Remembering Leonard Dembo @ 25 Years in Death : What a Memorable Event at Chaka !
… as the call for Dembo to be declared a Hero got louder
By Dr Tinashe Gumbo
Chaka was the Venue for the Historic Event
The day 23 October 2021 will go down in history as a special one for the Barura Express and Dembo Families. This was a day when Dembo’s close relatives, friends and fans met to reflect on the life of one of the greatest sons of Zimbabwe in the music industry, Leonard Musorowenyoka Kwangwari Gwaendepi Tazvivinga Dembomavara a.k.a Leonard Dembo. Dembo left us on 9 April 1996 and was laid to rest at his rural home at Chaka.
The historic event to celebrate his life in death after twenty five years was convened at Chaka, in Chirumanzu district in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe. Chaka is located thirty kilometres from Mvuma along Masvingo road. The Dembo homestead is exactly two kilometres from the Chaka centre, next to Gonawapotera Secondary School under Village Head Mhere.
As a loyal cadre of the Dembo legacy, I travelled overnight on 22 October 2021 to be at the venue. Surely, I could not afford to miss this great moment in my life. The preparations for the event had been going on for several months and it had been a packed and busy moment for the Dembo family as they prepared for the day, yet, it was only one day, a great and necessary day indeed. The man (Dembo) himself would always say “Gadziriro yako Mudiwa…izuva rimwe chete paGore asindinorikonewaaa…”. The important thing is that the “Dembo @25 years in Death Commemoration” event was a huge success.
A never-to-miss event
I had always regarded myself as the greatest of Dembo supporters. Yes, I am, but reader, I was surprised to note that there are also some fans who belong to my class. Upon arrival at the Dembo homestead, I noted that the GOAT (greatest supporters of all times) was already there. The GOAT had travelled to Chaka a day before. Edfree January (Chairman), Nicholas Mugauri (Treasurer); Rambisai Munetsi (Secretary); Joseph Jongwe and Dr Johannes Marisa were already there.
Reader, a separate article will be written where I share with you the calibre, history and role of the GOAT in promotion of Dembo legacy. This is the core team that worked closely with the Dembo family to ensure that the unveiling of the tombstone of Leonard is successful. The GOAT, as they call themselves are a special group of the Dembo fans, made up of very committed people. The Chairman, Mr January, is a strong but nearly firm man. Nicholas (Monya), is a humble but very emotional man when it comes to the Dembo legacy. Rambisai is a bit stable but very sensitive about Dembo things. Joseph is a particular fan who has the capacity to sacrifice everything in the name of Dembo-he travelled all the way from Mozambique for the event. Dr Marisa, an all whether friend of the Dembo family. Let me not pre-empt what I will say in the promised article on this team.
The “Dembo @25 in Death Commemoration” event was also attended by Dembo’s close relatives, friends and other fans outside the GOAT; media houses (electronic and print); government officials; Chirumanzu community members and music promoters who worked with the late musician (including Partson Chimbodza and Grammar Records).
Participants had travelled from as far as Mozambique and South Africa to be with the Dembo and Barura Families on this day. By the way, I always argue that the Barura Express Family is bigger than the Dembo Family!
A Special Honour for Me but for all Dembo Fans
I was greatly honoured by the Dembo family to preside over this great event. I was thrown in the “deep” end to drive the event as the Event Director (some prefer to call it ED…or Master of Ceremonies). Waal… what a great honour for me and the Barura Express family at large! Thank you Dembo family for showing trust in me, and indeed, I am sure I did not disappoint.
It became an opportunity for me to represent the millions of the Dembo fans who could not physically be with us in Chaka due to other commitments.
I thought then and still believe, that I knew what the Dembo fans expected from the Government, media, and other stakeholders. Yes, they had always been sharing their proposals, aspirations, concerns and wishes regarding the status of Dembo in the Zimbabwean society through various platforms including the famous DEMBO THE LEGEND group.
I knew that Dembo supporters wished for their departed hero to be accorded an official hero status by the Government. The fans had been enviously observing how other Zimbabwean musicians’ work had been officially recognised by the Government (both the First and Second Republics), yet, their own musician (Dembo) seemed not to have received that honour despite his clear influence on our social, economic and cultural lives.
I knew too that the fans were worried about the way the Dembo sons were being unfairly treated by the media (and also by some section of the Dembo fans themselves)- who put them (the sons) under unnecessary pressure.
The fans were also concerned that the Dembo music is not fully benefiting the family, yet, on a daily basis it rocks all our local, regional and global radio stations and public places.
Indeed, Dembo fans had also been reflecting on possibilities of developing a more sustainable way of collectively supporting the Dembo legacy.
The fans had further been worried about the level of piracy that continued to rob the Dembo family of the potential proceeds from their father and husband’s sweat.
Therefore, my role as the ED of the day, allowed me to convey these wishes of the Dembo fans to the relevant audience present at the event and across the nation. I conveyed the key message to the representative of Minister Kirsty Coventry, Mr Shackson Reward. The message was clear that, we expect our beloved and “listening” Government to seriously consider honouring our legend through according him a hero’s status.
