The man behind Shingisai Suluma’s success is none other than her husband Stephen, a soft-spoken and humble man who is content to remain behind the scenes.
“I’m satisfied with what I do and I feel very comfortable in a supportive role. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than giving her the chance to do what God has chosen her to do,” said Stephen.
He said it was good for their roles to remain as they were to enable him to complement and support his wife.
“Her job is not easy; it kills a portion of her life. She cannot take a decent walk around town without interruption and I fill that gap because I can do what she can’t do as a public figure,” the soft-spoken man added.
Probed why he does not want his name or face to appear even on any of his wife’s works yet he plays a pivotal role in all that she does, he gave the metaphor of an anthill.
“People see the finished product, the anthill, but underneath and within that anthill a lot of work will be going on. I give precedence to our work not to my name. Song is an investment that will touch people’s lives for years after we are gone. Names fade or get tarnished but songs and their messages will stay forever.”
But how does he work with his wife?
The modest man said he is heavily involved and his involvement is more than 60% (a modest percentage from an unassuming man).
“I’m involved in almost all songs. One of us starts with the concept and the other edits. It is a hard thing to do because as two people we might have different ideas but our motto is ‘until the song wins’ so that neither my ideas nor hers prevail,” he explained.
But Stephen is a multi-talented musician in his own right and according to him, with one ironical flaw — he cannot sing.
“I am a songwriter; I write, compose, play instruments and produce our music but I cannot sing. I am content to let Shingi do that. I used to play all the instruments for our compositions but I noted that it stifles creativity as I felt I was repeating myself at times. So I just play a few of the instruments now.”
There is no doubt that Shingisai’s music, although it is classified under the gospel genre is full of originality in both form and content and is not just a mimicry of verses from the Bible. Stephen explained: “We do not want to define a genre. If you listen to our songs there is always an attempt to distinguish them. If you listen to Mwenga and Maitiro Enyu they are totally different. In the last album I even played mbira.”
He also explained and illustrated with their latest offering how they adapt biblical stories for creativity and to make them have realistic meaning to the listener:
“Our latest offering is based on the Prodigal Son. It speaks to those who have gone into the Diaspora. We took the Prodigal concept from a mother’s perspective because we said the Prodigal Son had a mother just like those in the Diaspora today. Scene I is the introduction of the whole concept, scene 2 the mother says, Chengetai Mwana Wangu, scene 3 is Siya Zvakadaro where the boy now leaves the pigs behind with their food, in scene 4 the boy thinks of going back home hence the song Ndafunga Kumusha and scene 5 depicts the mother’s acceptance of her child and the celebration of the son’s return through Ndewangu Mwana.
“So the scenes we see every day and the Bible can be brought together in a creative way.”
What about the musical side of their creativity, what influences it?
Again Stephen softly explained: “I never learned music formally, initially I taught myself. I drew my first keyboard on paper. I practised on paper, memorised the movement and then practised on an actual keyboard. I later did a few lessons with the College of Music and I noted that colleges teach classical music which is different from what we play.
“We play African music. It was later that I bumped into a programme which taught me patterns of music; that mbakumba and jazz have their own unique patterns, for instance. This helped me to shape our music.”
The late great Biggie Tembo of the Bhundu Boys fame also had great influence on Stephen.
“I met Biggie Tembo at Bible College. During those days my music had a heavy English influence. He told me that my music was ‘unnecessarily English’ and he encouraged me to play Shona songs.
“The same year (1995) my wife recorded her first album Zvanaka and it had serious English bias because she had worked with British and Jamaican artists. Having been influenced by Biggie Tembo, the second album we produced, Huyai, had African rhythms and concepts.
“It was like jumping into darkness. Recording companies rejected our music and I felt I was a failure compared to my wife because I felt she was good.
“We persevered and produced Mawoko which was recorded by Kelly Rusike. Simon Pashoma Ncube (Radio Zimbabwe producer and DJ) encouraged us to take it to radio stations. We did that and Mirara Mangwanani was a hit on the airwaves. Recording companies were now after us.”
He also paid tribute to Joystreet Choir who provide backing vocals for Shingisai.
“We are lucky to work with them because they have immense talent. Sometimes they do amazing things and Shingi does not even sing on some of the songs.
“They also did most of the choreography on the video Maitiro Enyu. I also pay tribute to Sam Mataure who worked helped us after Christian drummers refused to work with us because we could not meet their high demands.”
How did he meet Shingisai?
With a smile Stephen reminisces: “I met her in a singing group. We have stayed together for 14 years.
She is a very humble person and she is a huge challenge to me. I wonder what I did that God felt I deserved to have such a humble person in my life,” said the man with glowing respect for his wife.
What is his vision?
“I want everybody to have access to our music and shows. It pains me when promoters and distributors stand between the people and our music through unaffordable prices. I remember when we were young boys; we would peep through windows to catch glimpses of performing artistes because we did not have the money for entrance fees. I do not want that, I want everybody to attend Shingi’s shows for free. We are working towards that and I promise our next album will be distributed for free through the Internet. We want to create a website where we will allow people to download our music for free.”
We wish them the best!