‘How I met, dated Leonard Dembo’ The legendary singer Leonard Dembo and his wife Eunice on their wedding day in 1994.

Talent ChimutambgiLifestyle Writer 

It is mid-morning at a supermarket in the sprawling Masvingo city centre. 

A girl busies herself with buying groceries. Unbeknown to her, a short, dark and lightly bearded man is stalking her through the aisle.

He starts chatting her up with a shriek and shy, but assertive voice. After paying, she enters a ramshackle commuter Peugeot 404 with her goods, and again, unbeknown to her, the guy boards the same car,

Upon alighting in Mucheke suburb, she immediately realises the guy is still with her. He proposes to her with well calculated love lyrics.   

He says his name is Leonard Tazvivinga and she has no idea who he is.

To prove his seriousness, he offered to come home and meet her relatives. 

After a few visits, it took a neighbour to discover and alert the woman’s relatives that the suitor was actually popular musician Leonard Dembo. 

And, for, lying he almost lost the relationship in its infancy. It took a copious apology and resilience to keep the relationship afloat.

This year marks 28 years since sungura music pacesetter Leonard Musoro Wenyoka Dembo died at the age of 37. 

Dembo, was born Kwangwari Gwaindepi, on February 6, 1959 in Chirumhanzu and died on April 9, 1996. 

Despite starting his musical career in 1985, Dembo did not hit full-stride until the 1990s. 

The former cattle herder became insanely popular with his 1992 hit “Chitekete”, which became the first and only Zimbabwean music album to spawn a song good enough to be played at the 1996 Miss World beauty pageant held in Namibia. 

The lyrics anchored on traditional Shona sayings. 

The album, without doubt, pulled him out of the woods in which, he had for long been trying to navigate out. The growth of music in Zimbabwe cannot be fully documented without mentioning Dembo’s name. 

He was one of the greatest musicians to ever emerge from this country. 

His music remains a staple diet for many music lovers, even the “born-free” generation has become attached to his beats. 

He sang about issues that affect society, among them love, unity, and peace. Incorporating traditional Shona idioms and proverbs in his lyrics with a sungura-based musical style, Dembo dramatically played electric guitars tuned to emulate the characteristic sounds of the mbira. 

He set the bar in sungura music so high that 39 years after his demise, upcoming musicians in that genre still try to reach his level with none ever getting anywhere nearer. 

In an interview on the Capitalk Radio Drive Time Show with presenter Loshto on Saturday, Dembo’s widow, Eunice better known as Mai Morgan, took fans down memory lane on how she met the legendary musician as he was advancing from a blind spot to fame. 

Mrs Eunice Dembo

Mai Morgan said she met Dembo in Masvingo, which is her home area, in May 1985. 

Dembo had just clinched a contract to play at the newly-opened municipal bar, Sarudzai, while the owner of the bar had booked them in a local hotel, The Flamboyant. 

“We met in a supermarket in the city centre while I was shopping for some household goods. 

“We greeted and started talking. As we moved around the aisles, we kept talking. After the shopping, I headed for the 404 Peugeot taxis that were lined outside the supermarket which we used as commuter transport and exchanged addresses,” she said. 

“I realised, the guy was also on the same vehicle just as we were disembarking. He followed us and the conversation continued. 

“When we met, he never told me he was a musician. But he had sweet words and was very quiet. He told me that he worked at a company that manufactures drinks and had just been transferred to Masvingo.” 

A few days later, they started dating, and Dembo openly told her he wanted to meet with her at her parents’ house. 

“He came and saw my aunt who I was staying with,” said Mai Morgan. 

“Then one of the days soon after he left, our neighbour, an old woman, came rushing with the cover of Dembo’s first album ‘Mai neVana Vavo’. That is how I knew he was a musician. He told me his name was Leonard Tazvivinga and it did not click in my head that he could be the musician.” 

To her, the relationship was over between them. 

“Everyone at the house agreed he was not a straight forward man because of the lies and him being a musician,” she said.

The following morning, Mai Morgan said, he came as usual and her aunt took him to task. 

“He apologised and immediately told my aunt and sister that he wanted to marry me,” she said. 

“Within weeks, we had made the preliminary arrangements like meeting each other’s family and then within two months he came and paid lobola. He wanted a wedding immediately, but due to other circumstances, we eventually had the wedding in 1994 in Masvingo after we already had all three children. 

