AFRO-fusion musician Ashton “Mbeu” Nyahora says the Covid-19 pandemic-induced national lockdown has unlocked new opportunities in his career amid an enhanced online presence and growing fan base.
Mbeu, who fronts the Mhodzi Tribe Band did not take a sabbatical during the lockdown but rather used the opportunity to explore other avenues to widen the reach of his music and to establish new business networks.
In a wide ranging interview with the Daily News on Sunday Lifestyle, the Mavanga hitmaker opened up on his incredible musical journey, the challenges he encountered, current projects and prospects for the future. He also gave a glimpse of his personal journey and some bits into his life outside music.
Q: Thank you for taking time to join us for this interview. Let us begin by reflecting on your musical journey. What would you say have been your highlights?
A: Firstly, let me thank you for this opportunity. I sincerely hope your audience will find some valuable lessons from my experiences as I also learn from them. Now turning to your question, I would say it is very difficult for me to pinpoint particular highlights of my journey as everyday has been an opportunity for me to create lasting memories in one way or the other. But of course there are some moments that the public and the media noticed me. For instance, I vividly recall when I was named among the top vocalists at Starbrite (a local talent search show), which opened different avenues for my journey.
My first musical tour was also quite an experience. Of course, I also remember when I first got monetary appreciation through music and the subsequent endorsements and awards from those that had been touched by my music.
All these experiences coupled with the encouragement that comes from hearing your own music being played on the different platforms, including national radio and television as well as in public places and on social media form some of the great highlights of my career.
Performing before thousands of people is also gratifying. In fact, I am personally persuaded to believe that just being on stage counts as the most memorable bit of my being a musician. So the short response to your question is being on stage has been my major career highlight.
Q: Talking of live performances, it must have been very difficult being away from staging shows during the national lockdown?
A: It really has been bittersweet. Bitter in that we can’t meet with our musical followers in the usual physical spaces. But it’s been sweet in that we have learnt new ways of performing and interacting with our fans online. We have made online shows carry the same personal and emotional value as would be the case if we had been meeting physically. In a way I would say my ‘musical seed has been germinating’ during this lockdown period.
Q: What about the business side of things? Has the absence of gate takings affected that side of your operations?
A: Well, the music industry is not really anchored on gate takings, especially with the way the world and business is evolving. There are many misconceptions about live shows. It’s not a straight jacket really and sometimes a paradox.
For example, people may perceive some shows to be flops in terms of lower numbers yet the engagement would be a profitable venture while those big shows in terms of numbers may sometimes be unprofitable. At the end of the day, we derive more satisfaction in delivering our best whenever we get an opportunity to perform or deliver our music.
Q: Let’s trace back to your musical journey. You were once part of a group based at Pakare Paye, Tsvete, before establishing your own band. What would you say is the major difference between those models?
A: I believe a good leader is a good follower. A good lead singer makes a good backing vocalist. In that sense there is no difference in those models. However, fronting a band has the extra responsibility of what would essentially be two brands — that of the band leader and that of the band. However, the hallmark of any successful band is teamwork, developing chemistry and ultimately being family.
Q: Your band, how old is it and how many albums have you released to date?
A: The Mhodzi Tribe band has been active since around 2015 and has evolved from being a trio to being a seven cast band, that includes myself on acoustic guitar and vocals, Tawanda “Willow” Ndoro on the lead guitar, Ronald “Elbasso” Mhundhwa on bass, Nigel “TipTop” Matope on drums, Carlton “Smoshy” Ndapasowa on keyboard, Felistus “Nandi” Chipendo on vocals and shakers and our engineer Tinotenda “Zilatan” Dhliwayo.
This cast of musicians is ably supported by a management team led by Eugene “Risbon” Museredza, who has been my and the band’s pillar since we embarked on this journey.
There are other team members in management that assist in logistics and other varying roles that support the band in different ways. We also work closely and consult experts in other fields outside music, where we have some thought leaders in some sectors such as the media, wherein we have the likes of Nigel “Kabila” Nyamutumbu among others that form an integral part of the team.
Ultimately, every follower of the Mhodzi Tribe is part of this huge family and together we have produced three studio albums and several singles.
Q: Let’s get a little personal now. Who is this Mbeu?
A: Well maybe the question should be rephrased to who is Ashton Nyahora as we have told all about Mbeu (laughs).
Q: Okay, we get that! Who is Ashton Nyahora then?
A: Ashton Nyahora was born on the 30th of September 1992. He is of the Mukurambwa (Gwai) totem and comes from Guruve. He grew up in Norton, where he did his education at Vimbayi primary and secondary schools. He is a versatile musician who can play the acoustic, bass and lead guitars and various percussion instruments.
Q: But surely you have a life outside music!
A: (laughs) Ohh my God, I was talking music instruments and all again!
Q: Yes sure, we want to know more about your other life? Like your favourite food and what you do in your spare time?
A: Spare time is really hard to come by, you know. But I do enjoy being in the company of my family and friends and to hang out having mazondo nezvemukati, traditional foods. I also meditate a lot and just to be well versed with what’s happening in the world be it in the news or sporting world. Otherwise my life revolves around music either making it, rehearsing it, listening to it or performing it.
Q: Are you married?
A: Yes and proud father of two pretty girls!
Q: Where did the name Mbeu originate from?
A: The name emerged from one of my very first songs when I was unknown and in the sound bite I sang about Mbeu (seed). As people didn’t know my name but the sound bite, they started identifying me as Mbeu. I fell in love with the name and it is now part of my identity.
Q: What are you currently working on then?
A: I am polishing new materials that I will be releasing in this year, including some videos, a singles collection and collaboration. We are always working hard perfecting our act and will continue with the online shows as we prepare for the lifting of the lockdown regulations.
Q: Do you want to share who you are collaborating with?
A: It will be a surprise, which I cannot pre-empt at the moment.
Q: What is your take on the broader arts and music sector in the country? Is government doing enough to support the sector? What do you think needs to be done?
A: That’s obviously a broad question as you put it. But I am confident that Zimbabwe has produced some of the finest musicians that have acted as the country’s brand ambassadors. We have the talent but at times lack the necessary exposure and resources.
On that bit government and other stakeholders including music promoters, corporate organisations and the media should combine efforts in strengthening the arts and music sector in the country.
Q: Where do you see Mbeu in the future?
A: We have a vision as the Mhodzi Tribe family, broken into short, medium term and long term goals. In the immediate future we are working towards expanding the scope of our networks nationally and make our presence felt throughout the country. We also intend to go regional in the not so distant to medium term. In the long term, we would want to export our music, culture and brand across the world.
Q: Before you go, what would be your last words?
A: I just want to appreciate all those that have been investing time and resources in making Mbeu and the Mhodzi
Tribe what they are today. No role is too small or too big and my appreciation comes from the heart. We have had support from corporates, small to medium enterprises, organisations and from individuals all of which I am grateful for. My assurance is that we will continue to repay this faith in us by producing quality music.
I urge those that are yet to interact with my works to do so on my Youtube channel @Mbeu Official and to like our Facebook Page Mbeu and the Mhodzi Tribe or follow us on Twitter @MbeuOfficial.