In the past few weeks, social media was awash with negative statements made about Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave’s collaboration with Zimdancehall artiste, Killer T on the song, ‘Vanondibatirana’.
I asked Fungisai what she thought about this vilification from the public. In her own words, Fungisai replies: “There are more people who like this song compared to haters. It’s just that haters are the loudest. The song has become a resounding success. This is not the first time I have worked with secular artistes.
“I have worked with Tuku, Albert Nyathi and Jah Prayzah before. I have always cut across genres with, reggae, sungura, South African beats, jazz, and House music and now comes the Dancehall tune which has shaken the world.
“If its about social songs, I have always performed them besides gospel. Nothing has changed. You will remember that from ten years ago ,I have always been making headlines nemapfekero angu which I consider unique to me. On ‘Makomborero’, there was an outcry
“Munhu weChurch rudzii anopfeka jombo, leather outfit, one arm neCap?” (“What kind of church person wears leather boots, jacket, one arm and a cap?”)
Fungisai does not deserve the vilification she is facing from critics. There are no boundaries to gospel music.
In the past most women who wanted to venture into singing in a band, started off in a church choir because church music, hence gospel music, was associated with worship and one cannot criticise a song related to prayer. It was only after these women felt confident that they joined bands, at first as backing singers and eventually as lead singers.
Nina Simone, one of the most respected and influential figures in the 1950’s Black music, began her career by singing in church in North Carolina, USA. She later established herself as a jazz, pop and soul artiste. The Staple Singers were also America’s best-known female gospel group in the late 1950s but later transformed to a pop and soul group in the 1960s.
Roberta Flack sang gospel in the Baptist Church in Virginia. Many other female artistes such as Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and Toni Braxton have their music roots in church.
The gospel story is however more complex when it comes to female artistes. There are several reasons, which can be given to explain the propensity of women artistes towards gospel music.
Not many women in Zimbabwe have the courage of Busi Ncube, Rozalla Miller, Chiwoniso Maraire, Stella Chiweshe, Dorothy Masuku, Cindy Munyavi, Hope Masike, Rute Mbangwa, Edith We Utonga, Lady Squanda, Plaxedes Wenyika, Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana or Susan Mapfumo to perform at any venue, whether it is a nightclub or a pub.
The traditional roles played by women in most African societies, inhibit them from performing in bands, let alone in nightclubs.
There was an uproar two years ago when Fungisai went to perform at Jazz 105 night club. Patrons were asking, “ What is a church person doing here?”
Attitudes from Zimbabwean society towards male musicians are still very negative even today. They become worse if the musician happens to be a woman. A woman who sings in a night club is often regarded as a loose person.
However, if she sings in church, attitudes change as her lyrics are in praise of god and no man can challenge that without pricking his conscience. Using this loophole, many women who have the ambition to becoming pop divas, are now using the gospel route to become pop-stars since their acts are quite acceptable in church.
Zimbabwe female gospel artistes are no exception.
Fungisayi Zvakavapano, Olivia Charamba, Ivy Kombo, Amanda Sagonda, Janet Manyowa, Carol Chivengwa, Shingisai Siluma, Mai Chikuse, Spiwe Chimuti and Mercy Mutsvene all started their music careers in church, but quite a few of them have now simply become pop musicians outside the church.
Fungisai also started in church, but has since diversified to more popular music genres, hence Dancehall.
However, the problem is that we have all enjoyed gospel music without effectively addressing the problems that sometimes come with it. People start to associate anyone who sings gospel with righteous things or with church and Christianity.
Once that perception has been established by the society at large, it becomes difficult to wean oneself out of that. Society is watching the way you behave in public, the way you dress, the lyrics in your songs and your musical direction.
With Fungisai, nothing is new. She is a musician who should allow herself to exploit all possible channels of reaching the public and making money through music. As a matter of fact, she has become more popular after releasing “Vanondibatirana’, her collaboration with Killer T.
However, society sees Zimdancehall as the devil’s music because it is associated with misogyny, sex and drug abuse. People start to ask why Fungisai is going in that direction, hence the vilification. Gospel music can use any genre of music such as sungura, reggae, kwaito and even Zimdancehall to project its messages.
However, very little has been done to teach, correct and scripturally direct the music types that are labelled gospel, from our pulpits and churches and even from the recording studios.
This is why society remains conservative and begins to question the motives behind Gospel artistes who venture into what they perceive as Un-Christian music. They see that as a compromise of principles and a search for materialism. But the word should be spread from all directions to both Christians and non-Christians and Fungisai has done very well in this regard.
Born in Harare, on 27 November 1981, Fungisai comes from a family of five – two boys (Major and Taropafadzwa) and three girls Shorai, Chiwoniso and Fungisai herself).
Fungisai attended St Mary’s Mission for her primary education, Harare Girls High for her junior Certificate, Adventist High School for her ordinary levels and lastly Mutoko High school for her Advanced Levels.
Fungisai grew up in a Christian family and became part of the Praise and Worship Choir at church. Her participation in the choir was the beginning of her music career as a gospel singer. She says she got most of her inspiration from her father who was her choir-master at church.
She learnt to control her voice whilst she was at Seventh Day Adventist at Nyazura High School where, according to her, there were many good singers. It was her experience in church singing that brought about her decision to take up gospel music and when she finished her Advanced Levels she sought out a band that would assist her with the recording of her music.
Fungisai started recording in 2001. Her debut album “TokutendaiIshe Volume 1” with the hit song ‘KuraramaInyasha’ was well received. In February 2002 she released her second album “ToitaZvedenga” and later in the same year, “Makomborero.”
In Zimbabwe there has been controversy on how Fungisai portrays herself on stage and in public, which according to her followers, is not in keeping with Christian humility. However, Fungisai, has dismissed such thinking as irrelevant to her mission.
She has told her critics that she likes to dress in line with her generation and not in keeping with the opinion that if one is a Christian they have to dress humbly and dance with their head tilted to one side.
So is she a saint or a villain? You be the judge.