ROBERT MUKONDIWA charts the progress of a youthful face of the nation’s future in their field of gospel music, Zimpraise Choir.
SO the saying goes in an anecdote that “the person who coined the phrase ‘all men are the same’ was a Chinese woman who had lost her husband in a big crowd!” Yes, to the untrained eye, indeed all Chinese men are the same.
Dash back home and the phrase used to be ever so real in our own backyard. A gospel group of men and women? Easy to pick out; floral shirts so busy even bees would suffer a colour block.
Pairs of pants that leave the rest of leg covering to the socks with the hope that the shoes will eventually take over. A monotonous dance routine in a city public park. Voila! A music video is done and album ready to sell to the masses!
That was the prototype for almost ALL gospel music groups humming an over-sung church hymn to the sound of a keyboard.
But those days are definitely long gone. The age of charisma, style and elegance coupled with a dazzling sparkle and creativity in both stage performances and videos has arrived and, currently, none are more the ambassadors of that package of elegance than rising gospel group Zimpraise.
“Zimpraise has a vision of uniting people and nations through worship. We came together to use our talent to reach out to people,” said Rudo Soda, current member of the phenomenal group that has captured the minds of many.
Her confident and infectious smile captures the stream of thought racing in her mind – she is both confident and loving what she does.
Under the present stewardship of Joseph Madziyire, who is the chief executive officer, the group has managed to record a respectable history since their formation in 2006.
“We have Zimpraise Volume 1 recorded in 2006, Zimpraise volume 2 released in 2008, and The Power DVD of 2011 then The Covenant DVD recorded in 2012,” said Tendai Kevin Zhou of the current Zimpraise ensemble.
They have gone on to record more products with one video album last year and just another fresh product recorded last month ahead of their current tour of the West.
Their discography has spawned hits such as The Power, which had Tendai at the fore, Zvakanaka Moyo Wangu and Sungano amongst many other hits that have made them a household name.Advertisement
Indeed so far their juggernaut has been powering forward relentlessly.
And it helps that each and every one of them seems to have swallowed a powerful instrument that has been lodged and nestled in their necks; voice-boxes that discharge powerful notes that probably, yes probably, even have angels in heaven stopping their daily chores and listening for a little while – if only for a little bit of inspiration from these prayerful sons (AND DAUGHTERS) of Adam.
But they are definitely not every being’s cup of coffee, no sir! There is a guarantee that once they break into praise and worship the demons in hell shriek in agony at their words and voices of divine praise-but such is their intention.
The transformation of gospel music has made it rise from what every aspiring musician thought to be an ‘easy route’ to fame.
Even those that were vocally challenged thought their voices, not worthy of even breaking into song in the shower, would be accepted once they sang a popular hymn accompanied by a lazy rhythm from the keyboard. Not so!
But Zimpraise are modest about their feat and their mastery of perfection over and above simple stage work and lyricism.
“We are simply young and also want to reach out to the younger generation. That is why we write and sing the way we do and also dress as young people,” said Rudo, not wanting to weigh into the jibes against the gospel artiste of the past and their terrible sense of fashion.
“We also sing hymns like they did in the past but we write some songs too just so we can reach across the divide,” Rudo added.
Yet, maybe, they had their work cut out for them.
After all they came in the wake of trailblazers like the Celebration Choir with vocals that had thick drops of honey flowing from the vocal chords of the talented Pastor Bonnie Deuschle and her celebrated (for want of a better word) choir.
With standards set by such masters, complacency definitely was not an option. Well, it probably was, but it was just one that Zimpraise were definitely not willing to take – thank you very much!
Packed with members of mainly Pentecostal churches that have swept the nation and indeed continent by storm, even the person wary of Pentecostalism can honestly come out and say whatever their reservations, the Pentecostal movement has definitely brought style
class and seriousness to gospel music.
So where there was viscose shirts and lacklustre dances, the Zimpraise have borrowed from international acts like Bebe and Cece Winans, Kirk Franklin and even Juanita Bynum to polish their acts and make sure the message of the gospel is brought to the world in a manner that respects the ethos of quality and takes the fans of gospel music seriously and not just take them for a ride.
Their leaning in music and tastes should hardly be any surprise however. After all they have even curtain raised for Kirk Franklin, Deitrick Haddon and shared the stage with Solly Mahlangu in last year’s concert that set Harare ablaze.
But Zimpraise follow the ethos of gospel music not only in principle but also in the way they live-exemplary in their society and living in harmony with each other.
“You have to follow the righteous life and be exemplary,” emphasises Tendai. “You have to follow the commandments and live by the Word to be a part of the group.” Modesty oozes from him as he makes the pronouncement.
Yes, they ought to be part of a family environment where they show each other and the rest of their fans love. After all, does not the good book say “even though I speak in tongues of men and of angels but have not love I am like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”?
So here they are not speaking but singing in tongues of men and angels AND having love to top it all. Classic!
And what is the next station for the gospel music juggernaut? Where do they intend to take their almost inimitable talent and gift? What do they have in store for their growing legion -their multitude of fans and admirers?
“We want to keep inspiring people through song. We want to make sure that we follow the teaching of ‘go ye forth and preach the Gospel’ and that is what we are committed to doing,” says Soda.
According to Tendai, that task has already been commenced. The group has risen in number to 104 after successful auditions in February which saw them add a few more names onto the celebrated list that is a part of the group.
“We have followed in the path of great names who were part of Zimpraise from the beginning and we now want to keep the tradition going through the new people who have joined us and share our vision,” said Tendai.
The roll call is impressive; Pastor G (Stanley Gwanzura), Kudzai Nyakudya, Bethan Pasinawako and Sebastian Magacha, have all been predecessors of the current crop and gone on to carve amazing niches in solo endeavours.
Now names like Sharon Manyonganise, Lloyd Tevedzai and even Tendai Zhou himself and his memorable solos are on the verge of exploding as notables. The possibilities in the Pentecostal gospel music field are endless.
Zimpraise have deep respect for their past and hence their relevance to both young and old.
“We respect the work done by those who came before us and that is why we have invited people like baba Mechanic Manyeruke and Pastor Haisa for example in our previous performances. They guided and inspired us to where we are today,” says Rudo.
Indeed a group without a history is like a tree without roots. Zimpraise’s healthy tree proudly feeds from the work of their predecessors in gospel music, it seems.
“But we do not do it for personal glory; it is for the praise and worship of God,” concludes Tendai. And what better way to serve than to sing?
And if the event they held last month at Glamis arena is anything to go by, they now have a bigger crowd-pulling power than the so called big four of entertainment in Zimbabwe.