Friends from the beginning to the end.
They came from miles around — from Webster Shamu, Milton Mathambo, Moses Kabubi, Sam Sabau, Tanga wekwaSando, Joyce Jenje-Makwenda, Chris Mutsvangwa, David George, Ray Kujeke, Derek Sunduza, Andrew Bvumbe, Austin Zvoma, Clancy Mbirimi, William Kashiri, Friday Mbirimi, Solo Chiweshe, Dave Ndoro, Steve Kavayi, Sydney Mtsambiwa, Ridgeway Tutani, Max Chagaresango, Julius Chifokoyo, Gillian Gotora, Chris Stambuli, Rodwell Munyati, Fatima (wekuFio), Daniel Muronda, Tony Mutero, Mike Nyandoro, to Mike Bvumbe and many more — to pay their last respects to Hilton Mambo at his burial on Wednesday.
Here, I am “talking about my generation” as ’60s and ’70s legendary British rock group The Who sang in their classic hit, extolling youth culture and this resonated well with us then — and now that we are much older.
Hilton’s burial was, in many ways, a reunion of long-lost friends who last met as teenagers — most now grandfathers and grandmothers, sporting grey hair and potbellies.
Some had aged so well one could immediately recognise them while others looked like total strangers because they had completely changed most likely through over-indulgence in alcohol and/or because of the unfortunate deterioration of health.
For this day, though a sad occasion, there was one big reunion. In death, as in life, Hilton brought people together.
One person I know who was definitely hurt by not being there personally to bid Hilton farewell is Telecel boss James “JCJ” Makamba.
A distraught Makamba phoned me from outside the country the day after Hilton died to express his grief at the loss of a close friend and valued colleague.
According to my observation, Makamba was always fascinated by Hilton from the word go; from when Hilton joined Advertising Promotions Limited (APL) in the mid-1970s as a recording engineer.
Maybe it’s because the towering JCJ initially underestimated Hilton because of his small frame, but Makamba, being the quick learner I know, quickly revised this as Hilton showed his amazing ability and infectious enthusiasm. Makamba could also not fathom that Hilton was a year older than him! Hilton had undoubted talent for everything musical.
He was a professional through and through. He was a moving encyclopaedia of music — from rock, soul to jazz. Despite being small, he had a big presence without being intrusive or imposing himself. Besides, he had a marvellous sense of humour.
About 20 years later, I knew straight away that Comfort Mbofana, who I had known since he was a kid attending Frank Johnson Primary School in Waterfalls in the late ’70s, had fallen into good hands and would make it in show business when I saw him associating with Hilton.
As I have mentioned above, many township acquaintances from those old days were present plus my University of Rhodesia (now University of Zimbabwe) colleague, the buoyant Chris Mutsvanga, who, being the quintessential political animal that he is, said Hilton had brought liberation and music heroes together, not to mention the acute but astute speech by Information minister Shamu.
Hilton was amazingly charismatic. He assumed iconic status in Mbare — he was the local champion — and beyond. He had pleasant memories of Mbare — that’s why he still went back to his roots to provide entertainment, the Mbare he felt nostalgic about when there was a sense of community and civic pride, but one which has, sadly, been reduced to a shanty post-independence through neglect; there are signs of urban decay everywhere.
Now Mbare is associated with poverty and crime. This is an indictment on the government because the decay didn’t happen overnight. As a starting point, they must get rid of vermin like Chipangano and other parasitic elements which have robbed people of their dignity and positive focusing of energy!
On Wednesday, I recalled a teenage outfit in 1969 called Groovy Union featuring Muddy on drums, Clancy Mbirimi on bass, David Ndoro on lead — and, of course, the inimitable Hilton on vocals.
My late buddy Wilson Mtukwa used to particularly like Hilton’s rendition of the Bee Gees’ Marley Purt Drive. Girls used to go wild, literally wild, I can tell you!
Hilton had everything going for him, but he always had his feet firmly on the ground even though he was barely 17 years old! Of course, there is no perfect specimen of humanity, but then, as they say, men with no vices have little virtues.
Yes, there were temptations — many of them — but Hilton survived them to finally settle into married life, and expressed pride in his wife, children and all of his six grandchildren. That’s how he found balance and contentment in his life.
Another trait that marked Hilton was sincerity. He genuinely loved people because, as far as I could see, there was no trace of fakeness in him despite his superstar status. Away from the public glare, Hilton was a mentor.
In my case, in 1978 he firmly but politely told me that I was going astray when, on the verge of success, I was about to wreck my promising academic career.
He had heard from some guys he was sitting with in the pub at the table next to me and my pals that I was on the “road to ruin”, and these guys were making fun of it.
Being an essentially kind and considerate person, he didn’t enjoy one bit of this.
He decided there and then to confront me discreetly as I was walking to the gents’. He pointed out what was going wrong with me.
He did this without malicious intent or ulterior motives, but I went on the defensive because the truth hurts, cash talk hurts. I saw the error of my ways some many, many years later and mended my ways.
For that, I am eternally grateful to Hilton. I regret I didn’t tell him this “in the living years”, as Mike Rutherford of Mike & The Mechanics sang ruefully about not appreciating his father and telling him so when he was still living.
Hilton was a natural, not an upstart, not a pretender. He was a legend in his own lifetime. That’s why those familiar faces from over 40 years ago were present at his burial — friends from the beginning to the end, indeed.
Rest in peace, Kambezo.
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