The evolving and growing gospel ‘market’
There was once a woman who decided to put out an album, a gospel album. The executives warned her that she would fail and indeed the project failed. The woman’s album flopped. She returned to the studio to produce her second offering which followed in the footsteps of its predecessor and flopped. This woman was Shingisai Suluma.
Yes, the now legendary gospel singer faced dismal sales when she first entered the music market. It is kind of hard to believe given that her songs “Nhanasi”, “Maitiro enyu” and “Mufaro uchauya” are essential in the canon of Zimbabwean music. Of course, the industry is not what it was now, today the gospel music scene in Zimbabwe is vibrant.
What started as mainly a community of church goers who enjoyed performing then led to recording artist with pioneers such as Mechanic Manyeruke, Brian Sibalo, Shingisai Suluma, Diva Mafunga and Charles and Olivia Charamba. Record labels such as Ngavongwe and Gramma records were at the helm of recording, selling, promoting, and managing the artists. Researcher Dr Gadziro Gwekwerere who studied the music gospel music industry from 1980-2007 highlights that artists were dissatisfied with the poor promotion that they were receiving from record labels which often lead to poor record sales.
Now the sector is filled with a great deal of musicians and artists pushing the boundaries of what is possible and reaching new heights of success. Listeners are spoilt for choice with the artists producing traditional gospel, choral renditions, acapella tunes and contemporary gospel that fuses elements of pop, rhumba, Zim Dancehall, sungura and amapiano. Artists also sign with sponsors and make brand ambassador deals and even headline major events and fill up performance arenas across the nation.
Today the market is filled with bright talent from the likes of Everton Mlalazi, Kudakwashe Mutsvene, Jonah Chivasa, Mambo Dhuterere, Sharon and Ellard Cherayi, Sebastian Magacha to mention only a few. At the apex of the pyramid is arguably Janet Manyowa who has won various awards across the continent (most notably the Crown Gospel Award in South Africa), released an array of singles, albums, and exceptional music videos, and has emerged as one of the most recognized musical brands across the nation and beyond. Perhaps next to Janet would be Minister Michael Mahendere, a singer-songwriter who started off as a member of the musical group Mahendere Brothers then launched a successful solo career which has catapulted him to stardom.
Choral groups such as The Jesus Project, Romax, All For Christ, Vabati VaJehovah and of course Zim Praise Choir continue to produce, perform and tour with their soul stirring songs. Singers outside of the genre also make gospel music such as the likes of Jah Prayzah (“Miteuro” ft ZimPraise), Gemma Griffiths (“Maita Basa Baba”, “Titungamirei Baba”), Mbeu (“Ndoringa imi” ft Mambo Dhuterere), Alick Macheso (Dorcas Moyo ft Aleck Macheso “Mhanza haisekwe”) Bryan K (“Amen”), Anita Jaxson (“Famba” ft I am King and Libra Liege) to mention only a few.
Arguably one of the greatest phenomena that catapulted gospel artist from the nation was the launch of the ‘Gospel Greats’ music chart show in Star FM. Since its inception the chart has been duplicated and imitated across the nation, creating a space for gospel music to be heard without the interruption of other musical genres.
Since its heydays, the gospel music industry in Zimbabwe has come a long way and the future shines with promise.