7 September 2017

Zimbabwe: What Keeps Charambas Going

Photo: The Herald
Gospel Music Legends: Olivia and Charles Charamba

A number of gospel musicians have come and gone but the Charambas have stood the test of time. In a rare occasion and a first in their career, the duo launched their albums on August 16, "Abba Father" by Pastor Charamba and "Voice of Miriam" by Mai Charamba. As people are listening to the albums it is time to reflect on what has kept the Charambas going.

I first met Pastor Charamba in 1999 when I was coordinating the Winter Gospel Music Festival. It was a few months after the release of his second album, "John 3 vs 16."

The song Mhinduro iripo from the album was enjoying fair airplay and promising to be a hit. I vividly recall Pastor Charamba telling me about his vision (he was not a Pastor then), that one day he will play in packed venues. He even mentioned Harare Gardens as an example.

His confidence and determination was amazing. He even made it clear that he did not tolerate unprofessional promoters and it was going to be difficult to work with him if certain standards were not met.

Besides being an upcoming artiste you could tell the musician was also struggling to make ends meet, but that did not deter his vision or compromised his principles. My partners dismissed him as a dreamer but I saw a great artiste. I had seen a number of artistes rising from the ghetto streets to stardom.

After some candid talks he agreed to perform at the festival which also featured Gospel Trumpet, Mahendere Brothers, Cristabell, Pastor Haisa and MUMC Harare West. The other artistes were dominating television music shows and also enjoying good airplay. Whilst all the other bands arrived at the venue in hired cars or taxis, the Fishers of Men walked to the venue from their bus stop. The group put up a spirited performance which saw them stealing the show from the popular artistes.

Within a few months "Mhinduro Iripo" gained popularity and Pastor Charamba became a sought after artiste for live performances. Even his first album, "Tinashe Akatendeka", began to receive massive airplay. By the end of 1999 the album "John 3 vs 16" was a major hit marking the emergence of a new gospel music guru.

The release of "Vhuserere", a follow up album to "John 3 vs 16" in 2000 cemented Charamba's position. Follow up albums included "Exodus", "Sunday Service", "Verses and Chapters", "New Testament in Song"and "Pashoko Pangoma" by Pastor Charamba. Mai Charamba released "Amen", "Daily Bread" and "The Gospel". Their last release before the recent dual productions was "WeNazaretha" collaboration.

Whilst many people wonder what distinguish the Charambas from the many gospel artistes who have come and gone, the almost two decades I have interfaced with them points to nothing else but respect for music fans, proper handling of fame, knowing your subject, being principled and hard working. Of all the shows I did with the Charambas, fans never waited for them. In fact they arrived at the venue an hour or two before their performance time.

At one point we had a show at Queens Hall in Mutare, our team slept in Mutare and the Charambas drove the following morning. By 7am when we went to the hall, they had finished setting up the sound for a show that was starting at 1130am. The Charambas did not drown in fame or embrace the superstar mentality of waiting for the venue to fill up first before performing.

They played for the available fans. If the show was billed to start at 12 they would go on stage at 12 whether there were many fans or not. Fans ended up knowing that if you miss 30 minutes you miss three or five songs.

Once on stage they would play for two hours or more without taking a break. Our musicians today play in Harare and its environs week in week out but the Charambas' shows are spread. One show in Chitungwiza and one show in Harare each year. That meant if fans miss that show they will have to wait for another year and that kept the demand for their live performance.

The other thing the Charambas are known for is sound quality; they do not compromise on that. The P.A System has to be perfect and crystal clear or there is no show.

I was also impressed by Pastor Charamba's respect for gospel music pioneers or musicians who came before him. He strongly dismissed all assertions to compare him with Baba Manyeruke. He looked up to him as his elder and mentor and never wasted efforts trying to compete with him. To this day he regards Baba Manyeruke highly.

Whilst many gospel artistes perceive themselves as super humans, the Charambas have remained part of Zimbabwe's music family. They have consulted and networked with many artistes regardless of the genre they play. I remember one conversation with Pastor Charamba where he talked of the advice he received from the late Simon Chimbetu and how it helped him.

The Charambas have managed to maintain their brand as the first couple of gospel music. You don't doubt whether they are Christians or not. If you listen to gospel music today, you wonder if some of the musicians ever read the bible. The songs will be shallow in lyrics, teachings and the scripture.

Reginald Chapfunga, a music promoter and manager who have worked with a number of local musicians and also promoted international artists

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