Matthias Mhere is your typical poster boy –– with a well-thought-out look: styled hair, glowing skin and designer attire to match.
BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
In music, he thrives on speed and catchy stage work marked with enthralling dance routines. While he may not have reached idol status, it is indisputable that he commands a huge adoring following.
Bursting onto the scene with a bang with Anoita Minana (2012), two years after fellow gospel musician, Blessing Shumba, had quietly sneaked his way into people’s hearts with a somewhat new brand of slow gospel melody with the album NdiMwari, the 29-year-old, however, nearly pushed his “rival” off stage.
Soon enough, music watchers pulled out their knives and went for Mhere, accusing him of being Shumba’s copycat, something that was later explained by the fact that both artistes had used the same producer — Lyton Ngolomi.
The reason could be Shumba, out there in the outskirts in Mutare, had not put much thought into branding himself, content with his the-boy-next-door image.
Because Mhere’s music is predominantly praise, he sings on his feet, sweeping his fans into dancing a storm, while Shumba sings on his knees. Consequently, the latter’s music naturally lends itself to worship. Here, you can’t dance. But you can sit and reflect as the music sweeps you into far-flung, but profound places in the spirit.
Perhaps the weakness for both is monotony. Nearly all their songs sound like a vinyl record playing over and over again, but in their latest albums, Old Testament (Mhere) and My Season (Shumba), the two musicians have tried to do things somewhat differently.
In Old Testament, Mhere has been hailed for deciding to break with tradition, incorporating different genres such as Afro-jazz, sungura and jit, in a development that has added a greater appeal to the album.
Mwana waJesu, a track off Old Testament, with its accompanying video has a touch of rhumba and passes of as a danceable song with top-of-the-line visuals and choreography done under choreographer John Cole’s magic touch. Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, gravitates a bit towards the sungura style.
Kuzodza is an appeal to God for Zimbabwe’s survival, a call to the nation to whole-heartedly seek God, as it battles its worst political and socio-economic crisis since 1980.
Songs of this nature have struck a chord with many Zimbabweans, seeking a respite from misfortune’s roll call. This is a running thread in local gospel, with Charles Charamba and Takesure Zamar Ncube having penned their own pieces on Zimbabwe — Nyika YeZimbabwe (2010) and Ncube’s Prayer For Zimbabwe (2014) respectively.
Shumba — to his credit — has also gone a notch higher than in his previous efforts, though keeping to his tradition. In a largely mournful and sonorous voice that easily stirs one’s soul, Shumba’s music becomes deeper, more complex and profound.
But it would appear that Mhere has left no stone unturned in polishing up his image and reaching out far and wide. He has understood and appreciated the significance of pushing frontiers and has consequently staged shows outside the country, going as far as the United States. Here, the most “successful” musician is not necessarily the best, but one who pushes boundaries to tap into every potential market.
Although still waters may run deep, Shumba, on the other hand, is, however, like your local guy at home in his own backyard and with no appetite to step where the angels fear to tread. Here is a man who is comfortable with his sound and isn’t intimidated by Mhere’s fast-paced version of his own brand of music or phenomenally increasing reach.
Old Testament was launched in style in March this year at a colourful event graced by Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave, Mechanic Manyeruke, Bethen Pasinawako-Ngolomi, Thembalami, Tatenda Mahachi and Sebastian Magacha as well as Tourism and Hospitality Industry deputy minister Anastancia Ndlovu and Local Government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere.
Popularly known as the Psalmist, Shumba has so far released Ishe Wazvose, Anoita Minana, Ndimwari, Shongwe, Calvary and My Season. The latest album carries the inspirational tracks Ndinotenda, Warangarirwa, Tariro Ichiripo, Usatya Shinga, Changa Chajaira, Ndinosimudza Muchinjikwa, Zvichanaka and Takakunda Kare.
Mhere’s discography is made up of Tinoda Nyasha, Anoita Minana, Nguva Yenyasha, Glory to Glory and Old Testament.
Mhere has been able to stir so much hype on social media that you cannot ignore him, and this has proved an effective marketing tool which has attracted so much shows and a huge following. He also worked with superstar Oliver Mtukudzi, who carries a much bigger international profile, on the track Tsano Handei.
Shumba’s rise to the top was not meteoric. His first attempt at music was a dismal failure after his debut album Tumai Mweya with the outfit, Vakushi veShoko in 2001, was a huge flop, precipitating the collapse of the group, but he did not throw in the towel until his determination paid off.
His history provides some insight into the slow rhythm of his music. He was raised in the Mugodhi apostolic sect where he was taught to sing hymns.
Mhere has a similar story of a struggling upstart who eventually hits the big time. After completing his Ordinary Level in Gutu, he joined the great trek to Harare where he eventually launched his solo career after earlier efforts with his siblings failed to pay off. His first album, Tinoda Nyasha, was a big flop.
While at face value their music is as different as their looks, they could pass for two sides of the same coin.