Mthabisi Tshuma, Showbiz Correspondent
Living music legend Never Mpofu who has been part of different successful bands from Wells Fargo (during Rhodesia era) to Black Spirits, has, like wine, matured with age.
Mpofu is now working closely with the late Dr Oliver Mtukudzi’s daughter, Selmor.
The talented 66-year-old bass guitarist who has been in the music industry for the past 48 years, boasts of having rocked audiences from different parts of the world during his career.
The singer who hails from Pelandaba in Bulawayo, has been to different corners of the globe in his quest to entertain and wherever he has been, he left an indelible mark.
Saturday Leisure recently visited Never at his rural home in Domboshava, about 27kms north of Harare and had an opportunity to interview him on his music career spanning 48 years.
Born in Harare on May 22, 1954, Never’s parents relocated to Bulawayo when he was eight months old and he grew up in Pelandaba suburb. When he dropped out of school he decided to venture into music.
“When I stopped going to school (early 1972), I worked for 18 months at the Juke Box Music Company (between 1972/3). It was during this period that I started to learn how to play the guitar as a part time thing. The first band that I joined was called Inn Babylon. It was formed in 1973/4 and was named by percussionist, Ebba Chitambo.
“It was a Pelandaba behind the scenes trio with me on bass, Lucky Mupawaenda on lead guitar and on drums was Robert Musonda (Joseph Musonda’s young brother). Initially, we rehearsed but not for performances as we were scared to try. We soon got the confidence after being invited by Ebba and Jose to some of their selected gigs to curtain raise for their group, the Move,” said Never.
Like any upcoming band, Never said it took time for fans to appreciate their performance.
“I remember at times we were booed by the crowds that did not appreciate our music. In a bid to avoid embarrassment, we would start to perform earlier than the scheduled gig time when there were few people. This was at the peak of the rock era and so performing in front of crowds was very experimental and quite exciting,” said Never.
After those stints, Never was to be roped into the Wells Fargo band, a band which put the country on the global map way before the country attained independence in 1980. With this band which gained popularity after the release of their controversial Watch Out hit in the 70s, travelling abroad became the norm.
“During the 1974-88 period, I was with the Wells Fargo band which was based in Bulawayo. It was a quartet with me on Bass, Ebba Chitambo on drums, the late Joseph Musonda on Lead guitar and the late Handsome Mabiza on second guitar or rhythm guitar as it was called then. We were doing rock, township jazz, traditional and a bit of reggae including our own stuff.
“But then Jose left to start another group (Eye of Liberty). Fortunately, George Phiri came in from Ark Rejection as they were having their own challenges. Together we staged some great gigs and won giant Live Rock Band contests twice in 1976 at the Trade Fair Amphitheatre and at Gwanzura Stadium, where we won after only playing half a song, Watch Out,” he said.
Never said just the introduction of Watch Out, a song against the repressive laws of the colonial regime in the then Rhodesia, sealed the trophy off.
“We played the intro about three times. First the crowd climbed over the barricade in order to be close to the stage and we were frightened thinking it was an attack on us. We stopped playing to allow security to create order. On the second stint, the crowd brought down the barricade and security was overwhelmed. Power was temporarily cut off.
“When we resumed our performance, the crowd climbed on stage and we couldn’t continue playing so the promoters came on stage to announce us as winners when other bands were still yet to play. Such was the phenomenon of how big Wells Fargo had become.”
Never said many people were part of the band at different stages including Gerry Tikili, Freddie Torera, Dave Chipembere, Promise Ndlovu aka Porky Man, Cephas Mandiopera, Stanley McGregor, Webster Mabhiza, Maxwell Masuku, Setty Ndlovu, Mloiswa Mkhandla, Cyril Pullen, Gerry Ndlovu and Sioux.
He said many of the band’s out of the country tours were in Botswana and Francistown was their temporary base.
“This was the time that we met Steve Dyer as he would at times come on board as a guest player on saxophone and flute. In the late 80s, early 90s, Steve Dyer asked us (Wells Fargo) to back him for the recording of his debut album that was titled Southern Freeway. We agreed and it turned out to be our last project as Wells Fargo as we were slowly winding down,” said Never.
