Paul Mpofu: The prolific composer with a prophetic message


By Phenias Sadondo
In primary school we had fun. No, change that. In primary school we had everything. We had fun, we had pain.

It was a little bit of everything, and now that was fun.

I would walk, more like hike, a few kilometres from home every day. School started at 0715hrs meaning, I had to be up and running early.

My mum, would wake up much earlier to do the preparations and wake us up to nice hot bathing water whilst she would be busy sorting out breakfast. It looked easy because of how she flawlessly executed all the tasks. She is a master of multitasking.

After breakfast and final head to tall inspection, she would send us off and off we would go to St James Nyamhingura Primary School then a fine school with impressive records. Oftentimes, my hair would be found wanting during the full body inspections. She would call for the comb again and do the needful.

She would give me a choice, “either you do the hair properly next time or we cut it off using a scissors.” A scissors? I dreaded a scissors.

The pain that it inflicted was unbearable. Escaping without wounds and exposed flesh was a miracle worth celebrating.

The walk to school was not a walk in the park. Descending would start immediately followed by the ascents. We would go down the steep slope and climb up the hill, typical of the undulating Eastern Highlands terrain.

Either you are going up or down. In winter, the valley is brutal. Our little limps would be tortured and immobilised. You would find little kids trapped and screaming in the Nyawamba valley area. Some would continue and others would go back home. One day someone close to me turned right in front of me and went back home, sobbing.

Barefooted and putting on just a light shirt and shorts, the cold whips were too painful for him. We were second graders then. Young, innocent and vulnerable. Literally vulnerable to the unforgiving cold. I understood him but I could not join him. School was a combo of fun and pain — an essential combo to me. I needed both to grow, if not physically because it did not actually happen — then mentally to complement my grandmother’s lessons. Mental growth happened both at school and at home.

At home, my grandmother would narrate harrowing war stories and how they survived the bush as refugees.

She would talk about her sweetheart Benjamin, who fought Hitler in the Second World War. We never saw him, not even his photos.

They, together with her ID documents, were destroyed when she fled to Mozambique during the peak of the liberation war and got shelter at Doroi Refugee Camp but she would tell us that we resembled him in many ways. On me, she picked a few attributes. Quiet. Introverted. Temper. She said that is who he was too.

Armed with those stories, I got motivation to go on and be like him. He was a respected man in the society. This means I had to go to school every day, even in the punishing winter.

After a successful trip to the market, mum would then pick up a few warm clothes and some high-cut tennis shoes that we called tender-foot for us. At some point she bought gloves. Silver glittering gloves to keep the cold at bay.

They were meant for Victor, my eldest brother. But I ended up with them. I cannot remember how exactly it happened but they became mine.

May be we had a deal. We used to have many deals. Roasting fresh mealies on an open fire, an exciting activity to some, was agonising to me. So I would strike a deal with my siblings with grandma being the guarantor-cum-witness of the agreement.

Maybe we had a similar swap deal with the gloves. I would wear them to school, protecting my palms from the painful cold lashes. It was funny putting on silver, glittering gloves, to blend with a brownish claret uniform. Each day was different though.

One day, whilst in 3rd grade, we assembled at the assembly point to do our daily rituals. Sing a song. March in a single file following the drumbeats. Assemble. Sing the national anthem whilst someone, always a tall and muscular guy, would be hoisting the flag up. Wait for the address from the teacher on duty and the school head and any other teachers with important announcements.

On that particular day we had visitors, two men who were standing next to the teachers. They observed our routine with keen interest. I noticed something; they were both visually impaired. But they looked perfectly fine, confident and highly alert. The teacher on duty gave his address. School duties were pronounced.

We had no caretaker, so duties to clean the yard and the ablution facilities were heaved on us. After the allocation of duties, we were reminded of the need to be disciplined. To be good. To be punctual. Noise in the classes was denounced. To be good ambassadors of the school and the church, Anglican Church.

Whips and sticks were always on standby to deal with the miscreants. A guy, always found on the wrong side of the law, was called in front. We were told that this time he was caught stealing some cucumbers somewhere in the village. He was flogged right in front of us. Now that was painful. Even our visitors felt for him.

Finally, the headmaster Norman Dangare was called. He gave his speech in big exotic words. I remember hearing words like school dues. And to me it sounded like school juzi school jersey. It is not a surprise that I took a different message home.

My brother Charles came later and told mum and dad about the school fees announcement that was made by the headmaster. I, on the other hand, had told them about the school jerseys that we were all supposed to be wearing.

They were confused because we all had jerseys. “Have they changed the colours?” I do not know, I responded whilst kicking my plastic ball away to escape further probing questions. Obviously, they had more questions.

After the headmasters address, the big announcement was made. Our visitors were introduced to us as, well, simply visitors. They smiled contagiously whilst taking over the stage. Not really a stage but just some space in front of everyone. “I am Adala Bongo!” one of them announced and the other was like, “And I am Bongo Adala!” They smiled again. We laughed. That is exactly what Adala Bongo and Bongo Adala wanted. Our laughter was their fuel. They started singing; Sirivhiya dzorera wanga wajaira kudya mari yeropa!