I further officially complained to our media for their discouraging reports about Dembo sons and I reiterated that it is not fair to compare Tendai and Morgen, not even any other Zimbabwean musician to Leonard. Learnard was a rare breed of an artist-he can never be compared to any other mortal musician, thus, his shoes were too big for his sons to fill.
Yet, the media and some Dembo fans should work to support the sons and not discourage them.
Gogo Munatsi and Gogo Dembo “ Were Not Present ”
While we gathered in Chaka to celebrate the life of Leonard, while we danced to Chitekete, Mazano, Ruva Rashe, Sarura Wako, Kutinya Marimba, Tinokumbira Kurarama, Nzungu Ndamenya, Fungai, Dudzai, Ziviso and others, two women who occupied a special place in the late musician’s life were visibly not there-Gogo Munatsi and Gogo Dembo. They could not even celebrate with us.
You will remember reader, that Dembo always sang about “Ambuya vangu ndingavatenda neiko….vakandizvarira chivaraidzo changuwoooo…”. He was grateful for his mother in law had given her fruits (Eunice Dembo) to him (Leonard). Dembo’s mother in law could have added the flavour of joy to the @25 years in death commemorations had she been around.
Dembo always sang about his mother, our mother and everyone’s mother. Countless songs from Dembo remind us of the need to respect and take care of our parents.
Surely, Gogo Dembo should have been happy to learn that his son was still being loved even in death. She should have been there to witness this great honour bestowed unto her son.
Sadly, Dembo family lost these two special women (Gogo Munatsi and Gogo Dembo) within almost a month apart, barely a few weeks before the great day (23 October2021).
On behalf of all the Barura Express family, as the ED, I took the opportunity to pass our condolences to the Munatsi and Dembo families for their loss of the two special women.
Former Workmen could have told us more about the legend
The participants at the Chaka event would have loved to personally and physically interact with members of the Barura Express who directly worked with Leonard.
Innocent Mujintu (only surviving member now according to available sources) could not make it to the event due to last minute commitments. The rest of the other members are unfortunately late: Alexander Muudzwa, Chrispen Zimburu, Cosmas Nyathi, Kidson Madzorera and Shepard Akim. This was the special team that shaped the Dembo music during the last moments of our hero on earth.
Emotionally Filled Speeches from the Dembo Family
The Dembo family members were given the opportunity to share their thoughts about their son, father, brother and husband. Leonard’s brother, Gift, delivered an emotional speech chronicling the life of his elder brother. He also shared some insights into the private life of his brother, his character and aspirations for his extended family. Gift, a cool but very unassuming man, thanked the Dembo fans for gracing the event.
Another key member of the Dembo family, Rabson Mhike whose father (now late) was Leonard’s elder brother, also emotionally narrated his stay with his uncle (Babamunini Leonard) and Mainini (Eunice Dembo). Rabson is now a successful businessman working closely with his uncle, Gift, and he owes this to Leonard’s support in his early life.
Dembo sons (Morgen and Law Tendai) and daughter, Fenistia Linah (Fenny) emotionally narrated how their mother took care of them after the death of their father. They were grateful for the unending support they continue to receive from the greater Barura Express family.
Critically, though, Leonard’s children appealed to the fans and the media not to give them unnecessary pressure by expecting them to match the standards reached by their father. What they need is support and not pressure.
They however committed to working with their father’s fans in protecting, promoting and even defending the Dembo legacy.
For me, the event was a huge milestone in my continued search for the true history of Dembo. I finally met, the queen herself, Mrs Eunice Dembo (VaChihera), the wife to the legendary musician. Here is a strong woman and one who loved her husband. One could tell that she still misses her partner.
I will reserve a lot more detail about this special woman for a separate article because, indeed, the @25 years Dembo commemorations gave me the opportunity to know more about my hero through his wife.
Mrs Dembo narrated how she met Leonard in Masvingo, the growth of their love, the successes in their life, their children, the death of her husband and the subsequent tombstone unveiling on this great day. She briefly shared, on the side-line of the tombstone unveiling session, that indeed, Leonard loved his family. It was indicated that he would even take his children to his shows. “Fenny uyu, aiendwa naye kumashows….achitenderera pamakumbo ababa vake vachiridza gitari ravo…..Dai kuchema kwaimutsa munhu, dai murume wangu akamuka nokuti ndirikumuchema nguva dzose…” she said.
I can only say that, Mrs Dembo has all we need to know about our hero. She is indeed the legitimate source of that history. As a historian myself, I was particularly interested in every word that Mrs Dembo said. That for another day!
Dembo was a Community Man
Leonard interacted with his Chaka community members each time he visited his rural home. Village Head Mhere and Headman Chaka confirmed that the late musician was a humble and simple man. The two traditional leaders thanked the Barura Express family for the support it gave to the Chaka community through Leonard. Chaka community’s profile was catapulted to the international level through Leonard Dembo.
