Leonard Tazvivinga Dembo (6 February 1959 – 9 April 1996) was a Zimbabwean musician whose band, the Barura Express, became popular during the 1990s.
Early life and education
Leonard Dembo was born Kwangwari Gwaindepi on the 6th of February 1959 in Chivi, Masvingo province of Zimbabwe. The early childhood of Leonard Dembo is not fully documented. However, from his relatives, Leonard Dembo is believed to have grown up without his father and brought up by his mother Sukai Pasipanodya, this experience he later on reflected in his song writing, particularly in such songs as Nhamo Moto and Nhamo Iya ndakura Nayo. He attended primary school initially in Buhera, and later in Bulawayo, and also in Chembira School, Harare. He did not attend secondary school. On completing primary school, he returned to Bulawayo looking for work. He married Eunice Munatsi in August 1994. His two sons Morgan Dembo and Tendai Dembo took it upon themselves to revive Dembo's band, The Barura Express. They however eventually parted ways.
Dembo's singing career
It is believed that Dembo was interested in singing from as early as age of nine when he was a shepherd-boy and later when he moved to Bulawayo to look for work to do soon after the Zimbabwean Independence. He was largely inspired by the success of such other musicians such as Jonah Moyo and the Chimbetu Brothers.
Dembo joined the Spiders Band which was based in Zvimba together with Cyril Chinyani. In 1982, he relocated to Harare where he joined The Outsiders and he subsequently released his first hit single, Venenzia. Here he was quickly identified as a talented young guitarist as he used to play the lead guitar. He even broke the charts with his early hit Dambudzo and Mainge Majaira Matsotsi, this later song which he released under the name of a band known as Five Notes.
The Barura Express
Due to some disagreements over partnership laws and band management, Leonard Dembo quickly broke ranks with his colleagues in the Outsiders/Five Notes outfit. This was especially precipitated by his success in his first album, Mai vane Vana Vavo (1984) and the hit single, Venenzia. He succeeded to team up with few other friends and in 1985 formed the Barura Express. Despite the widely attributed meaning of this name to "Nonstop beats", Dembo's childhood friends and especially his young brother believes that the name "Barura" could have been inspired from the mountain in Buhera called Barura Mountain, since his mother hailed from that area. From the time Leonard Dembo took charge of his new outfit, he never looked back. In fact, from the year 1985, Dembo had been releasing hit after hit, beginning with Murombo (Poor Man). This track appealed to most young men of the time as it addressed the question of poor bachelors who expect to get married soon. Other tracks included Chidhidhi, Kugaro Roja and so many other singles. His first album was Amai Nevana Vavo (1984). Others soon followed. These include: Nhamo Moto (1986), Kuziva Mbuya Huudzwa (1987), Sharai (1987), Kukura Kwedu (1988), Ruva Rashe (1989), Kukura Hakutani (1990, which was a twelve-inch disc), Chitekete (1991), Tinokumbira Kurarama /Madhiri (1992), Mazano (1993), Kutinya Marimba (1993), Nzungu Ndamenya (1994), Pawpaw (1994), Shiri Yakangwara (1995), Babamunini (1996) and Ndiri Mudiki (1996).
The Chitekete Hit
One of the greatest hits by Dembo titled "Chitekete" was said to have been discarded after several band members had walked away from Dembo. The song was only retrieved after Dembo was convinced by Innocent Mijintu to revive the project and release Chitekete. As fate would have it, the song Chitekete went on to become a runaway success.
The song was written years earlier when Dembo was a cattle herder, and it is about a young man who desperately wishes to get married to a beautiful lady. The track seemed to have introduced a new style of playing the rhythm guitar at the time. Its popularity can also be attributed to its heavy use of Shona proverbs and poetic stanzas. It sold more than 100,000 copies in the first 3 months it went on sale. During this time, it became a popular wedding song. The song Chitekete was voted Zimbabwe’s Silver Jubilee (Best Song) ahead of other outstanding tracks ever produced in Zimbabwe such as Mugove by Leonard Zhakata. It was the only Zimbabwean song played at the Miss World Pageant in Namibia in 1996.
After the success of Chitekete, several more hits followed. ‘’If a sound comes into my head three times, then I know it's a record’’. Dembo and his band, the Barura Express, perfected what is known as Sungura, consisting of hard-hitting rhythms and melodic arrangements for two electric guitars and bass guitar.
