The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
MARSHALL “Gesh” Mpofu remembers that one day in 2009 when DJ Tira wrote down his name on the walls of his humble home, deep in the high-density suburb of Tshabalala.
On that day, the evergreen pioneer of the Durban kwaito movement was in Bulawayo for a show promoted by Mpofu’s Gesh23 Productions, and when he got to the City of Kings he had asked to be taken where Mpofu grew up.
Through a phone call back to associates in Tshabalala, a fire was quickly lit and meat was readied and an impromptu braai was arranged. All the while, those in Tshabalala had no idea who the special guest that had been sprung on them so suddenly was.
“Whenever we went to Joburg, we would be very interested in visiting the neighbourhoods where they come from,” Mpofu told Sunday Life. “We would visit Soweto, KwaMashu and other such townships and so he was also interested in seeing where I came from when he was in Zimbabwe. He was also eager to see how our neighbourhood was like and if it was anything like theirs back home. So, when I got him here in Bulawayo, I told my guys back at home to make a fire and prepare a braai because I was bringing a visitor. I didn’t tell them who it was.”
The appearance of Tira was an unexpected and sudden tremor that shook Tshabalala. Before their planned braai could take shape, the General, as Mpofu is popularly known in Tshabalala and local entertainment circles, found his home surrounded by a battalion of fans waiting to catch a priceless glimpse of Tira. Here was the famed Makoya Bearings, breathing the same air they did, preparing to take a bite of meat that burnt and sizzled in front of them.
“When he got there everyone went crazy and soon people had surrounded my house,” recalled Mpofu.
Before he left Tshabalala that day, Tira left his mark, putting down his name on the walls of Mpofu’s home. It was a signature that stood until a neighbour decided to renovate his wall and plastered over the wall he shared with the General in a location where some homes are semi-detached.
Mud and paint might have blurred that bit of local entertainment history but Mpofu and his Gesh23 Productions signature on local showbiz has been harder to erase. Over several years, the promotion company brought fun lovers some of the most memorable shows ever held in the city.
Who can forget DJ Tira’s one-man outing at the Drive Inn, a show that pulled the kind of numbers that are unheard of today, numbers that were beyond the imagination even during the pre-Covid-19 days?
Whenever Gesh23 put together a gig, it was always a spectacle and more often than not, a resounding success. Many went home broke, after having spent all their earnings on a wild, crazy night out. Some woke up in unfamiliar bed sheets while others did not wake up at all, sleep-dancing the night away as the parties rocked until the early hours of the morning.
“One of the best shows that we ever did was the one featuring DJ Tira at the Drive Inn, which was massive. I think we hold a record because we had 7 000 people at the Drive Inn and we only had one artiste on the bill. Another one I also recall was Oskido vs Tira which was also and that one we had to be told to shut down at 7AM because residents were complaining that it was now morning yet people were still partying,” he said.
Some of the best shows however, have come through luck and chance. Mpofu remembers how at one time, he was on the verge of despair and disaster after DJ Cndo cancelled on him at the last minute.
“The Cndo show was the most difficult because she had been uncertain from the beginning when we tried to book her. I was having breakfast when she told me that she had missed her flight and there wasn’t any other flight on offer. The alternative flight was from Eastern Cape to Joburg via Durban and the one way to get here was for me to go and collect her at the border after she had been driven there. So, it was very difficult.
“By God’s grace, we had done a pre-party with Oskido, Peter Ndlovu, the late Adam Ndlovu and the late Edwin Dube, the editor of Trends, who was my partner at the Drive Inn. We had hosted a great party on a Friday night. Oskido was just there on a random visit to Bulawayo and he had told me to be careful because Cndo might miss her flight. It happened exactly as he had said and I couldn’t eat when I heard the news. I completely lost my appetite,” he said.
In that moment of crisis, Mpofu decided to seek advice from a man who he knew was an entertainment industry mastermind par excellence, a man who had always been known to think on his feet — Oskido.
“I took my car and drove to Luveve to tell Oskido the news. He said ‘you know what, tell Tira to transfer the money from Afrotainment to Kalawa and I will perform.’ I then told Oskido we would leave that money with Afrotainment but I would pay him here instead. I would recoup the money from Afrotainment in other ways. I paid him and he told me to look for blank disks and luckily, he had brought his laptop so he started making his playlist. I went to a printing company and had flyers made which stated that Cndo was no longer coming but Oskido was coming instead.
We distributed those fliers all over town and it was really a last-minute thing. By 7PM people were calling me and I told them the truth, Cndo was not coming. By 11PM Drive Inn was packed and when it was all said and done, I had made a profit and paid off everyone. We succeeded by the grace of God when everyone had thought the show would be a flop,” he said.
Over the years, Mpofu earned a reputation as a man who can pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, a man who could entice hard-to-get artistes from South Africa to Bulawayo. Along the way, he has rubbed shoulders with would-be stars that still have respect for him because of the way he treated them when they were coming up.
“It’s all about being humble and respecting those that are older than you. Recently it was my 40th birthday and Tira sent me a happy birthday message and I told him I’m old but he reminded me that he is older than me. I responded and told him that he has always been my mentor. I respect every human being and these guys, Tira, Oskido, DJ Sox, Danger and Mampitsha are people that were my mates when we were growing up in the streets of Yeoville in SA.
Mampintsha, Danger, the late Mashesha were all younger than me but the fact that I was humble and respected them allowed me to gain momentum later in the game.
“We enjoy a good rapport and whenever I go to Joburg I can go and visit them. If they come to Zim, even when I’m not the one promoting, they come and see me. I would say because of that respect and good working relationship, we have been able to remain on very good terms. Whenever Tira would come to Zimbabwe, he used to stay in my house.
If I am the one that is promoting him, he would tell me that I should not bother to book for him as he would rather stay at my house. If he was booked by other people, he would say let me check in at the hotel then come to your place. He would treat me like his younger brother and I would give him that respect,” he said.
Mpofu remembers one encounter when he came across a young DJ Maphorisa when he was still finding his feet in the music industry. The two have maintained contact since then.
“I did a show in Mesina with Tira, Oskido and Black Coffee and Scotch, the manager at Kalawa said there is a guy called Maphorisa who is a good DJ. He said the young man does not need much but he needs exposure. I said no, I will pay him and give him the exposure and since that day we have known each other.
“It’s all about cultivating good relationships because as of now, I do not even know Kabza De Small but if I get to SA today and I call Maphorisa, I would end up getting linked to Kabza. That is how I have got to know a lot of people in the industry. If people respect you, then every time that someone comes to Bulawayo, they will look for you. For example, when Black Coffee first came here, I didn’t know him but he got in touch. I was not the one promoting that show but when he came back for the second time, I was the one promoting him. I did the same when he went to Musina,” he said.
After two decades in the entertainment industry, Mpofu has seen it all, the ups and downs, the exhilarating highs and the heartbreaking lows. With Gesh23 now in TV and film production, the promoter turned actor last year won the Outstanding Film production gong for Scars at the Roil Bulawayo Arts Awards. It’s been a long journey for a man who started as a resident DJ at the Windemere with the likes of Mellow T, Babongile Sikhonjwa, Mark Vusani and other veteran wheel spinners.
“It’s been a long journey and we have been on the road and we continue to travel on this road,” he said.