Stanely Mushava Arts Correspondent
Zimbabwe’s recording artistes traditionally reserve the best wine for the festive season but gospel trio, Blessing Shumba, Rev T. T Chivaviro and Mathias Mhere, has opened the cellar in the first quarter of the year.
The highly regarded artistes have allowed music lovers an early treat with exciting new albums released in recent weeks.
Shumba, Chivaviro and Mhere are currently among the foremost exponents of the genre, having been variously nominated for prestigious accolades this year, walking away with at least a gong each.
The musical triumvirate also enjoys crossover appeal as competitive songs like “Ebenezer” and “Chimwe neChimwe” peaked at No. 1 on national charts for the greater part of 2015.
And now they have unofficially extended the festive mood with a wholesome spiritual diet certain to set the bar higher for their colleagues — and apparent cues to the conviction that their new sets will last the calendar.
South Africa-based psalmist and pastor Chivaviro is back with a double feat, “Mhepo Inoperekedza: Tiri Munyasha Volume 2” and “Tsitsi Dzake Ihuru” jointly launched this month.
Chivaviro is looking to deliver something for everyone as “Mhepo Inoperekedza” features original compositions while “Tsitsi Dzake Ihuru” is a compilation of traditional hymns.
The tag-along subtitle title, “Tiri Munyasha Volume 2” may invite the impression the pastor is looking to bask a little longer in the success of his breakthrough single “Ebenezer/Tiri Munyasha”, but the music soon washes away the suspicion.
Mhere, one of the more consistent gospel performers since 2012, released “Double Double” last month, barely a year after his controversially received 2015 album “Glory to Glory”.
The rise-to-the-occassion young artiste has clearly put his problems behind and is pressing ahead with what he knows best.
To his credit, Mhere has been dropping polished albums with rare prolificacy, compensating for the prolonged sabbaticals of older masters like Pastor Charles Charamba, Shingisai Suluma and Ivy Kombo-Kasi.
Shumba had last released in 2014 but his album was still blazing and he ended the year well with the Coca-Cola/Radio Zimbabwe Song of the Year gong for “Chimwe neChimwe”.
The humble musician is back with “Calvary: Holy Psalms Volume 2”, a varied offering which is in the league of his previous masterpieces, “Shongwe” and “NdiMwari”.
Contrary to condescending opinion, gospel music remains a, if not the, leading genre in the country, and for some reason its exponents show the greatest consistency in the studio and onstage.
The genre has managed to incorporate an indigenous fusion and maintain messages which speak life to the audience, hence its enduring appeal across the generation gap.
Much had been made about the waning of traditional genres but gospel music has consistently produced exciting new voices and varied styles.
Where an increasing number of new entries basks in the glory of the old masters, riding on hymns and exhausted tunes, there are always exceptional phenomena such as Chivaviro, Mhere and Shumba.
The trio evokes the early years of Zimbabwean gospel music when greats such as Freedom Sengwayo and Brian Sibalo leaned on the Bible for timeless music but they are certainly bringing their distinct styles to the canon.
Shumba has maintained a commitment to quality since his accession half a decade ago. His latest offering, “Calvary” demonstrates a mature edge and there are a lot improvements on the album.
As usual, the Mutare-based pastor sounds like an audio Bible set to instruments, heavily drawing on the scriptures and clearly out to build up his listeners instead of just entertaining them.
The varied and deep instrumentation provides a beautiful ambience to Shumba’s mature vocals, a welcome departure from the computerised beats running town these days.
The 12-track album is likely to take Shumba places, though he might have enhanced his crossover appeal with more fast-paced beats to complement his laid-back worship mode.
Where an enriching experience of music anchored on wholesome content is concerned, though, Shumba is a league apart. My favourite is “Matatenda” one of the danceable tracks on the set. The track is a joyful song about giving back to the original giver.
The opening track, “Tine Basa”, harps on the evangelistic vocation of the Christians. Shumba encourages gospel ministers to distinguish themselves in character, shunning malice but showing grace in humiliation and perseverance in poverty for the sake of the gospel.