Dembo seemed to have been interested in songs of love. In fact, most of his songs are particularly loved by youth as they find them appropriate to their situations. Leonard was known as the King of Sungura music, due to the lead guitarist skills he had from the creative melodies he created and which would match his beautiful unparalleled lead-vocal voice. The great mastery which he used to construct his music, and the amount of album production he did, gave him the nick name "Musoro We Nyoka", which literary translates to "Head of a snake". This refers to the slyness, willy attitude and intelligence of a snake, which Leonard Dembo was compared to. The poetic lyrics of his songs are cleverly crafted full of deep-rooted meanings. Arguably today still unmatched by any artist to come out of Zimbabwe. At various times, Dembo also used to address other social ills of his times, especially the suffering of the orphans and young kids. Although Dembo lived through the tumultuous years of Zimbabwean liberation struggle, he never seemed to be very much interested in the political affairs of his day. However, he sang a few tunes such as Kana Ndorangarira found on his 1987 album, Kuziva Mbuya Huudzwa which immediately found itself a hit on all the radio stations in the land. He even alluded to the struggle in such songs as Mainge Majaira Matsotsi (when he said that now that people were free, those who used to thrive in pickpocketing were to be punished). Dembo is said to have been a very camera shy artists who only managed to record just two videos in his music career. In his musical career, Dembo shared the stage with other prominent African musicians such as Kanda Bongo Man and Sakis at the Harare International Conference Centre. It is widely speculated that although Dembo only recorded two videos, the family is said to have videos of the Barura Express legend holding live shows at Stoddart Hall in Mbare, Rusununguko Beerhall in Chitungwiza and Mkoba Stadium in Gweru.
Interviews with family and workmates
“He was a good family man who wanted to see us happy every time. I was still young when I interacted with him, but I learnt many things from how he handled the family issues.
“He was a member of the Anglican church and every time he was not away for shows, he would take us to church. We went with him to church when we stayed in Chitungwiza and even when we moved to Belvedere.
“However, he was also traditional and he respected his roots and cultural beliefs. He took us to his rural home many times to make us understand more about our culture. “He wanted his family to be happy. He would buy goodies every time he came home from tours and we expectantly waited for his return when he was away. Most of our relatives enjoyed visiting us because my father was a courteous man.
“He told us that we should treat his brothers as our real fathers. I was young, but I now understand the importance of his approach. Family should always come first in whatever we do.”
Eunice Dembo (widow now late)
“I do not want to say much about Leonard at the moment because there have been misleading stories about his life. All I can say is that he was a loving husband. He loved his family and his music. He loved his son Morgan so much that he composed the song “Vana Vanemazita” to show his displeasure when I had thoroughly beaten the child after mischief. I will say a lot in the near future to correct all misconceptions about Leonard’s life.”
Sukai Pasipanodya / Gogo Dembo (mother)
“My son loved me so much. He loved his family, but he had his principles about relating to other people. He did not want people to take advantage of his shy character. He wanted people that respected his beliefs and decisions.
“He would visit me almost every week and he bought groceries and food for me. I always had new clothes and enough food on my table. Other women in my neighbourhood envied me because of the way Leonard spoiled me.
“When he did live shows close to our home, he would come and take me to the gigs. He would introduce me on stage and showered praises on me. He did not want me to work and would always hire people that helped me with household chores and field work”.
Innocent Mijintu (band member)
“I joined Dembo when some guys who used to work with him had deserted him. He was a man of few words, but he was accommodative. If you did well, he appreciated but he did not tolerate laziness. He was strict. “When we got into the studio, he wanted everything to be done according to his word.
“He was happy when we did well. However, he had a problem with fellow musicians that said bad things behind his back and that is why he was sometimes at loggerheads with some of his fellow musicians.
“When he was at home, he enjoyed relaxing with friends and having a time with his guitar. You had to be close to him to gain his trust and share more time and words with him.”
Bothwell Nyamhondera (producer)
“The man loved his work and he came to the studio well prepared for his work. However, he was short-tempered and would openly show his displeasure at anyone who seemed to disturb his work.
“Sometimes he would come to the studio ready to record, but he would quit a session midway if anyone angered him.
“He was so secretive and did not want to share his private life with workmates. I used to have personal relations with other musicians outside the studio, but Dembo kept our relationship professional.
“He only talked about music and nothing else. He was not interested in other people’s lives and he kept his life away from the public.
“He had cultural and religious beliefs that he followed strictly and no one would sway him from his convictions.”
After having suffered a severe nosebleed after a show in Makoni District in 1995, Leonard Dembo never fully recovered. The musician continued suffering from acute headaches and at times partial hearing that were all a result of the severe blood loss caused by the nose bleed. It was reported that he ended up residing at Madzibaba Nzira’s shrine seeking healing. He died on 9 April 1996 ages 37.
Dembo is still considered a legend as his songs still continue to sell and be played widely and budding musicians find inspiration from his hits. Despite other great hits on the market within the Sungura genre, no song has so far surpassed the popularity of Chitekete released 30 years ago.
- Amai Nevana Vavo (1984)
- Nhamo Moto (1986)
- Kuziva Mbuya Huudzwa (1987)
- Sharai (1987)
- Kukura Kwedu (1988)
- Ruva Rashe (1989)
- Kukura Hakutani (1990)
- Chitekete (1991)
- Tinokumbira Kurarama (1992)
- Mazano (1993)
- Mubato Wamaoko (Kutinya Marimba) (1993)
- Nzungu Ndamenya (1993)
- Paw Paw (1994)
- Shiri Yakangwara (1995)
- Babamunini (1996)
- Ndiri Mudiki (1996)
Credits: Pindula Newspaper, The Herald Newspaper, Peoplepill.cpm, Wikipedia.
Photo credits: The Herald Newspaper, NewsDay.