Dembos legacy lives on

leonard_demboHARARE The morning of Tuesday 9 April 1996 remains one of the darkest days in the sungura music fraternity, as it was robbed of one of the countrys most refined sungura music artists. (Pictured: Leonard Dembo before his death in 1996.)

The 20th century’s final decade saw Leonard Tazvivinga Dembomavara dominating the scene. 15 years down the line, Dembo remains in the line of domestic superstars.

Dembo whose real name was Kwangwari Gwanyanya, grew in popularity during the early 1990s. His breakthrough was the 1991 hit track Chitekete. The plug song was written when Dembo was a cattle herder, and it is about a young man who desperately wishes to get married to a beautiful lady.

With Dembos guitar and voice wizardry Chitekete seemed to have introduced a new style of playing the rhythm guitar at that time. Innocent Mijintu was behind the famous rhythm guitar. The songs exquisite reputation can also be attributed to its heavy use of Shona proverbs and poetic stanzas.

It sold more than 100,000 copies in the first three months it went on sale. During this time, it became a popular wedding song. It was the only Zimbabwean song played at the Miss World Pageant in Namibia in 1996.


Dembo was a superstar. The great mastery which he used to construct his music, and the amount of album production he did, gave him the nick name “Musoro weNyoka”, which literary translates to “Head of a snake”.

Dembo was born on 6 February 1961 in the rural areas of Chirumhanzu, Midlands province of Zimbabwe. But his ancestral origin is the Karanga tribe in Masvingo province.

He attended primary school initially in Buhera, and later in Bulawayo, and also in Chembira School, Harare. He did not attend secondary school. On completing primary school he returned to Bulawayo to look for work.

Failing to make it in Bulawayo, Dembo moved to Harare where in 1982 he joined an outfit known as the Outsiders. Here he was quickly identified as a talented young guitarist. He even broke the charts with his early hit Dambudzo and Manga Majaira Matsotsi, the later song which he released under the name of a band known as Five Notes.

Due to some disagreements over partnership laws and band management, Dembo quickly broke ranks with his colleagues in the Outsiders/Five Notes outfit. This was especially precipitated by his success in his first album, Mai Vane Vana Vavo (1984) and a single hit, Venenzia. He succeeded to team up with few other friends and in 1985 formed the Barura Express, attributed to the meaning of “Nonstop beats.”

From the time Dembo took charge of his new outfit, he never looked back.

Prophetic album

The 1996 album Shiri Yakangwara was prophetic. It carried visionary tracks including Kanganwiro in which he was appealing to God to spare him in judgment.

Yave, another predictive song from the album, was a gospel track that talked about death.

Before Dembo died, he had left two songs that he had recorded but not released. The song Babamunini from Dembos last album Hamungadaro was another sad song where he depicted a sad scenario where an uncle mistreats children left by their late father. It further commented on social living where a bereaved family should live together to avoid disputes.

The last song with Dembos voice was Ndirimudiki a single track that he had not officially released. The song was released two weeks after his death.

In the song Dembo was praying to God that he had no power over death. He was asking for forgiveness from God as he was now bed ridden and his hope for survival was fast fading.

Dembos death also marked the end of Barura Express.

Carrying the baton

Dembos sons, Morgan and Tendai, are set to take their late fathers music to another level.

Sungura music kingpin Alick Macheso is holding joint shows with Barura Express, a group now led by Morgan and Tendai, where they have been delighting the crowds by playing yesteryear hits that made Leonard Dembo a household name.

In an interview Macheso said: I decided to take them on board so that they can continue with the work of their father. I know that they are talented and will make it in the music business. I feel that it is my duty to make sure that they (Morgan and Tendai) continue with their fathers work.

Macheso added that he had high hopes and confidence that the group would rise again and take its rightful stake in the sungura music domain that has become highly competitive.

Morgan, aged 28, told The Zimbabwean that he and his brother were going to release an album this year.

We are going to release an album this year if all goes according to our plans. We will remix three songs by my late father and also include our original three songs, said Morgan.

Tendai paid tribute to Orchestra Mberikwazvo for the support that they were receiving from them. He said that during his childhood, he admired his fathers music and cherished how he (Dembo) dominated the radio stations and music charts.

Dad made us proud. We got everything we wanted. He brought food on our table and we went to school because of his music. I wish if he was alive today maybe we were going to play together, he added.

Leonard Dembo is still a legend in Zimbabwe as his songs continue to sell and budding musicians find inspiration from his hits. Tony Saxon


Nhamo Moto 1986

Kuziva Mbuya Huudzwa 1987

Sharai (Single) 1987

Kukura Kwedu 1988

Ruva Rashe 1989

Kukura Hakutani 1990

Chitekete 1991

Tinokumbira Kurarama 1992

Mazano 1993

Nzungu Ndamenya 1994

Paw Paw 1995

Shiri Yakangwara 1996

Babamunini (Single) 1996

Ndirimudiki (Single) 1996

Post published in: Music
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