“In Harare, we stayed in Glen View 1 and then we later moved to Chitungwiza in 1990 and eventually to Belvedere, Harare, in 1992. We were blessed with two sons and Morgan and Tendai.” 

Mai Morgan, revealed how Dembo could come up with songs, insisting most of them came through dreams. 

“I never saw Dembo writing any song. He would just wake up in the night with his recorder. He would record himself playing his guitar and singing,” she said. 

“When I asked him, he would tell me he dreamt singing and playing the songs. Recording himself was to ensure that he would not forget the songs he played in his dreams.” 

In previous media interviews, Dembo said by the time he started his primary education in Buhera, he was already a guitar player at the age of seven. 

Dembo left Buhera for Bulawayo where he continued with his primary education. 

He attended Chembira Primary School in Harare. 

However, his family could not afford the costs of secondary education and he dropped out. 

Dembo then started searching for employment.  The search took him to Bulawayo to no avail. 

After months of failing to secure a job, Dembo finally decided that his future lay in music. 

Previous media interviews say while in Bulawayo in 1979, Dembo met Cosmas Nyathi, the guitarist who later performed with his Barura Express. 

With the encouragement of Nyathi, he took to music, probably the best decision he made in his life.  Nyathi was a good guitarist and his playing prowess naturally appealed to the young Dembo. 

The biggest change in Dembo’s life occurred in 1980 when he decided to go to Harare. 

While in the capital, he teamed up with four other guys and they tried unsuccessfully to record a song. 

Armed with the necessary skills and self-confidence, Dembo joined the Outsiders Band in 1982 and immediately took the music scene by storm. 

He made headlines with his first single Venenzia, which not only went gold, but also stayed on the number one spot on the charts for several months. 

The release of two other hits, “Dambudzo” and “Amalume”, established Dembo as a force to reckon with. 

With recognition achieved, Dembo was on the way to stardom. 

In 1984 Dembo left the Outsiders and formed his own group, Barura Express, and it was with this group that he recorded all his albums including “Chitekete”, “Shiri Yakangwara”, “Kukura Hakutane”, “Nhamo Moto”, “Ruva Rashe” and “Kukura Kwedu”. 

All his albums were well-received while songs like “Venenzia”, “Dudzai,” “Chitekete”, “Sharai”, “Murombo”, “Nhamo”, “Kuziva Mbuya Huudzwa”, and “Manager” all topped the Zimbabwean charts for several weeks. 

Commentators and experts in sungura music believe that no one has so far matched what Dembo did in terms of creativity, guitar work and lyrical prowess. 

Legend has it that Dembo had an unexplained beef with another sungura icon of the time, John Chibadura, whom he accused of dabbling in some rituals. 

It is reported that the two would never play at the same venue at the same time due to the rivalry. 

In his later days, previous media interviews revealed that Dembo is said to have continued suffering from acute headaches and at times partial deafness that were all a result of blood loss caused by nose bleeding. 

It was reported that he ended up residing at Madzibaba Nzira’s shrine in Chitungwiza where he sought healing. 

Morgan and Tendai have tried to revive the Barura Express. 

Morgan worked with his brother Tendai on their first album in 2013 titled “Kutsika Matsimba”. 

The album is said to have failed to make the expected impact on the local music arena. 

After the launch of the first album, Morgan is said to have left the group citing misunderstandings with his brother. 

Staunch Dembo fan, Andrew Makahamadze said so far no guitarist has beaten let alone matched Dembo’s prowess. 

“No sungura musician has ever matched Dembo.  He remains number one.” 

Dembo was a consistent winner of gold and platinum sales awards. 

He was among the first black people to buy a house in the predominantly Asian-dominated Belvedere suburb in Harare. 

In 2018, the Masvingo Music Awards posthumously honoured him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Until his death, Dembo recorded the listed below albums that made him a household name. 

“Amai Nevana Vavo” (1984), “Nhamo Moto” (1986), “Kuziva Mbuya Huudzwa” (1987), “Sharai” (1987), “Kukura Kwedu” (1988), “Ruva Rashe” (1989), “Kukura Hakutani” (1990, which was a 12-inch disc), “Chitekete” (1991), “Tinokumbira Kurarama/Madhiri” (1992), “Mazano” (1993), “Kutinya Marimba” (1993), “Nzungu Ndamenya” (1994), “Paw Paw” (1994), “Shiri Yakangwara” (1995) and “Babamunini” (1996).

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