Dr James Ault of James Ault Productions, who is in the country is a visiting American known for producing documentary film series on African Christianity Rising.
By Fred Zindi
He is working on a documentary based on the life story of Mechanic Manyeruke and his son, Emmanuel Manyeruke aka Guspy Warrior which he hopes will be an addition to his African Christianity Rising series.
As everyone knows, gospel music in Zimbabwe would not be where it is today without the input of Baba Manyeruke who battled with the likes of Gramma Records to have it accepted as mainstream music for the Zimbabwean public. Today’s gospel musicians such as Jonathan Wutawunashe, Baba naMai Charamba, Fungisai Zvakavapano, Carol Mujokoro, Shingisai Siluma, Blessing Shumba, Mathius Mhere, Sebastian Magacha, Michael Mahendere, Reverend Togarepi Chivaviro and many others have Baba Manyeruke to thank. He should also be recognised by our institutions of higher learning for this.
Because as a little boy, he was so interested in toys such as broken cars and toy helicopters, his brother gave him the nickname “Mechanic”. His real name is Joseph Magundwane. He was later looked after by his uncle, Mr Manyeruke after his father’s death and ended up as what we know him today, Mechanic Manyeruke.
Baba Manyeruke, who was born on August 16 in 1942 in Chiwundura in the Midlands Province, stands out today as the pioneer of Zimbabwean gospel music. He attended St Patricks Primary School in Chiwundura in the early 1950s. Since kindergarten, choruses and church choirs became part of his life. He came from humble beginnings to become one of the leading gospel singers in Zimbabwe.
While living in Borrowdale, Harare where he worked as a gardener, Mechanic Manyeruke saw the Salvation Army Band performing at the Borrowdale Race Course and he decided he would like to become a performer in that band too. After joining the Salvation Army Band in 1968, he and his few friends formed a group called the Gospel Singers. With the Gospel Singers, they went on a nationwide tour and later a regional tour, including a performance in South Africa. When another (Salvation Army) officer called Commissioner Moyo came from Bulawayo, he changed the group’s name from Gospel Singers to Ambassadors For Christ. It didn’t last long because Moyo soon retired.
In 1973, a friend from his former mission school, St Patrick’s, bought Mechanic a guitar and the Gospel Singers performed at an open-air concert in Dzivarasekwa. They also sang at social gatherings and other occasions for five years. Later they abandoned this exercise and pushed different professions. Mechanic became a painter. It was after the performance at Dzivarasekwa that a certain Jonah Matswetu asked Mechanic to join his band called Peace Makers and he also asked Mechanic to teach other guys how to play musical instruments. However, according to Manyeruke, some of the band members were not happy. The colonial mentality was still dominant. They preferred to be taught these instruments by white men. According to Manyeruke, they had been taught how to play instruments by white (Salvation Army) officers, and they thought this Manyeruke, an uneducated gardener from Borrowdale, could not teach them anything.
During his days as a painter, Mechanic never stopped singing and composing songs. In 1976 he released his first single, The Prodigal Son. It was a flop because gospel music was not popular those days. The record companies were reluctant to release anything which did not sound like Chimurenga which had been popularised by Thomas Mapfumo. However, in 1984 after Zimbabwe’s independence when the majority of the people now appreciated their own music, he released an album entitled Chirema Mutembere and later Zakeyo which was a commercial success as it hit the local music charts with a vigorous bang. Manyeruke had learnt to adapt his gospel music to the popular beats of the day, Chimurenga and Jiti. By then, he was backed by the Puritans Band.
Initially, Teal Record Company, later known as Gramma Records, was reluctant to record a gospel album at the time because they believed there was no market for it, and they were not recording gospel singers in Zimbabwe. However, Bothwell Nyamhondera, a sound engineer at Teal Records, managed to convince the studio manager Abel Mapfumo that he had already done extensive work on the project and they had to record it otherwise his effort would have been in vain. From this album, the song When the Saints Go Marching In was well-received and this is the song that brought the recording of gospel music to a new level in Zimbabwe.
Because he had a family to look after, Manyeruke did not give up his day job despite his success as a gospel musician. In the 1980s, Mechanic worked in the staff dining room of the multi-national Anglo-American Corporation as a waiter.
With the success of his albums at home, in 1990 Manyeruke visited Vancouver, Canada where he performed on invitation for a week. He also went to Toronto, and Seattle in the United States. This followed hot on the heels of his United Kingdom tour late in 1989 where he shot to the top of their Zimbabwe Top 10 charts on New Musical Express World Music Charts ahead of the Bhundu Boys and the Four Brothers who were also featured.
In 1994 Manyeruke released a new album Ari Mandiri Jesu, which was followed by Mabasa the following year. Other albums, namely Ndeyeiko Nyaya, Siyabonga Baba, Varombo Pamweya and Mwari Ishe Wazvose appeared on the market and were received with delight. His distinctive style and vocal arrangement made him popular with both the young and the old generations.
By 2015, Manyeruke had released 25 albums. In the album Arimandiri Jesu (Jesus is within me), the track Joseph and Potifa’s Wife was hugely popular. Manyeruke worked on the album with Isaac Chirwa on bass and Gideon Zamimba on the keyboard.
The veteran gospel singer, who lives in Zengeza in Chitungwiza, is also a successful farmer and has formed the Manyeruke Trust Fund which he hopes will inspire young people to become gospel musicians and also help look after their families.
Baba Manyeruke and his wife Helena, have seven children, four boys and three girls. The last born Guspy Warrior, is also a musician.
According to Ault, his documentary will also feature Guspy Warrior in order to show the world the generation gap between father and son and the differences in approach to their music. Baba Manyeruke is a gospel musician while Guspy Warrior is a dancehall musician.
Twenty-seven-year-old Guspy Warrior, famous for his Ita Seunononga tune, went to Msengezi High School.
He says he is a musician in his own right. Most people would expect his inspiration or teacher to have been his father, but he says that he is really different: “I would still have been a musician even if my father had not been one,” he said.
“I have a passion for music and I was inspired mainly by Jamaican musicians, Sizzla Kalonji, Buju Banton, Gentleman and Turbulence, to mention just a few. Being my father’s son as far as music is concerned is of very little consequence — actually, I prefer to make it as Guspy Warrior and not as a Manyeruke.”
As for what the father thinks of his dancehall chanting son, Guspy Warrior says he believes he receives the best support a father can give to a son and is very grateful for his gospel singing father.
Last year, Guspy Warrior was nominated for the United States’ Linkage Awards 2017 in the Best African Dancehall Artist of the Year category in which he competed against other African artists who included Stone Bwouy from Ghana, Bobby Wine from Uganda, A2 from Gambia, AK from Ghana and Frankie D from Kenya. He was grateful for the opportunity.
A fortnight ago, my aunt and I were watching Guspy Warrior being interviewed on ZTV and I pointed out to her that was Baba Manyeruke’s son. She gasped, “What? With dreadlocks and a beard? I thought that was Zexie Manatsa’s son!”
“Why do you say that?” I asked. “Both Mechanic and Zexie are men of the cloth, one belongs to the Salvation Army and the other to Zaoga.” She was surprised. Perhaps Dr Ault should consider including Zexie Manatsa in his next African Christianity Rising series.
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