava was well known in Masvingo. He played in the mbakumba style — the style of the song “Mhondoro” (lion spirit) which Mai Chi taught at the 1993 MarimbaFest. To attend his nightly performances at a local beer hall, she would sneak off; Mai Chi enjoyed hearing Ndava play and sing, but knew her father wouldn’t approve.
Though at school she was exposed to church music, another musical influence from her childhood was rock-and-roll. Mai Chi listened to the popular stars of the day, and, in her early teens, when home from boarding school for the holidays, she got together with some friends (whose parents owned a hotel and needed a band to perform for guests) and played as a rock band. Mai Chi came over for practices to listen and sometimes to sing with them. Though she never performed in public with her friends for fear her father would be angry, this experience initiated her interest in electric music, from which her band Kubatana arose.
In addition to music, politics, too, occupied Mai Chi’s childhood. As in many families, her parents were members of the more conservative party ZAPU, led by Joshua Nkomo, and the children were members of ZANU or its military wing ZANLA, led by Robert Mugabe. At that time, ZAPU members believed in a strategy of negotiation, while ZANU members thought freedom would come only through armed struggle. Mai Chi regularly attended ZANLA meetings, discussing politics as well as ways of convincing ZAPU members of the need for fighting.
By the mid 1960s, the political turmoil died out for a while. Mai Chi stopped going to meetings, but began accompanying her mother on trips that combined politics with music. Throughout the colonial period in Africa, governments, colonists, and missionaries suppressed traditional music. For governments, it was expedient to prevent gatherings and forms of expression that could lead to uprisings. For colonists, African music was difficult to understand, something to be replaced by familiar European songs and instruments. For missionaries, the music (especially drumming) was pagan and had to be eliminated in favor of Western Christian hymns. (Mai Chi can still sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” as she demonstrated over dinner at our house.) By the mid-60s, though, there was a movement among Africans to introduce traditional music and instruments into the church. Specifically in Zimbabwe there was a booklet of African hymns called Nziyo Dzevu, written by four people, among them, Abraham Dumisani Maraire (Dumi).
Because times were hard in her father’s business, Mai Chi’s mother took a job traveling to outlying areas to teach nutrition and home economics to rural women. At the meetings Nyembezi would lead songs from Nziyo Dzevu. Mai Chi enjoyed accompanying her mother on these trips partly because of the singing, which she sometimes joined, but especially because of the drums the local men played to accompany the singing. Though she didn’t join the drumming — women weren’t allowed to drum — she loved to listen.
As a legacy of British colonial rule, most Zimbabwean children who continue their schooling through high school leave home for boarding school. In 1970 Mai Chi left home to attend Luveve Secondary School, just outside of Bulawayo, 150 miles east of Masvingo. There she played netball, sang in the choir, and joined the Student Christian Movement (SCM). Though its name indicates otherwise, the SCM was a political organization, the word “Christian” added and Bible readings conducted at meetings to deflect government suspicion. The students spent most of their meetings discussing current events, problems with the government, and the beginnings of the war for independence. Mai Chi taught her friends in the SCM songs from Nziyo Dzevu.
In Mai Chi’s second year at Luveve, the political situation began to heat up. Since Ian Smith’s government had declared itself independent from Britain in 1965 — illegally according to the British and most of the rest of the world — there were many efforts to negotiate an internationally acceptable settlement. In November of 1971 one such agreement was signed, which, though falling short of Zimbabwean nationalists’ demands for power-sharing, did provide that the basis for settlement be acceptable to “the people of Rhodesia as a whole.” A commission headed by Lord Pearce would decide if the settlement was indeed acceptable to all the people.
In spite of heavy governmental pressure and propaganda to the contrary, the Zimbabwean people said “No” to the Lord Pearce commission. At the time, Mai Chi was an officer in the SCM. One afternoon she received a mysterious visitor from the University of Zimbabwe at the fence that surrounded the girls’ dormitory. He told her to prepare a protest against the Lord Pearce commission by arranging for a group from her school to attend a rally in Bulawayo. She would have less than a week to set it up. Mai Chi was surprised that anyone knew to ask her, but, within a few days, had organized enough students for the protest.
