How Zimbabwe’s Josefa Became Music Legend
A documentary about the life of Machanic Manyeruke, who rose from a humble background to become an internationally renowned musician, considered the founder of gospel music in Zimbabwe. It will be told against the background of his day-to-day life now in Zimbabwe, helping his local community and nation cope with its challenging economic and political crises, performing at various events (church, civic and otherwise), relating to family and friends, working with talented musicians to record his latest songs (now in his home with computer-based technologies), and working to help bring his conflict-torn country together, “as a family,” as he puts it in our introductory video. Manyeruke’s story is a profoundly moving one that will engage viewers around the world, bringing them deeply into his world–his family, his communities, and the life and culture of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
VIEW INTRODUCTORY VIDEO with MACHANIC’S PERSONAL APPEAL HERE!
When I finally met Machanic face-to-face in Zimbabwe 2011, after falling in love with his music years before and using it in my documentary film work, I was deeply impressed. He was such a humble unassuming man ready to serve his people. He was then helping his township of Chitungwiza outside the capitol of Harare organize volunteers, especially youth, to cope with the challenges Zimbabwe’s economic collapse was inflicting on them. Then, a year later, when I heard his personal story, I was even more deeply moved to help tell his story in this film.
I had always been impressed with how Manyeruke found fresh ways in his songs to recount stories from the Bible–for example, his two songs about Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, but through his resolute goodness and moral virtue, rising in the King of Egypt’s household to become a king himself. Then, years later, when his brothers are stunned to find him in this position of power, he forgives them and helps them out. One of Manyeruke’s quite popular songs, Josefa, tells of the moment Joseph was tempted to have sex by the Queen, Portifa, but resists. “Who of you men are like Joseph?” he sings, “Who?” Little did I know how much such Joseph stories meant to Machanic, given his own struggles as a young man, or that, in fact, his given name was “Joseph”.
Machanic’s father died when he was fifteen and still in school, he told me in the interview you’ll see in the introductory video above. “I thought maybe it’s the end of my life,” he recalled. When none of his older siblings, then out working, would cover his modest school fees, he had to go look for work in the city of Harare (then Salisbury), working first as a gardener. There he struggled with the temptations faced by young men living alone in the anonymity of city life. One evening returning home a little drunk from one of his first experiences drinking beer, an older man stopped him on the street. “What are you doing, my son?” Machanic remembers him asking. That man, Thomas Kagoro, was from the Salvation Army, a strong church movement in Zimbabwe’s burgeoning cities, among imported from England and brought more authentically into local Zimbabwean life by leaders like Kagoro.
Kagoro invited Machanic to join them for their worship under a tree in the neighborhood, and it was through the Salvation Army that Machanic found himself and first developed as a performing musician. Years later several decisive events led to his fame. One, his first public performance, was being invited by the late Bishop Abel Muzorewa, a United Methodist Bishop and the first black Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, to perform at a public revival in Muzorewa’s church. Another was while working as a waiter at the Anglo American Mining Company offices when his boss came to tell him that there was a call for him from the UK. “From the UK?” Machanic asked in astonishment, “I don’t know anyone in the UK.” The man on the phone explained that while Machanic didn’t know him, he knew Machanic, and said that “if your employer allows it, we want to welcome you at Heathrow Airport the following Monday, for two concerts in London and one in Scotland.” “And if all goes well,” he continued, “we’ll work with you.” His boss gave him time off and Manyeruke was on his way!
Another dimension of Manyeruke’s story are the sources of his music, music that has moved and inspired Christians in his country across denominations for generations now. His father, Machanic explained to me in interview, had been a talented musician “with a beautiful voice of singing his songs to his ancestors . . . ” He often won first prize at the annual agricultural fair in Gweru for his performance of traditional song and dance called Mhande. But, Machanic seemed conflicted about connecting his music to his father’s, because of traditional Christian pressures to distance yourself from such “heathen” practices–for example, his father’s singing to the spirits of his deceased ancestors. However, from my documentary film work on Christian growth in Africa, I had learned a basic lesson: wherever Christianity has spread into new cultures, new believers always draw from their traditional pre-Christian cultures and arts to respond to the gospel and relate to their Christ. How could they do otherwise? Like Europeans using the organ and the pulpit–both with their manifold “pagan” religious meanings–to now worship their newfound savior, or converting their “heathen” celebration of the winter solstice to welcoming the birth of the Christ child.
Private donor pledges $20K
Contingent on raising $20K to match!
We now need only $14K $13K!!
This will make this film happen!
PLEASE HELP NOW!
1. Pledge via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Donations will be made to Hartford Seminary, the project’s 501(c)3 sponsor, so they are tax deductible.
2. Make tax deductible donation directly now to Hartford Seminary this way:
Check made to “Hartford Seminary” with notation at bottom: “For Zimbabwe film” or “For James Ault’s film”.
Send to: Michael Sandner, Esq., Chief Business Officer, Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman Ave., Hartford CT 06105
3. Or donate directly right here:
Supporters will receive…
Supporters of this project will be the first to receive our full-length film when complete, as well as first promotional pieces created on the road to completing the film. You will also be the first to receive a recording and music video of a special song Machanic has promised to write for this film, a song about his life and journey with God. We will carefully keep accounts of all donations and add contributors’ email addresses to the list of supporters we will keep informed of any project developments (unless you do not wish to receive such communications).
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
We intend to produce a moving documentary film that will tell Machanic Manyeruke’s story against the background of his ongoing day-to-day work and relationships now in Zimbabwe. That would include his service to his local community, his performances at various events–church, civic and otherwise–his relationships with family and friends in town and countryside, and his work with musicians and technician colleagues to record his music, as he now produces it, with computer-based equipment in his own home. Unlike the promotional trailer above, the film will be told mainly in his own voice, and the voices of those who have known him over the years, including, for example, Thomas Kagoro, the Salvation Army worker who mentored him as a youth. In so doing, as mentioned above, it will bring viewers around the world effectively into the meaningful realities of Shona life and culture, as it shapes their Christianity and their response to the economic and political struggles of their times.
We also have footage of Manyeruke’s performances in the United States showing how intently he is embraced by Zimbabwean communities there, as well as in the UK, and elsewhere around the world, communities which have been growing as a result of the economic crisis in their homeland. (NB: All our main footage will be shot in HD 16:9, at 50 mbs, to the highest standards of European broadcast television.)
We will also use our footage, especially of Machanic’s performances and recording sessions, to build pieces to post online on YouTube, etc., to promote his music. On a personal note, the rich ways Machanic’s music nourished me in my own spiritual journey, when their lyrics were translated for me by colleagues traveling with me, convinces me that, when they become known in translation, they will move listeners around the world. Finally Baba (“Father”) Manyeruke fully supports this project and is enthusiastic about it! See his personal appeal in the introductory video above.