Musician dignifies gospel scene

Gospel musicians like Ivy Kombo, Fungisai Zvakavapano, Rebecca Malope, Vuyo Mokoena and Lundi Tyamara had become synonymous with bad publicity and this cast a dark shadow on the genre that consequently had to play second fiddle to other music types. Suluma’s humbleness, straight-forwardness, professionalism and expertise have made her a cut above the rest (who preach what they do not practice) and she has indeed contributed to the growth and popularity of gospel music in Zimbabwe. But there is something more interesting about her music that many have probably not realised ‘ she sounds more like legendary songstress, Tracy Chapman. Listen to Suluma’s Broken Vessels and equate the soothing voice to songs on the album New Beginning or Give Me One Reason where Chapman flows with her usual excellence. The striking similarity stands out like a sore thumb. But the musician believes it is mere coincidence. “I have heard her music but I never seriously listened to it because I did not enjoy it that much. I think that similarity is just a coincidence,” she distanced herself from the link. “However, I enjoy the music of international stars like Whitney Houston and Andy Crouch. When I was growing up I used to listen to country music and I admire the music of Dolly Parton and Don Williams,” Suluma explained. She says her parents were behind the career that has now made her a household name. “When I was growing up, I did not have a passion for singing and my parents had to force me into the church choir because they had realised my talent. I joined the choir but being part of it was far from being my favourite moment,” she said. The gospel diva says she only began taking music seriously when she was in the United Kingdom (where she studied for a BA Honours in Art and Design (Textiles) degree when close friends advised her to take up the art. Suluma hogged the limelight with the song Mumaoko at the turn of the millennium and she enhanced her popularity with Mirira Mangwanani while Gogodza which is on her 2002 album Nokuti Wakanaka sealed her claim to the ‘Queen of Gospel’ crown. When she released Fara Zvakadaro in 2003, many had already penned her as their favourite gospel diva and her fan base had widened remarkably. Many began to realise that a true gospel musician had come aboard. Even rumour mongers and muckraking journalists failed to find a dent of irregularity in her personality. It does not suggest that she does not have shortcomings but if there are any, she has managed to keep them in her safe drawer and has not washed her dirty linen in public like most of the controversial musicians do. But she does not boast of a clean character. “I cannot say that I have a good character or I am righteous but it is God’s love that has kept me out of such trouble,” she said. It is however surprising that the musician hardly stages live shows and she attributes the aspect to her mission. “I believe that it is important to minister to the people through music rather than trying to entertain them. Live shows are more of a platform of entertainment than ministry. When people buy the music or listen to it over the radio they usaully take it seriously and get the message,” Suluma explained. Backed by the Joy Street choir, Suluma’s career road has indeed been a street of joy, happiness and success. Recently, she scooped the Outstanding Song award at the National Arts Merit Awards in Harare for her latest hit Nanhasi ahead of Oliver Mtukudzi’s Handiro Dambudziko. It goes without saying that for a gospel artist to stand the ground against renowned artist like Mtukudzi, it takes a lot of expertise, which is exactly what Suluma is endowed with. The song, which features on her latest album Tatenda Taona, is a masterpiece that has flooded the airwaves and has topped charts since it was released late last year. But she did not expect to win the award and all came as a surprise. “The category was really tough and I had no hope of clinching the award at all. Competing with Oliver Mtukudzi and Hosea Chipanga made me feel very inferior because their music is widely recognised,” she commented. It was not the first time for Suluma to outclass artists from the supposed popular music genres in the country as she walked away with the Best Artiste of the Year award at the Zimbabwe Music Awards in December last year. She also scooped the Best Female Gospel Musician accolade at the same event. Siluma credits her husband Steven who produces her music for supporting her throughout her career. “He has been very supportive and I would not be where I am today if it were not for his assistance,” she said. A school teacher by profession, Suluma is a steadfast Christian who always kneels in prayer before every new day. She believes her success has less to do with her personal efforts than blessings from God. She says the only time that she has to put together songs and albums is during school holidays when she is less busy.

April 2006
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