The students had to sneak out of their dorms at night to walk the twelve or fifteen miles to Bulawayo. The head girl at Mai Chi’s dorm refused to participate and, further, refused to unlock the gate to the fence. Mai Chi had to get the key herself and, early in the morning, let out the girls who were going. They walked through the dark, joined by boys from the other dormitory. Arriving at Bulawayo at dawn, they were stopped by the police.
The students were detained and interrogated. Mai Chi was suspended for two weeks and then, when she came back, was not allowed to board at the school. With home so far away, for most students this would have been the end of their schooling. But her cousin Joseph Vende, a teacher at Luveve, boarded her — not even telling Mai Chi’s father — until the following term when she was again allowed in the dormitories.
The next year, 1972, Mai Chi’s third year at Luveve, was an exciting and life-changing one. A Zimbabwean organization, Ecumenical Ministries, was the sponsor of an annual week of teacher-training workshops to promote the teaching of African culture. Teachers from Zimbabwe and neighboring countries attended. In 1972 the workshops were broadened to include secondary students. Four scholarships were offered, one each in writing, music, drama, and art. Mai Chi applied and, from students throughout Zimbabwe, was selected for a scholarship to attend the 1972 workshops in Harare as the music student.
After furthering her studies of Nziyo Dzevu at the Ecumenical Ministries workshops, Mai Chi was asked to attend the SCM conference, held the following school holiday, to teach what she had learned. At the conference, held at Saint Augustine’s, just north of Mutare, she taught some of the songs she had learned. As she was teaching, one of the conference leaders came in with a stranger and, after listening for a while, introduced the stranger as an important guest, the man who wrote the song Mai Chi was teaching. The stranger was Dumisani Maraire.
Mai Chi’s reaction was to keep teaching. “I had so much confidence in myself that I didn’t even think I was teaching anything wrong of his song. It didn’t even cross my mind.” Dumi was surprised to see a young woman teaching his song. Mai Chi was just twenty; he, ten years her senior. He offered to teach her more, and they worked together for the rest of the conference, playing together at a final performance. Before she left to return to school, Dumi asked her to marry him. Mai Chi refused.
Mai Chi returned to Luveve, and Dumi to the United States, where he was studying and teaching at the University of Washington in Seattle. Over the whole next year he called often and they spent hours talking on the phone and exchanging letters. Finally, she agreed to marry. Among the Karanga — the Shona speaking ethnic group Mai Chi belongs to — negotiations leading to a marriage are intricate and fraught with points of possible contention. When a woman has met a man she’d like to marry she tells her aunt, who then quietly finds out about the man. If the aunt thinks the man is all right, she tells her family and they prepare for a visit from a committee of the suitor’s family.
At this time, Dumi was living in the Seattle area, but Mai Chi’s aunt reached approval anyway. So a committee from Dumi’s family came from Mutare — his home town — to Masvingo to talk to the Nemarundwes. The visiting committee doesn’t talk directly to the bride-to-be’s family at first, rather they use a go-between, a munyai, who knows the woman’s family and can, as Mai Chi puts it, “manipulate them.” Tobias — one of Michael Nemarundwe’s cousin’s sons — was chosen as the munyai, but was unable to talk to Mr. Nemarundwe as Nemarundwe left town as soon as he heard that Dumi’s committee had arrived without Dumi. Mai Chi’s father was angry because Dumi was still living in the U.S. and because he felt his daughter wasn’t ready to marry. Arriving in town on Sunday night, knowing the visitors had a long drive ahead of them he said, “They can leave $10 just to say they were here. And if they’re not back in a year with Dumisani Maraire, the whole thing is null.”
Dumi returned to Zimbabwe within the year and came with his committee to Masvingo. Negotiations between the families went well and a rovora (a bride price) of thirteen cows — an especially large number — was agreed to, along with a usual one cow ngombe yomai — literally “thank the mother” - a gift of gratitude to the mother of the bride. Mai Chi’s father, much to Dumi’s dismay, insisted on receiving the rovora in actual cows, not just the equivalent in cash, as is commonly done. The two were married, and six months later Mai Chi moved to Olympia, Washington.
Mai Chi has accomplished a lot since she first left Zimbabwe twenty years ago: birthed and raised five children, learned to drum, and helped nurture a community that’s grown around Zimbabwean music. We’re grateful to her for all she’s given us, the songs she’s shared, the performances she’s involved us in, and the willingness with which she shares her culture. We wish her the best in her healing and look forward to seeing her again on stage, with a Shona ululation and just a hint of a smile.