In her speech, Mrs Dembo also appreciated the support her family always gets from the traditional leaders while she is in Harare. She also shared that Leonard would buy some goodies for the elderly members of Chaka community whenever he happened to be around. This was confirmed by some women I talked to at the graveyard where Leonard lies.
Nicholas Mugauri, a GOAT, asked a certain butcher man at Chaka regarding Leonard’s conduct when he was at Chaka and the answer was “the man was very humble and he would come and play with his band at this veranda….”
The Government’s “ Commitment ”
Over the years, the Dembo fans had been eagerly waiting for that moment when their hero’s annual commemorations would attract the attention of the Government. Thanks to the GOAT, this time around, the event was graced by a Senior Civil Servant. The Minister of Youth, Sport, Art and Recreation, Dr Kirsty Coventry was represented by Mr Shackson Reward, the Midlands Provincial Arts, Culture Promotion and Development Administrator.
Mr Reward narrated the history of Leonard from his birth in 1959 at Masvingo General Hospital, his music career and influence in our society. He indeed agreed with the fans that Leonard deserved to be formally accorded a hero status. He had this to say in his speech “Dai Leonard akafa munguva ye Second Republic, nyaya yacho hamaiihwina Changamire, dai arere pachikomo.. (If Leonard had died during the reign of the Second Republic, he would have been accorded a national hero’s status and would have been laid at the National Heroes Acre)”.
Mr Reward reiterated that the media needs to contribute towards the protection of the Dembo legacy. He further committed that in all future high profile events in the Midlands, the Barura Express will be invited to play as a way of supporting it.
In response to the Minister’s commitment, a Clergyman, Rev Zihove who had led the Church Service requested for Government to consider naming one of the roads after Leonard Dembo as this would comfort the late musician’s fans.
As fans we have faith in our Government, that one day, “Dembo Day” will be officially recognised.
The Gigantic Tombstone
The climax of the event was the unveiling of Dembo’s tombstone. The Minister, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Dembo Family members and the Church leadership led the procession to the graveyard which is located about half a kilometre from the Dembo homestead. The fans were particularly impressed by the size and quality of the tombstone that befitted their hero. The tombstone is very unique-it almost has got four faces. From each side you will see Dembo’s pictures, all his albums and key messages from his wife, sons and daughter. As he was of the Shumba (Lion) totem, a big lying but very alert lion is also pictured in very expensive and attractive materials. Then “Dembo’s Guitar” is also hanging at the top part of the tombstone. Reader, this tombstone is unique, nice, big, and very attractive.
Speaking at the graveyard, Mr Reward called for the Chaka community leadership to consider building a Mausoleum in order to protect the tombstone from rains, sunlight and animals. He further argued that the tombstone can also be used as a tourist attraction feature.
Rev Zihove then challenged the Church to also consider hidding the call by erecting a fence around the graveyard. This structure is actually the best that the Dembo family could offer to our hero and as fans we are grateful.
Barura Express under Tendai is “ Mayaas ” said Dr Marisa
Indeed, the Barura Express under Tendai is “Mayaas”. I can boldly confirm this. When Dr Marisa warned that the Barura Express has remained a force to reckon with when he delivered his speech on behalf of millions of Dembo fans, I had not taken him seriously.
The band played a couple of Leonard’s songs and the community members were treated to an early Christmas. Tendai’s lead guitar is “Mayaas”. For me, Tendai is now almost 90% close to his father. The man surprised many and surely you would think that he had been in the Barura Express of the early 1990s.
While it will be very difficult to fully imitate the way his father did it, Tendai’s future is very bright. I was also personally impressed by the drummer, the rhythm and baas players, the dancers and the vocalist. With full support from the Dembo fans, this band has the potential to reach high levels. Let us support the group for the sake of Dembo legacy!
Morgen Launched “ Chikara Kununa ”
I was also honoured to officially announce the arrival of another excellent work from Morgen Dembo, “Chikara Kununa” Album. I am currently reviewing the album and will be able to share my full appreciation of the project in the next few days. I have already sampled a few songs and indeed, Morgen has very good voice. With time, we will surely have Leonard’s voice back through Morgen.
During the commemoration of his father’s @25 years in death, Morgen teamed up with his sister, Fenny to back the Barura Express as they sang “Sunga musoro wedendende musungo wakanaka…dendendede…” The crowd enjoyed and called for more. Well done Moggie.
And …. The Dembo Documentary is loading ….
Meanwhile, Fenny is leading a Dembo documentary development process. The documentary will cover Leonard’s life, career, and all that we may need to know about our hero. I am happy that I managed to give my input into the documentary.
This promises to be an exciting project that will allow the Dembo fans to have a full and true picture of Dembo’s life beyond the bits and pieces that we continue to pick in the media. However, this will be also an opportunity for the fans to support the Dembo family as the project will be monetised. This will be our small and humble way of supporting the family of the man who continues to entertain and educate us even in death.
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