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