Whatever that meant, whoever that Sirivhiya — Silvia — was, which ever bloody money it was; we did not care. We just enjoyed the music from the two comedians. Buoyed by our applause, they continued. Music. Comedy. And a bit more music.

They had a few minutes to convince us that they were worth our attention. In fact, this was just a teaser. The real deal was coming later in the week and we were supposed to pay for it. “Go ask your parents for only 10 cents for admission. It is going to be lit with Adala Bongo and Bongo Adala!” they announced in concordial agreement. We could not wait for Friday. But before disappearing, Adala Bongo and his partner had a final act for us. A final teaser. It was a Jiti song!

Their final song was a rendition of the song Murambinda which was composed, arranged and recorded by Paul Mpofu and his Zambuko Band. In the song Mpofu, who exhibited his poetic prowess, is pleading with and threatening his rival to never attempt snatching his wife because he had brought her from a very distant place. He had noticed how his rival was now frequenting his home donning attractive and expensive clothes. Mpofu sang;

Ndakabva naye kure kure kwaMurambinda kuuya Harare ndichiti ndamuona. Ndichiti ndamuona amai wevana. Iwe shamwari yangu wanyanya kuchiva. Zuva rega rega unouya wakapfeka zvipfeko zvakanaka kuti uonekere… Mira ndikuyambire iwe shamwari yangu… Wangu ukamuzembera tinoburana

We knew this song. Years later, I watched the video in which Paul is filmed ‘ferrying his wife from Murambinda to Harare’ on a bicycle. Bongo Adala and Adala Bongo improvised on the lyrics. They made it catchy and we sang along. As we were sinking in joy, fun, happiness and excitement, they stopped. “Thank you, we will see you on Friday. Bring your 10 cents to enjoy this and much much more.” They bowed out.

Of course, they left the stage but not without leaving an impression. The Murambinda tune stayed with me, so did the lyrics.

Paurosi uripo here, Paidamoyo wangu ndafunga ndimubereke. Mukoma Bongo muripo here… Bva chiuya ndikubereke…”

Many years later, I started uncovering the rubble searching for the gem that Paurosi was. A lanky crooner with outstanding guitar strumming skills.

He mastered his bass guitar in an amazing way. Holding it close to his knees in an unusual manner, he would strum whilst singing. He would not pause to sing, the bass guitar would not stop.

That was rare yet pure talent. Accompanying the well-arranged instruments and the crazy bass lines were thought provoking lyrics. Lyrics that got one into thinking. Although the flow of the instruments would make one dance wildly, the lyrics would make one to pause and ponder. Witty and informative, Mpofu’s lyrics were way ahead of his time. They reflected his mind which was sharp and prophetic.

As if Murambinda was not a hit enough, Mpofu had other songs like Ndakuvara Musoro. And indeed, the song is packed with metaphors and riddles which need to be cracked. It is the cracking part which is perplexing. In the video, Mpofu — who does not stop hitting his guitar, looks deep in thought and, perhaps worried. It’s a deep song. It is too heavy and overwhelming for him. He had a message to deliver and he delivered it in an extraordinary way.

In one of the lines he said, “Uturu wepfungwa dzangu inhaka kuvarombo.” May be he was saying, if you decipher this then you shall make it. May be he was simply saying his duty as a messenger was to deliver the message in its raw form, if you refine it then good for you. “Kuzvibatsira ndoedza nemoyo wose… Kubudirira itsitsi dzeMusiki hameno… Kukuvara musoro ndakuvara...” This is deep. ‘I do what I do, I do what I can do, and I do what I must do. I control what I can control. I leave the rest to God.’ That is like what Paul is saying. And that is something to live with. We do our best and control what we can!

Then he had another song, Gura Nzira in which a trusted ‘driver’ is failing to deliver. People followed him thinking they would reach their destination on time but Gura Nzira has missed the road and does not seem bothered. Now in the middle of nowhere, far from the intended destination, people are starving and despairing. Toddlers are eating wild berries to survive the punishing hunger. They are lost and cannot even figure out where the ‘driver’ is taking them. “Nanhasi tichiri musango… Gura Nzira wakanangepiko?” They thought they were going to Guruve but no, not anymore.

Other songs by Mpofu include Nanga nanga neni when he was, like Mario Balotelli, asking ‘why always me.’ In Mapepa enyika, Mpofu is chronicling his ‘hustling’ journey and his perseverance in the midst of some discouragements.

He was doing it to make clean money. He did not mind sleeping in the cold or being drenched by some rains whilst entertaining some revellers — he was using his talent to make money.

Paul breathed his last in February 2000 having been around for about 52 years.

He worked with Cephas Mashakada and coined the name Muddy Face before going solo. In his solo career, he released hits and gems which have outlived him.

When Zimbabwe’s music history is told, Paul will certainly have slot devoted to his contributions. His song writing skills and guitar expertise will definitely be stimuli to generations to come. His lyrics are a marvel to poets.

He lit the path that we are all following. We hope to make it. We wish to make it. Kubudirira itsitsi dzeMusiki hameno….

Continue to rest in peace Mhofu Yemukono.

  • Phenias Sadondo is a Natural Scientist who loves and appreciates African music. He is reachable on or +263775875605.