BY RANGANAI DZOTIZEI
Historical undertones and emotions ran high recently as revered United Methodist Church music ensemble Harare MUMC Choir (Vabvuwi) launched their 20th music project at Harare Inner City United Methodist Church.
The choir, formerly known as Harare West MUMC Choir, yet again produced a masterpiece of an album titled Mhururu (Silver Jubilee Edition) as they celebrated 26 years in existence.
Their 25th anniversary fell in 2020 with the recording of the album shelved because of the Covid-19 pandemic but a year later, they lived to their reputation as the icons of traditional gospel music with a 10-track project, laden with hymnals from the United Methodist Church and the title track, which is the only chorus on the set, befitting the celebratory mood.
Going way back in time in her opening devotion, deputy administrative assistant to the Bishop in the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area Reverend Vienna Mutezo, hailed the choir for keeping the dream alive and implored them never to forget the very firm foundations on which this choir was built.
“I was looking back at your videos from yesteryear as I realized some of the members who were part of you who are no longer with us, reminiscing the performances you did in Kariba and at state functions at the Heroes’ Acre where the former president (the late Cde Robert Mugabe) said he won’t speak before you sing. Never waiver from those acts of faith!” said Reverend Mutezo.
“You started a good thing now copied by many male choirs in other denominations. Don’t go back. Push on with the legacy. Challenges will always be there but always stand firm. I recall when you started this project to build a clinic in Mhondoro. Starting something with a vision. The choirs that have now come through, always see them as your offsprings.
“As you continue, always bear in mind that those that were with you, the likes of the late Bishop Christopher Jokomo, Michael Muzondo, Mushoperi and others will always ask what has come of you along the journey. Keep the legacy going.”
Guest of honour David Dzumbira echoed the same sentiments, urging the choir to look beyond the 26 years and continue being relevant in preaching the gospel.
“Indeed, you are launching this album and in saying congratulations, we are also saying what next after this. We still want to see you impact our lives musically. We still want to see you putting smiles on our faces. Celebrate with us in our joyous moments. Dry our tears in the difficult moments of life,” Dzumbira said.
“Yes, the scourge of the global Covid-19 pandemic has not spared you. Performances have been coming few and far between. However, you have persevered and launching this album itself is a triumph amidst adversity. We are here to help you keep the fire burning in a new normal.”.
Choir chairman Abraham Kawadza said the album’s thrust too was to raise funds to ensure the maintenance of the bus, purchasing of the public address system and other choir requirements needed to enhance their ministry.
The choir sampled songs from their huge discography and from the new album with a poignant emotional moment coming as they belted the song Varume, a tribute to their fallen members and the ones surviving.
The album indeed earns its corn with songs evenly arranged and thought of to capture the celebratory mood and share the choir’s long walk in music.
Songs on the album include; Mwari Muri zuva rangu, Nyika Yakanakisa, Toenda Kune umwe musha, Jerusarema Musha wangu, Ndomuteera, Ngatiite zvakanaka, Padyo nemuchinjiko, Kwese Kwese Tinoona, Jehovha anotipa Chisepe and the title track Mhururu kumatenga.
The choir is widely recognised as the first choir within the United Methodist Church and in the nation to introduce and popularize the gospel music brand involving the use of drums and shakers (ngoma nehosho), introducing it to an already breaming gospel circuit that already had established stars like Mechanic Manyeruke, Brian Sibalo, Carol Wutaunashe and Gospel Trumpet to mention but a few.
The choir started as a district fundraising initiative in August 1995 with over 40 men forming the choir.
Their debut album Mwari Mubatsiri wedu came in 1996 with the song Upenyu hwangu nemasimba, fondly known as Ndomugarira, becoming a breakthrough hit that will define the choir’s positive musical trajectory for the years that followed.
Songs like Vimba naJesu and Rwendo Rwevatendi that came off the albums Vimba na Jesu and Kune Nyika kudenga raTenzi respectively cemented the choir’s rising stock, earning them rave reviews at the time.
Such was and still is the choir’s pedigree and reputation that they guest performed at the funerals of the late state vice president Dr Joshua Nkomo and General Solomon Mujuru at the national shrine, leaving great impressions on both occasions.
They have over the years toured neighboring countries and at the peaking of their musical excellence went to China.
As if to mark their year in some fashion, the choir, on top of this Christmas present, did a remix to their popular hit Vimba naJesu featuring Mutare City Council brand ambassador Jairous Mutambikwa with the accompanying video launched on December 19.
In keeping with the party, this album for the first time was recorded and produced in Mutare at legendary music producer Peter “Cool Dude” Muparutsa’s PAYS Studio.
Muparutsa, a mainstay and an architect of some of the choir’s greatest albums, not only produced the album but added a bit of his musical spice on the song Ngatiite Zvakanaka.
The album also features celebrated lead chorister for Mutare based music ensemble Hilltop and Friends MUMC, Gwinyai Mutsongodza whose versatile musical prowess is felt in songs Ndomuteera, Padyo Nemuchinjiko, Nyika yakanakisa and the title track.
Other albums in their long catalogue over the last 26 years include Apo Jesu Anouya, Tenzi taungana, Best of Harare West MUMC Choir Volumes 1 to 3, Tiri vawadzani, Mwari baba wangu, Kune Kupenya Mugomo, Mharidzo (Tribute to Rev Katsande), Ndakabarwa mune dima, Kuedza kwazosvika, Tsitsi Dzinondishamisa, Ebenezer Convention and Tiri pano Baba.
They have done at least seven DVD compilations along the way.
Their enduring legacy is the proliferation and growth of Vabvuwi choirs within the UMC and beyond.
With such a rich library, there is no end in sight to the legendary musical story of the legends, Harare MUMC Choir Vabvuwi.