He said the album was recorded in Harare and involved other guest players, the likes of Jethro Shasha, Paddy Ndlovu and Tony Maonde on keyboards, Sipho Ncube on Trumpet and Paul Lunga on Flugel horn.
“Don Gumbo featured on one track as well as Thandeka Ngono-Raasch (vocals), Louis Mhlanga (lead guitar), myself and Handsome,” said Never.
The Southern Freeway album birthed a new band which was a suggestion from Debbie Metcalfe, one of Zimbabwe’s best music and artiste management agents and Promoter par excellence.
“We were all up for the idea (of being part of the new band) including Ebba, who unfortunately had to leave for Bulawayo to attend to very urgent family issues that arose at that time. Those on board were Debbie Metcalfe, me on Bass, Louis Mhlanga on Lead guitar and his late brother William Mhlanga on Drums, Handsome Mabhiza on second guitar and Thandeka Ngono on vocals.
“Sipho Ncube and Steve were on horns and vocals respectively,” he said.
“This was a very interesting time as we were now doing more live shows, performing at private functions and club gigs including recordings riding on mainly Afro Jazz and a bit of traditional African country style classics. We went on to record the second album, Indlela Yenkululeko after which Louis Mhlanga left to pursue his own world and Kenny Marozva who had featured as a friend on this recording, took the spot.
“We did the third album titled Down South in Africa although it was released later in 2000 as Steve moved back home to Pietermaritzburg. I also left Harare briefly for Bulawayo before going back to Harare to join Tumbuka Dance Company at the National Ballet Centre, where I was invited by Neville Campbell through Debbie Metcalfe and her close family friend Sue Powell. Neville Campbell, a renowned internationally acclaimed choreographer was the founder of this group of young dancers,” said Never.
During this time, Never said he worked as a sound and stage technician till 1999. He was to join Tuku’s Black Spirits in 2000.
“In 2000, I came back to the main stage, this time with the late Dr Oliver Mtukudzi. This was the greatest period in my career in terms of touring, in which we did national, regional, continental and international tours. We toured the better part of Africa and internationally, we went to Ireland, Canary Islands, Europe, Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
“The experience alone was quite overwhelming, meeting and living among people from different cultural backgrounds. My season with the late Dr Mtukudzi wounded up in 2011 with no regrets at all. Albums recorded that I was part of include; Neria Re-Mix, Vhunze Moto, Nhava, Tsivo, Tsimba Itsoka, Rudaviro and Dairai,” said Never.
Between the period 2012 to 2016, Never was part of the Chalenam Rhythms which was formed prior to separating with Tuku and apart from Never, other members of the new band were Simba Dembedza, Charles Chipanga and Namatayi Mubariki. The group recorded three albums, Prayer Exposé, Grace Moments and Goodness before Simba left for the US followed by Charles and Namatayi.
Never then went on a hiatus for a while until February last year when he joined Selmor Mtukudzi’s band on the bass guitar. The band had Archie Chikoti on the guitar, Givemore Gawaza on keyboards and vocals, Tafadzwa Padziri (Tornado) on drums, Alice Richards on vocals, Sandra Mtukudzi on vocals, Tendai Manatsa (Selmor’s husband) on guitar and vocals and Picky Eric Kasamba on vocals and percussion.
“We went to the UK mid-last year for a short tour together with Alick Macheso and his Orchestra Mberikwazvo band where we had a really good time. On our way back, we stopped over in Johannesburg to record Selmor’s album, Dehwe Renzou at Steve Dyer’s Dyertribe Studios in Midrand.
“Towards the end of last year, we went to Australia for a fortnight tour. We performed in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth which marked the end of the tour in Australia before flying back via South Africa where we had two shows, one in Johannesburg and the other in Cape Town. Early this year, we launched Dehwe Renzou and just when we were preparing to accelerate, Covid-19 struck.”
Asked about his married life, Never said despite his globe-trotting, he managed to spend time with his family.
“My marriage has remained intact since my wedding in February 1995. I thank God for the support from my wife and three daughters though I must admit they must have missed me during my long absence from home,” he said. – @mthabisi_mthire.