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The demise of apostolic choral music

Do you still remember the song Jobo by Chiedza Chavatendi?

By Problem Masau

Vabati VaJehova during their heydays
Vabati VaJehova during their heydays

So popular was the song that it became a party anthem even in clubs — and it is rare to have a gospel song becoming a club banger in Zimbabwe. The song went viral, with many secular artists doing its renditions.

But that was more than 10 years ago, when apostolic choral songs were still being played on radio almost every hour because of their feel-good sound that resonated with people from conventional churches and the secular world.

An oozing choral sound fused with the clapping of hands, coupled with a unique sound from the rattles, was just irresistible to the ears of many.

The music was pioneered at the turn of the new millennium by Vabati VaJehova and in no time, there were offshoots of other apostolic choral groups.

Most people nodded and danced to the songs popularised by the apostolic sects.

Because of the demand and the instant popularity associated with the genre, having the influx of many groups adopting the music genre was inevitable.

The increasing number of choral groups was attributed to the massive response by members of the public.

At weddings and birthday parties, it was all about the apostolic choral music. The music was so popular that it even became ringtones in people’s cellphones.

Albums such as Mweya Mutsvene WaMwari and Wauya Mucheki from Vabati VaJehovah went gold.

The emergence of Vabati VaJehovah was followed by several groups like Vaparidzi Veshoko, Vabati Vevhangeri and Chiedza Chevatendi who also established themselves as household names.

New groups continued to stream into the gospel fraternity and gained an equally high level of popularity.

So popular was the genre that National Arts Council of Zimbabwe was forced to introduce a category for the genre at the National Arts Merit Awards (Namas).

However, in recent times, apostolic choral music has taken a nosedive.

The omission of the choral music category at the Namas this year raised eyebrows, leaving many wondering about the future of the once popular genre.

Fast-forward to this day, the genre has disappeared from the music radar, with many groups having sunk into oblivion, its musicians blaming the economy and personal egos for.

Mabasa Avatumwa who scooped the 2010 Namas disappeared after the Mandigonera hit.

In an interview, Mamrod Magaya, the leader of Vabati VaJehovah, acknowledged that the music genre was facing demise because of the splits and fights that have characterised the music outfits.

“In recent years, divisions and splits have rocked our music industry and this has negatively affected our genre.
Most apostolic music groups disappeared into thin air because they could not stand their ground,” said Magaya.

He bemoaned lack of shows, saying it led to the demise of many groups.

He also said other groups were not “genuine” as they were fuelled by the hunger to make money more than to “preach the word of God”.

“Many people thought that they would make a killing by recording and making videos but after recording they realised that they were making losses in the process, so they abandoned the music,” said Magaya.

Vaparidzi Veshoko lead vocalist Abraham Chibaya said personal egos have led to the collapse of bands.

“When the groups were started, there were no contracts or constitutions which outlined leadership roles. The musicians were doing it out of love and when we realised that we could get something out of it, some people wanted more and that led to fights and splits,” he said.

Music critic Blessing Vava said most groups, even in secular music, had split because of selfishness.

“The issue of money is one major contributor to the splits in the music industry. There is always that feeling among the members that one of them is more superior than others. Most of them become big-headed, thinking that going solo is better. Little do they know that fans rather prefer the group than the individual artistes,” he said.

Singer Mercy Jani, popularly known as Amai Guvamombe chipped in, saying the musicians were not getting royalties.

“The economy has not spared the musicians, especially the choral groups. The radio stations are not paying royalties while the singers fail to raise money to record,” she said.

Other apostolic choral groups said piracy had chased them from the music industry.

“We had to sell the music ourselves; otherwise we would suffer for nothing. We made the CDs and sold them on the streets. This was the only thing we could do. We could not inflate the prices because pirates were selling them for a dollar. We eventually got tired and left the music industry,” said Masimba Kwangwa, former leader of the now defunct Chitendero Chitsva Chemapostora.

Law enforcement agents, stakeholders in the music industry and members of the public have been urged to join hands in fighting the vice of music piracy which is threatening to destroy the entertainment industry.

Recently, musician Phil Zulu, the son of Marabi king Kireni Zulu, launched the Zimbabwe Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (Zimcos) — an institution set up to curb piracy and empower musicians.

“The birth of Zimcos is aligned to the realisation and the acknowledgement of the existence of piracy. It is a fact that this society should always be aware of. Its downfall being highlighted by the fact that those artistes no longer make a decent living from their works,” he said.

“Zimcos operates by receiving the rights to reproduce, sell and distribute artists’ work or their member’s music for the duration of one year. And we remit royalties twice a year,” he said.

However, Magaya remains optimistic that choral groups will pick up the pieces and once again become a force to reckon with.

“The music is not transient in nature but it leaves a continuous ecstatic burning sensation in people’s souls; unlike instrumental music which captures people once before leaving the beat to do everything else,” he said.

Some of the apostolic groups have resorted to instrumental music and among them are Chitendero Chitsva CheVapostora and Baba Vedu Vari Kudenga, among others.

Will apostolic choral music rise from the ashes? Only time will tell.

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