HARARE – Veteran musician and pioneer of commercial gospel music — Mechanic Manyeruke, is a true testament of God’s reward to those who are patient.
The 71-year-old effervescent singer has just marked 40 years of music in a journey laced with derision, love and doubt.
And Salisbury, as Harare was then called, during the Rhodesian era, would hold some of the aces of an enthusiastic but poorly resourced would-be granddad of Zimbabwean gospel music.
“In 1967, I went to Harare where I saw the Salvation Army Band performing at the Borrowdale Race Course.
“I loved the way they were playing their instruments and immediately fell in love with their music,” Manyeruke told the Daily News this week as he narrated his 40-year musical journey.
“Of course, my passion for music started at St Patrick’s in Gweru where I grew up. I come from Chiundura.
“Between 1956 and 1958, I was already playing my banjo but would only do this during school holidays and festivals.
“The experience at Borrowdale Race Course was different — I knew that I wanted to be a musician, playing songs for the love of God. The Christmas festival at Borrowdale changed my life.”
A year later, 1968, Manyeruke joined the Salvation Army.
The unassuming veteran juggled between tending to gardens and trying to scale up a musical career which appeared to be shaping up in fits and starts.
Those that had heard of his guitar playing prowess, including white officers from the Salvation Army, set up shows but sceptics did not see anything “lightning” about a “gardener from Borrowdale.”
“Within the Salvation Army, there were no problems regarding my background of being a gardener but there were others who strongly felt nothing good could come out of a gardener.
“But some of the guys there were not happy. They had been students of white Salvation Army officers who had taught them how to play the instruments."
“They thought this uneducated gardener from Borrowdale could not teach them anything about music.
“Some communities warmed up to my music. A friend of mine from St Patrick’s, Gweru, bought a guitar which I used in open air festivals. Talks of war were building up, this partly explained reservations about my abilities,” Manyeruke told the Daily News.
The Chirema Patemberi composer teamed up with the Chataika siblings, the late Jordan and sisters whose prodigious talent was well-known in gospel music circles.
A live duet at the Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation (RBC), now the ZBC, to mark the Easter celebrations, opened doors for Manyeruke.
He had already swapped being a gardener for a role at Anglo-American as a scullion and later special waiter for top management.
His first recording came via a European tour which was supported by Anglo American bosses who lined-up a United Kingdom-based recording company to snap the former gardener.
Serengeti Records deal set up Manyeruke on a new journey.
The experience garnered through stints with Gospel Singers and Ambassadors of Christ led him to believe he could hold his own pursuit of excellence.
But his drive towards recording was almost put on skids when Teal Records, now Gramma Records, were not sure of the commercial success of Zakeyo, his maiden album.
“After mixing and all critical steps had be taken to record the album, Teal Records studio manager was reluctant to have the album released.
“It took the intervention of Bothwell Nyamhondera, the sound engineer, to convince Abel Mapfumo that the project would succeed,” recalled Manyeruke.
“At the time there were very few gospel artistes. The Chataika family was among the few that had really showed promise on the market. I was confident because my music had been well received on the programme — Dzemagitare.”
Manyeruke’s career then blossomed leading to the recording of more than 23 albums including arguably his best offering to date, Ari Mandiri Jesu.
But what makes his career an outstanding one is the fact that it has not been driven by the love for commercial success or glitzy life.
Manyeruke does not live a glamorous life and there is no evidence to suggest he has made a huge windfall from his music.
Instead, he has been living happily in the shadows of some of the gospel stars he mentored.
“There was never a single day I ever thought of making money from my music because right from the beginning I was driven by the passion for music,” said Manyeruke.
“I would happily say God has blessed me through this music and have no complaints at all. Wherever I perform, the drive is always music and then of course, we can always negotiate a fee.”
Charles and Olivia Charamba are on top of the pile of gospel musicians. Manyeruke thinks they will go far.
“They have stuck together — during good and lean times. Charles and Olivia have been consistent and are real ambassadors of gospel music. Charles has always had it. I remember him very well from the early days when he would come and perform with instruments during church gatherings and the time he formed a band. He believes and loves what he does, together with his wife, Olivia,” said Manyeruke.
Manyeruke himself, has a hotshot in the family.
His last child, Emmanuel "Guspy Warrior" Manyeruke, is a dancehall sensation whose music is in sharp contrast to what his father has spent 40 years singing.
But the affable gospel guru, contrary to media reports, has had a hand in grooming him.
“I discovered his talent many years ago when we were visiting in the United Kingdom. We went into one shop which was playing music and he astounded everyone with the way he danced."
“He showed love for music and I took reasonable steps to nurture and guide him. I have never quarrelled with Manu (Emmanuel). I am mature enough to know that we have different tastes and choices,” Manyeruke told the Daily News.
“Manu is a Christian and a family man. I hold no grudges with him for choosing secular music. For us, we are tiling the same land but using different seeds. If we use the same seeds, you start comparing me and my son.”
Guspy Warrior’s Seunononga hit song has gone viral — amplifying the decibels among those who respect his talent.
Guspy’s success has, however, made many to marvel at the patent difference between his all-energy music and his father’s calm and serene gospel tunes.
“There have been one or two comments that have been said about his video, but there is no harm intended. All my children were brought up in a Christian environment and they remain in that same culture.
“Manu is a married man and married early into his musical career because he knew the pitfalls of the industry once you become a star. I see a lot of similarities between him and my father.
“He is a leader and has strong qualities that you expect from a son and a leader of the family,” said Manyeruke.
And to celebrate his 40 years in music, Manyeruke has been honoured by Pride Africa Network, a development and research organisation, with a donation of a posh Jaguar XF car.
The car will be handed over to the veteran artiste on December 19 during a dinner to be scheduled for the Rainbow Towers in honour of the gospel music legend.