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The Runn family: Biggest band from the East

By Fred Zindi

To an outside observer of the Zimbabwean music scene, one may think that Harare is the hub of the country’s music.

This could be partly true, but a lot of people would be surprised to note that most of the musicians, who have made Harare tick have come from outside that city.

Think of artistes like Bob Nyabinde, Africa Revenge, Albert Nyathi, Derreck Mpofu, Dudu Manhenga, Brian Kadengu and Sulu Chimbetu.

They all come from outside Harare, but have decided to settle in the big city where things happen.

In this article, I am going to concentrate on the musicians who have come from Mutare, a small city which created many a successful musician ranging from Jethro Shasha, Bothwell Nyamhondera, Sam Mataure, Assegai Crew, Adrian Muparutsa, Blessing Muparutsa and Carlton Muparutsa.

It is the latter family that has made Zimbabwe and the rest of the world tick. The Muparutsas are the largest family group that has come from Mutare as the Runn Family Band.

The inspirational band was formed way back in 1979. It made the Muparutsa musical family help shape music in Zimbabwe.

Of particular note among the family members, is the multi-talented music producer, composer, lyricist, singer and bassist, Peter Muparutsa who was instrumental in forming the Muparutsa family group, which we all came to know as the Runn Family.

I am told that before them was a man called Enock Muparutsa (father to Tendai Muparutsa, who is currently based in Canada), who played the bass guitar for a Mutare group known as the All Blacks Combo, which was sponsored by a Mr Lovemore Mutema.

All the Muparutsa boys used to hang around his house to learn to play an instrument and thus the whole family became musicians.

The Runn (Real Unique Natural Notion) Family Band was formed in 1979, in Mutare, a town situated in the Eastern Districts of Zimbabwe. The band comprised mostly members of the Muparutsa family with Jerry Muparutsa on guitar, Mike Muparutsa on keyboards, Peter Muparutsa on bass and vocals, Fortune Muparutsa on vocals, Tendai Muparutsa on vocals and Lawrence Muparutsa on drums as the band’s main members. The only two outsiders, Godfrey and John Mkwananzi, who were twin brothers, joined the band much later but left in 1990.

Most of the Runn Family’s live performances were done in Mutare until 1981 when they were persuaded by Steve Roskilly of Shed Studios, their recording company, to perform in Harare in order to promote record sales.

It was at Shed Studios that Peter got his first job as a music producer. He and the Runn Family later broke away from Shed Studios to join Gramma records in 1986. The switch saw the group immediately releasing the hit single Hatichina Wekutamba Naye, a song dedicated to the late Mozambican President SamoraMachel.

This song put them on the map. Stephen Makoni, a musician-cum-comedian would always retort the meek remark: ‘Tibvirei apa. Munezera naSamora here kana muchiti hatichina wekutamba naye?’ (Get away! Are you of the same age with Samora to want to play with him?), whenever this song was played. The single, which commemorated the death of Samora Machel received massive response from the public.

A video featuring the song was done by Mango productions, a Danish company and this was shown all over the world. It was also at Gramma Records that Peter, now known as ‘The Cool Dude’, became an accomplished music producer.

As producer, he worked with well-known Zimbabwean artistes such as Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Charles Charamba, Leonard Dembo, Talking Drum, John Chibadura, Ilanga, Mechanic Manyeruke, Dudu Manhenga, Pengaudzoke and many others.

It was also during his stint at Gramma that he did the jingle for the Sun Jan advertisement, Nhapi Tapi Chete which was played by all radio stations in the country.

In 1987, the Runn Family band released Moyo Muti, another massive hit and this was followed by a song for the late former president Robert Mugabe’s inauguration simply entitled President Mugabe.

I had earlier bumped into Jamaican Reggae/Calypso artiste named Bill Campbell in London, who was bragging to me that he had been commissioned to write the President Mugabe song, but had thought it wise to search for a good singer, who would change the lyrics into Shona.

He said he had listened to a lot of music coming from Zimbabwe and decided that Peter had the best voice, which was suited for this assignment. So he gave the song to the Runn family.

In 1988, the Runn Family were part of a national symposium on Child Survival and Development and before that, during the 1987 Human Rights Concert which featured the Bhundu Boys, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman YoussouN’dour Oliver Mtukudzi, Maxi Priest and many others.

One of their songs was adopted as the theme song for the Child Survival concerts, which followed.

Also in 1988 they won the Local Pop Band contest, and their drummer, Lawrence Muparutsa was voted the best drummer in 1988 while Peter Muparutsa was voted the best vocalist in Zimbabwe.

Releases such as Nhapi Tapi Chete (which was later used in advertising a local bread spread, Sun jam), and You are My Everything, became classical hits for the band although they received very little promotion.

Many people identified the group with the song Nhapi Tapi Chete. Their debut album was released at the end of 1990 and this established the Runn Family as a force to reckon with.

The Runn Family shared the stage with well known artistes such as Misty in Roots, Jimmy Cliff, Harry Belafonte, Manu Dibango, Miriam Makeba, Maxi Priest and Princess when these artistes came to perform in Zimbabwe.

As members had predicted of splits before leaving Mutare; in 1990 Fortune Muparutsa left the band for a solo career while Peter Muparutsa, the lead singer and bass player became a part-time member of the band after taking on a full-time job at Gramma Records’ Mosi-oa-Tunya Studios, and later Records and Tape Promotions (R.T.P.).

Undaunted, the rest of the Muparutsa family went back to Mutare where they continued to play together without the powerful voice of Peter.

Tendai eventually left and joined another group known as Assegai Crew which also trekked back to Harare where they were contracted to play at the George Hotel in Avondale.

Tendai later passed on. Fortune, who was now based in England, also died in mysterious circumstances in 2008. His body which was due to be buried in Zimbabwe, laid in the English mortuary for six months.

Other Muparutsa family members who became brilliant musicians in their own right include Blessing and Carlton all playing drums with a variety of groups in Harare.

Adrian who is a brilliant guitarist and Tendai Muparutsa (not to be confused with the other Tendai who had joined Assegai Crew but the second one based in Canada).

I will deliberately add a little bit of information on the second Tendai Muparutsa in order to avoid the confusion.

People often ask me: “Didn’t Tendai Mupfurutsa die?” Yes he did but that is someone from a different family. Others ask: “Didn’t Tendai Muparutsa die?” Yes he also died but there is another Tendai Muparutsa who was little known in Zimbabwe but has become a phenomenon in North America and is now a Ph.D holder. He recently released the album Mai Zimbabwe.

Dr.TendaiMuparutsa is now an internationally known performer, music educator, ethnomusicologist and bandleader. He participates in a multitude of Zimbabwean and African music circles in North America, and collaborates with musicians and instructors from all over Africa.

His work encompasses everything from performing with afro-pop groups to teaching at African music camps to directing mbira, marimba and dance ensembles.

His high energy, humour and passion for sharing African music delight audiences and students alike.

Tendai co-directs Kusika and the Zambezi Marimba Band. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Canada.

I hope that clears the confusion.

As for Peter Muparutsa, the Covid-19 pandemic has not done him any favours as the studio he was working for in Harare has closed down and this is not the right time to start a new active band.

I am told that he has relocated to Mutare where he has opened his own studio and helping in producing more artistes there.

We wish the Muparutsa family the best music they can bring as they are still a force to reckon with.

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