The worship ethic is maintained in the second track where he invokes Jesus’ letter to the Philadelphian church in Revelation to demonstrate the all-sufficiency of the Redeemer and the church’s dependence on Him.
Shumba’s wife Pauline comes in on the third track, “ZvaMwari”, urging believers to support God’s work by giving. Like most of the tracks, there is convincing biblical allusiveness.
The track recalls “Mapisarema” from the previous set where just the instruments are enough to send the listener on a long spiritual pilgrimage.
In this case, the message is that true giving is in the devotion of the spirit as no amount of giving materially is equal to what man owes God.
It is the second time Shumba’s wife is foregrounding her vocal abilities in her own right since the first volume of the worship series.
Shumba pushes the envelope further with two English tracks, “Step by Step” and “Moving Mountains,” beautifully accented tracks where Shumba’s deeper voice gives a nod to the great Brian Sibalo.
The younger Mhere is equally falling back on the scriptures for his messages but is more adapted to everyday contexts and colloquial language, good thing still because the message is especially for those outside the fold.
Mhere had the misfortune of being branded a Shumba copycat with his breakthrough album “Anoita Minana” but has been defining his own sound with the last three albums.
The opening track, “Makorokoza muChurch,” is trademark Mhere, taking on contemporary church debates, code-switching Christian language and street lingo.
The fast-paced track deals with the often debated concern that people are now going to church for quick-fix solutions to their wordly needs without a true conviction of God.
“Nhau yaNoah” revisits the story of the flood, popularised locally by Pastor Charamba’s three “Mviro Mviro” instalments on “Tinashe Akatendeka”, “Exodus” and “Pashoko Pangoma”.
The track talks discusses different contexts, women at a beer party, sisters in the saloon, dismissing Noah’s warning as secondary to their everyday hustles till destruction suddenly catches up with them.
The song is a reminder that the Great White Throne Judgement is imminent and inevitable.
“Elijah naMwari,” recalls “the mountain” as God’s traditional meeting place with His people, Elijah and Moses’ encounters with God while striving in prayer, even the pair flanking Christ at the transfiguration, if you want to take the thread further.
Mhere then references the pentecostal practise of mountain prayers and urges believers to forego the comforts of the home and seek God without the distracting ambience of worldly affairs.
The track “Zimbabwe” is a nationalist offering in the tradition of Pastor Charamba’s “Nyika Zimbabwe”, Takesure Zamar Ncube’s “Prayer for Zimbabwe”, Henry Olonga’s “Our Zimbabwe” and Culture T’s “Tendai”.
Clearly, the motherland is on the heart of Zimbabwean psalmists.
Tracks “Double Double”, “Kesari”, “Chanza”, “Simba”, “Nhava yeBenzi” make up the album.
Rev T. T Chivaviro
Rev T. T. Chivaviro is the most serving member of the trio but ironically the last to record a breakthrough.
Now that he has broken out of obscurity, his maturity shows on his latest offering, “Mhepo Inoperekedza”.
It remains to be seen, though, if the offering will scale up to the high bar set by his previous album. Personally, I am already hooked to it, especially “Handinyarare”.
This is a beautiful track in which the supplicant insists that he will not cease striving in prayer whatever discouragement he will face from critics.
The stubborn supplicant recalls others breaking through the roof, climbing atop the tree and clinging to the hem of the garment just to have an audience with the Saviour. I foresee this wholesome worship offering making its way into pentecostal praise and worship sets like “Ebenezer” before it.
To the latest offering’s credit, a few tracks may stake their claim to recognition in the highly competitive circuit, unlike the case with the previous album where only one track became a major hit.
The title track “Mhepo Inoperekedza” is homage to the Holy Spirit whom Chivaviro calls an accompanying force in every facet of life.
“Zvichanaka” is a word of assurance to believers that the lines will fall unto them in pleasant places.
Chivaviro turns the flame up with “Chikomborero,” a danceable track which celebrates the blessings of God which flood the lives of those who believe.
“Mercy Rewrote My Life” is a feel-good track about Jesus’ finished works on the cross transforming the life of the believer.
“Komborerai Vana Mai”, “Peace, Hope and Love” and the instrumental to “Mhepo Inoperekedza” make up the album.