Monday 17 October 2011

The man who inspired Tongai Moyo was media shy, but talented - Leonard Dembo

One common thing between Leonard Dembo and his disciple Tongai Moyo is the way they both died – in the eyes of the public where they lived and in the hands of people who claimed they could help them. Dembo sought help from the disgraced convicted rapist Madzibaba Nzira who paraded him like a prize cow in Seke while Tongai was so desparate that he wanted to visit T.B Joshua who turned him down before he went along to Pastor Makandiwa for help. He even penned a song in praise of Makandiwa. Sadly today, despite all the efforts, both are gone.

The man who inspired the late Tongai Moyo, Leonard Tazvivinga Dembo was a very media shy musician; a humble soul that minded his business of making music.
Born Kwangwari Gwaindepi on 6 February 1961 in Chirumhanzu, Dembo was brought up by his mother.
He spent his childhood herding cattle. This part of his life where he grew up without a father-figure plays out clearly in most of his songs where he sings about poverty – Nhamo Moto and Wenhamo Wotoirinda (Vane Mari Varere Zvavo). His admiration for the women folk could also be attributed to his mother having been his solo guardian. One of his songs which say much about this is Mai Nevana Vavo.
Although Dembo did not go to secondary school, he attended primary schools in Buhera, Bulawayo and then Chembira in Harare. After school in Harare, Dembo went back to Bulawayo to look for a job.
He did not find one but he improved his music before going back to Harare where he proceeded to Mubaira Hotel at Murombedzi (Five Miles) in Zvimba where he joined the Spiders together with Cyril Chinyani and his brother Eugene.
He did not stay long but trekked back to Harare where he joined the Outsiders with which he released his first mega hit Venenzia which swiftly launched his career. He also recorded, Mange Majaira Matsotsi with a band called Five Notes
A fine lead guitarist, Dembo became a hit maker even after forming his own group Barura Express in 1985 after the mountain he used to herd cattle in.
Indeed, Dembo was not like John Chibadura and various other fine musicians who squandered their fortunes. Chibadura lost most of his possessions in the dying days but Dembo, one of the very few well off musicians, drove a Cressida even when the car made history by claiming through suicide the life of Maurice Nyagumbo. His family still stays in the Belvedere house.
Inspired by the Chimbetus, Dembo did not become like any one musician but kept to himself. While others where busy penning songs of self-praise, Dembo wrote for the marginalised. The song Chinyemu is one such good example.


A lot has been said about Chiteketeke except that Dembo almost threw the song into the dustbin after some of his band members had deserted him.
In 2005, I spoke to Innocent Mjintu, who was one of those hastily recruited by Dembo after the desertion. It was Mjintu who brought the wailing Dembo rhythm to Alick Macheso’s beat.

Below is the interview:

Chitekete almost never made it to vinyl

Can you believe that Zimbabwe’s Silver Jubilee Best Song, Chitekete, almost ended up in the dustbin after some members of the Barura Express had abandoned the late Leonard Dembo a month before going into the studio for recording?
Chitekete was chosen as the best song during the Zimbabwe Music Awards held at the Harare International Conference Centre ahead of 24 other songs that included Leonard Zhakata’s hit song Mugove.
According to Innocent Mjintu, one of the youths who were hastily recruited by Dembo together with Shepherd Akim (bass) and drummer Simba, the late super star was so heartbroken that he decided to put aside the five-track album and move on to the next project.
“When Charles Mapfumo, Kidson Madzorera and bassist Gilbert left after a row over payments, Dembo lost interest in Chitekete and started working on the next album but we talked him into finishing the album,” said Mjintu who later played rhythm for Orchestra Mberikwazvo with Alick Macheso.
He added that it took them a month to rehearse and go into the studio for recording.
“Even then,” he revealed, “the song Chitekete was not most members’ favourite. Rather, they liked Chinyemu which hit out at the system that rewarded those who had more while taking away from those who had little or nothing and Sarura Wako, a happy-go song about a man who is declaring his find.”
Perhaps it was the love theme in Chitekete that made the song an international hit it became besides being Zimbabwe’s second song to sell in excess of 100 000 copies after Devera Ngwena’s Devera Ngwena 3 that sold about 120 000 copies in the early 80s.
Three years later, the song that almost ended up in the dustbin was played as a signature tune at the Miss Universe competition in Namibia in 1995.
Innocent recalled how Dembo approached and asked him to join his group as a matter of urgency.
“He had attended one of our shows in Chitungwiza and came the next day for me; I was hesitant at first but later took up the offer. He used to rehearse at the Rose and Crown Hotel in Hatfield. I went there and he asked whether I was comfortable playing his songs. He tried me on Sharai and it worked,” remembered Innocent who came to Harare from Hwange where he had just finished his Ordinary levels.
Together with Dembo, Innocent played rhythm on 10 albums except Sharai that was recorded before he joined the group.
Innocent, together with Shepherd, tried to keep the Barura Express alive after Dembo’s death but could not match their mentor’s vocal prowess hence the disbandment of the group.
Imagine if fate had not stepped in there would not be any Chitekete to talk about.

His death in 1996

Dembo’s death drew more attention just like what his music did largely because in the last days, he sought disgraced convicted rapist Madzibaba Nzira’s help. Dembo had to leave the comfort of his Belvedere home and settle for Nzira’s shelter in the sprawling Seke Township.
In his desperation to get back his health, Dembo paraded like a prize cow in Seke by Madzibaba Nzira. At one time there was talk that he had healed and that he would feature alongside Nicholas Zakaria.
In a way, Madzibaba Nzira became more famous than Dembo himself by making claims that