28 June 2014

Zimbabwe: Mathias Mhere - the Man Behind the Myth

IN the midst of what is a thunderous storm that beggars answers of 'who is Mathias Mhere' right down to questions on whether he is a fraud, there is probably one shocking and all-so-striking thing to those who are calling him out to provide answers.

Who does man say the chap is? Just like his hero Jesus Christ of Nazareth who was thought to be a demon, or maybe simply son of the carpenter. One would think that since he is being confronted by maddening noise, he would come back to those questioning him with equal tenacity.

Instead, Mathias Mhere, (arguably) the current jewel in the crown of gospel music if his appeal and presence in the music charts is anything to go by, responds in an altogether different style.

"I know the questions asked of me in the media may be angering but I was taught by my parents to always be calm and level headed. That is why I answer everything respectfully," Mathias says rather calmly.

He is quiet and only the sharp red shirt and ebony slight-fur corduroy slim-fit suit seem sharp and speak louder than the man himself.

He does not use the ear-splitting boisterous raucous that he is confronted with. This gospel singer instead opts for the voice of God, captured in the 'still small voice' with which God whispered to Elijah. His humility is striking.

This is Mathias Mhere. The successful gospel artiste who has made waves with an avalanche-like response to his album entitled Anoita Minana (Favour NaMwari) and subsequent current scorcher Nguva Yenyasha.

The former album, although released in September 2012, has continued to make several new entry breakthroughs into a handful of respectable music charts off the same album while Nguva Yenyasha, which has followed is now the unofficial anthem for gospel and non-gospel music lovers alike.

Mathius Mhere - Favour

And he says his skill of responding quietly, deliberately, calmly is a gift he got from his parents through a verse in Proverbs.

"Proverbs 15 says a 'soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, But the mouth of fools pours forth' and that is why when people say things that may be offending about me I respond to them respectfully because I was raised to believe that everyone is my brother, my sister, my father or mother and I should respect them as such in spite of how they address me," he says.

As he speaks, the rustle of the dry winter leaves as they are molested by the wintry wind seem to 'speak' even louder than his calm quiet voice. So it is true that an apple does not fall too far from the tree! Here is one person mentored by his parents to practice restraint.

Mathias was in the not too distant past accused of having mimicked the voice of another popular gospel artiste, Blessing Shumba, and, add to that, marketed his first most successful album under Blessing's name just to push volumes and make money. Nay he says! And his follow-up album has shown that he indeed did not ride on anybody else's fame but his own musical prowess.

"When I released my Anoita Minana album it was pirated and the street copies had the name Blessing Shumba on them. I had never met Shumba.

"The only coincidence is that the album was produced by Lyton Ngolomi and the backing vocals were done by Bethan Pasinawako, the same team that produces and backs Blessing Shumba," he says explaining off the generic nature of the sound.

As for the palate of his voice, the discerning listener will notice that his is a rather creamy voice while Blessing Shumba has a somewhat of a tremolo with a pitch; something people have, with time, started to notice as marked differences between the two men.

Methias Mhere - Vimba NaJehovah

Mhere's other battle has been to dispel rumours that he was a jailbird who, when he released Anoita Minana, was freshly freed from penitentiary. In fact, the Gutu born 25-year-old has never been in prison.

"It was in an effort to explain who I was that people got entangled in the lie," he explained.

"There was once a person who was a former prisoner who had done some backing vocals on a gospel product linked to Blessing Shumba.

"When people heard that I was not Blessing Shumba, they immediately believed that I must therefore be the ex-prisoner. I am not that man."

However, his penmanship has also gotten him a bit of a media smack with some saying his other popular track, Chipostora, is heretic as it does not follow the events of the Biblical Exodus of Moses and the Israelites to the word.

Even so, when one looks at his style of lyricism, it is evident that Mhere also infuses day to day beliefs in his music and lyrics. He says for example in Chipostora that society should be wary to let the elders die out without sitting down with them and tapping into their wisdom or risk a society of vagrants and bums who are confused and lack mentorship.

Would that be a bad piece of advice from the rather young Gutu-born artiste? Certainly for the pragmatist and mentor, the answer would be no! But there is something evident too when one has a bit of time to talk to Mathias, one gets to see why he would attract some negative attention.

See, he is not the strait-jacket prototype of a gospel artiste. Despite his age, he does not opt for the fast-paced racy, youthful 'bvisa bhachi' type of gospel music associated with modern Pentecostalism and religious 'fun' as it were.

So yes indeed there is something good about him for him to attract some attention. People hardly pay attention to quiet duds and soggy artistes. It is the captivating ones complete with their provocative lyrics that warrant attention and Mathias Mhere falls into this category no doubt.

He is more conservative which draws attention to him no doubt as people battle to understand the man behind that man of few words they see. What is he thinking? What inspires him in his writing? And who on God's wide earth is he writing to reach?

But Mathias is inspired by all things religious and his fame has gone beyond the borders of the nation as he got his first big break with a ticket to a Texas gospel gig at the end of June in 2013.

Married to Susan Dzinamarira and with two children, Shayne and Sean, Mathias has had a bit of a trip coming from Gutu, through Gweru and eventually landing in Harare in 2007.

He has four albums to his credit. One with the group Rock of Ages which did not do well in 2004; another in 2007 called Tinoda Nyasha which he recorded at Monolio Studios with Clive 'Mono' Mukundu, which also was not successful.

Then there was the return sizzler Anoita Minana 'Favour NaMwari' which endeared him to many and the chart smashing Anoita Minana, which has songs like Number Busy (Try Again) Peter Peter and

other hot hits that have made him the prince of gospel music, capable of forcing gospel king Charles Charamba to abdicate the throne and pay homage.

"I had almost lost interest after the album Tinoda Nyasha because I thought I had done my best and could do no better. That was before I met Lyton Ngolomi with whom I started recording the first hit album in October 2011 and releasing it finally on September 3 a year later. So that was a labour of love which we took time to work on," he admits.

Nguva Yenyasha has shamed his critics with him having a string of local and international tours that have been sold out after becoming the big kahuna in gospel music.

Certainly the monotone to the albums that have made him a brand name; Anoita Minana and Nguva Yenyasha is apparent to the music connoisseur but with him ready to grow, certainly his music is expected to mature and diversify along with him as time progresses.

Yet, born as the sixth in a family of seven children, almost all of whom could sing, and with a family choir called Living in Praise' with siblings Andrew, Melody, Miriro and Daniel, it was almost certain that a man born into a nest of larks would himself sing as a free roaming bird!

With a new added verve and willingness to pursue music as a professional career, the story of Mathias Mhere is only beginning to unfold!

To mentor other young people Mathias Mhere in his calm quiet voice would say 'never give up'; he almost did and would not have lived this unfolding dream! He has released two DVD albums and because of not giving up he has prospered. Even though it was initially 'number busy', Mathias Mhere 'tried again!'

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