The spirit of Dembo lives on

AS a rural boy, one of my childhood’s greatest moments were bus rides from our home in Musiiwa, near Shamva, to Harare and I remember that my excitement of the prospects of travelling was always capped by the music that played in the Kumukira AVM buses.

By TAPIWA ZIVIRA

Out of those large speakers that were fastened on the bus ceilings, I first listened to the great Leornard Dembo’s song Nzungu Ndamenya, and what caught my ears was the line, “Njiva yangu yatorwa naniko, ndatsvaga mudendere mayo ndaishaya…”

While Dembo might have referred to a girl as the dove, I, then a tender nine-year-old, took that literally, because just a day earlier, my older brother had stolen one of my doves from my cage, as we used to snare birds and keep them in makeshift cages. So the song was significant to us.

When we got to Harare, we both asked our father to buy us a cassette with that song, and he dutifully got it from the Express Music shop. That was how I got my very first copy of Dembo’s Paw Paw album, which I played on our little Trident radio, and I still have the cassette, one of the few remaining souvenirs from my early life.

For us, Dembo became a lifestyle, and when we were not listening to his music, the growth point at Musiiwa had beerhalls that played Dembo so loud that we heard every line from home.

Back then, we did not know that Dembo was a legend and when he breathed his last on April 9, 1996, some of us were too young to understand why our parents experienced so much grief over a stranger.

Yes, 22 years later, musicians have come and gone, there have been new faces to the musical industry, and the golden era of sungura, which had names like Simon Chimbetu, John Chibadura, System Tazvida, Jonah Moyo and Ngwenya Brothers has fizzled out.

Leonard-Dembo

Even with the urban grooves and current Zimdancehall craze, Dembo’s influence on the music industry is still significant.

Apart from his very fine voice, catchy lyrics, and composition talent, today’s sungura still borrows many lead guitar lines from Dembo.

Books have been written about the origin of museve or sungura music and while it is clear that among the pioneers of this genre in the 1980s was Ephraim Joe, who fronted the Sungura Boys made up of the likes of Chibadura, Simon and Naison Chimbetu, Ronnie Chataika, Mitchell Jambo, Moses Marasha, Never Moyo, Bata Sinfirio and System Tazvida, it was with no doubt that Dembo perfected the genre in the 1990s.


No sooner were the pioneers following behind, as he had invaded the music space with great force.

His first hit song, Venenziya, which he did in 1984, and subsequent albums were made in the style of what I would like to call classic sungura, which still had a lot of elements of kanindo music, from which sungura was largely borrowed.

It is perhaps with the album Ruvarashe in 1989 that Dembo really cut himself off the classic sungura sound to carve his own brand of music.
The title track on the album had a heavier bassline, more pronounced lead guitar and the wailing rhythm guitar became more prominent. A new form of sungura had been born.

By 1991, Dembo, who released albums every year, hit his highest note with Chitekete, a song that shook not only Zimbabwe, but also the entire Africa and was a soundtrack at the 1994 Miss Universe pageant.

His later albums were now consistently made up of the signature Dembo sound such that by the time of his death, the man had carved his name permanently into the history of Zimbabwean music.

And when it came to sound quality and depth of message, Dembo never compromised, and that is why to this day, his songs can still play and sound like they were produced yesterday.

His music, which was produced decades before social media platforms like Youtube, still competes with current productions and this just proves the man lived in the future, and if there is such a thing as divination, the man had it.

On Youtube, instance, his Musha Rudziiko has 412 000 views, while Paw Paw has 159 000 views, and Nzungu Ndamenya is at a cool half a million views.

And during the sunset of his life, he left his last album, Babamunini, half done. The song Ndiri Mudiki, off that album, probably one he did when he was already unwell, he sounds like he had already given up on life: “Ndiri mudiki ndiri mudiki handina nharo nemi…”

If I was to write a letter to him wherever he is, I would start it off with: “No Dembo, you were not small, you were big. You left us music that we still listen to. If at all, as Zimbabwe, we owe you more, because up to this day no one has done anything to preserve your legacy and that of other greats like Chimbetu, Chibadura…”

Your spirit is surely roaming in the wilderness, searching for a resting place, and that resting place can only be some kind of a musical museum for Zimbabwean greats, some honour in the form of streets named after you and other musicians, and some annual festivals in your honour, or some music school dedicated to you, because your contribution went beyond providing us with something to dance to.

