Anyone who attempted to record Gospel music back in the 80s and 90s will tell you a tale of pain and frustration. At a time when musical giants, John Chibadura and James Chimombe, packed venues it was an uphill struggle for Gospel singers to make an impact. Recording stables never made it a secret that Gospel music was unmarketable.
Convincing a recording stable that one’s Gospel music would yield any fruitful outcome was no different from trying to exchange a snake for a rabbit. Even the top 20 crème de la crème of music stables hardly featured any Gospel artiste. For decades, Gospel music was marginalized. It required concrete faith for one to take a Gospel album for recording because the outcome was almost always guaranteed.
Today, however, the tables have turned. Money now spins in Gospel circles. The spotlight is now on the Gospel. When you see corporations mulling borrowing from religious institutions then realize that seasons have changed.
There is even talk of taxing churches. When you see event organizers now including Gospel crooners in their gig lineups then know that the tide has shifted. Such functions were only a preserve of the topmost secular musicians.
Today, Gospel artistes continue to make names in the tough music industry. Recently, a local Gospel artiste clinched a deal with a top clothing label company. The face of the Gospel is no longer the wretched one of yesteryear.
However, very little is highlighted of the frustrations that pioneers of Gospel music endured in their fight for recognition. One unforgettable name that pioneered Zimbabwean Gospel Music is that of Mechanic Manyeruke.
The story of Zimbabwean Gospel music can hardly start if Mechanic Manyeruke and the Puritans are not mentioned. Manyeruke has often been described as the granddad of Gospel music. He, together with the likes of Jordan Chataika and Freedom Sengwayo, endured the ridicule which surrounded Gospel music back in the day.
They waged a seemingly futile battle in a ring where giants like Leonard Dembo ruled the roost. No one gave Gospel music a chance yet they stayed the course and persisted in the face of rejection. It is heartrending when you hear Manyeruke recount how unrewarding it was to be a Gospel artiste.
He even used his own resources to record his first album. Somewhere along the torturous path he won the confidence of one recording stable and today the face of Gospel music is no longer the same. Gospel music now goes head to head with secular genres in both popularity and sales; what with the likes of Matthius Mhere, Blessing Shumba, Sebastian Magacha and many others who have modified and developed the genre.
Now, given Manyeruke’s efforts and how he contributed to Gospel music over the last four decades it is only fair to want to honour the old man. Most Gospel artists are beneficiaries of this humble old man’s efforts. For some time there had been talk of honoring Manyeruke but it had just remained talk.
However, last year there seemed to be someone to the rescue. Pride Africa Network (PAN), a development and research organization hogged the limelight when their chief executive officer Mr Shepherd Sirewu announced his organization’s plan to reward Manyeruke with a posh vehicle Jaguar XF for his pioneering role in Zimbabwean Gospel music. A “Manyeruke Tribute Concert” was held last November at the HICC and a Jaguar XF was unveiled for display. Manyeruke, in good faith, was made to test-drive the car. Pictures of Manyeruke with his wife admiring the XF Jaguar graced most newspapers last year. Everyone marveled at the welcome gesture.
December 19, 2013 was set as the official handover date supposedly at the Rainbow Towers. We all hoped for the best. However, when the date approached the grand occasion was inexplicably shifted to March 15, 2014.
Disturbingly, March 15, 2014 has come and gone and still nothing has materialized. Actually, the first quarter of 2014 has come and gone and all we hear from Mr Sirewu is nothing but stories of why his organization is unable to honor a pledge which they made before the nation.
The car apparently is nowhere in sight. It was unforeseeable that we would get to April 2014 without Mr Manyeruke cruising in the promised Jaguar XF.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with promoters coming up with innovative ways of luring people to their gigs but what Pride Africa Network did is certainly untoward.
I met the veteran Gospel musician recently and the vehicle gift still remains a pipeline dream. As humble as ever, he says he will not press the promoters for their proposed gift since he had not asked for it. It is the hope of many that the vehicle will eventually be handed to Manyeruke as he is slowly becoming a subject of unnecessary humiliation.
What is even more disturbing now is the readable trend of promoters deceiving artistes. Last year again, news hit the headlines with pictures of Alick Macheso in a Range Rover Suv promised by a local car dealer as recognition for his Red Cross humanitarian appointment.
Macheso, for his spirited thankful attitude, never got the car. Late last year again, one Mr Pirima prejudiced Munya Mataruse of a considerable sum of money when he offered to buy his latest album (Pashangara) for $1000 during its launch.
He silenced other serious bidders only to vanish without honouring his pledge. Some musicians have been ‘awarded’ huge gifts at album launches with nothing materializing from the pledges. This behavior by promoters steals all the confidence bestowed upon them. It is crucial that well wishers honour their promises and as for Pride Africa Network (PAN) the nation waits for you to do the honourable thing.
“…It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not fulfill it.”(Ecc 5:5).