You gave us a lifestyle. You gave us sound that we listen to when we are happy or sad, crying or laughing.”

This week’s instalment is in commemoration of the 22nd anniversary of the death of Dembo.

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14 Comments

  1. Great piece for the legend. Indeed, we owe these late legends so much. Govt does not respect the arts that is why there is no heroes shrine for artistes

  2. Unzo wekwa Zvimba

    great peace .This article is for the archives .

  3. Great stuff form this guy he was so simple I used to attebd his shows at Mushandira Pamwe Hotel in Highfield talk of the lead guiter oh my word I have a lot of his songs they still sound like they were relaesed yesterday i.e Chinyemu kkkkkk what a piece of music so nice that every morning I PLAY IT IN MY CAR TO WORK AND BACK HOME he was a great guy I am supprised none of his sibblings managed to do take over and do the the same it is difficult as the old age say Wafa warova aenda ne zvake it is true

  4. togarepi mukarakate

    good effort from the writer but a little research could have helped eradicate some small factual errors such as 1.vhenenziya, the song of the year for 1984 was not Dembo’s first song. he had already done some songs such as Dambudzo with the outsiders before vhenenziya. 2. ruvarashe was not released in 1989 as i vividly remember listening to that particular track (ruvarashe) ironically on the bus to school in 1985 when i was in form 1

    1. THanks for the feed back Togarepi, it is really helpful as we continue to try to write the correct versions of our musical history, given that the authorities have paid a blind eye to the preservation of such history. My sincere hope is that we have research into our music that we can publish. Yours, Tapiwa Zivira

    2. Liar!! The Chronology of Dembo Discography is as follows; Mai Vane Vana Vavo (1985), Nhamo Moto (1986), Sharai (1986), Kuziva Mbuya Huudzwa (1987), Dudzai (Maxi Single 1987),Kukura Kwedu (1988), Parumano (Maxi Single 1988), Ruva Rashe (1989), Kukura Hakutane/Kodzero (Maxi Single 1990),Chitekete (1991), Zii Zii/Gire (Maxi Single 1992), Tokumbira Kurarama (1992), Mazano (1993), Kutinya Marimba (1993), Nzungu Ndamenya (1994), Paw Paw (1994), Shiri Yakangwara (1995), Babamunini (1996 Posthumous), Ndiri Mudiki (1997 but was recorded earlier, probably 1993)

  5. thank you , good read indeed

  6. Chiragano Chedu

    The children are not continuing the dream as they should be.

  7. In my house, almost everyday, i play Dembo music. His music is unique. His music will live for many years. He is my favourite musician. He is a hero and streets should be named after him. All his songs are good. No musician in Zim.

  8. No Zimbabwean musician right now is as good as Dembo. Aive akarongeka. He bought a house in Belvedere. Sometime last year, i came across his son selling CDs and i told him to carry on with music.

  9. Solomon mutyoraringa

    NDIKAZVIFUNGA NYOKA DZINORIRA KANA KUDYA ZVONONAKA HANDIMBOKWANISA…..Leonard Dembo

  10. Comment…Good comment, that shows he was great and his music still good. The lead and the bass in Tinokumbira kurarama, mmmmm, music yake haina noise, yakarongeka

  11. sweet stuff makes others of those days want to cry as there go memory lane and those were the freaking days

  12. Thanks for a great piece that will definitely find its way into music archive. I celebrate Dembo because he was an enigma who could strum the lead guitar and lead vocals at the same time whilst creating beautiful music. There are very few like that. In fact some exotic music colleges are studying Dembo music right now. Chikomo chiremerera chevarikure, varipedyo vanotamba nacho. Thank u Sekuru for Discography chronology.

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