Vocal Ex comes to the party

JUST two days ago, at the Word of Life auditorium, young gospel music lovers streamed into the venue decked out in varying degrees of fabulous; girls with clutch bags and minis and boys with skinny jeans and Kanye West style scarfs.

I could have sworn it was the BET Awards in Los Angeles, US! But it was the scene of Vocal Ex’s inaugural live DVD recording at their Gospel Xmas Concert.

Getting inside wasn’t that much of a hassle; some of the folk at the door recognised my hack’s face. Musos were still fiddling on their instruments.

Starting time had been pencilled in for 4pm, but it was now 5:21pm and still no joy. Around 5:30pm though, the show started.

First onstage was a youth called Kwanfire. The youngster also in skinny jeans and grey baggy sweater started spitting out lyrics about Christian living and so on.

I was sitting there watching him as he pranced about around evoking the swagger of US hip-hop worldly stars such as Jay-Z and Lil Wayne hand almost straying down “there”.

I was thinking: you can’t clutch your crotch son, this is gospel music.

But the boy rapped on to the delight of the youthful audience which had a sputtering of adults. The public address system wasn’t that good at first.

Could not make out much of what he was saying. On the second song he was OK. I hate to see the wicked prosper . . . went part of his lyric.

But therein is the challenge with the genré of rap when deployed to spread the good Word. Rap is largely based on braggadocio ie boastfulness though the young adore the hip-hop affectation it seems.

Rap music’s ethos today mainly promotes licentiousness, self and one’s own potency which are at cross purposes with Christianity. To my mind, the jury is still out on whether the use of rap is effective for the purposes of the gospel.

Next on was Tinashe Chitsaka also of Family Voices directing Cream Voices.

A girl called Mimi led out with Beyoncé sound alike pipes as she rifled through a worship medley that had the audience raising hands in seeming prayer.

Then the show really started for me as they gave a rendition of André Crouch’s Bless the Lord classic. The song was revved up and the crowd loved it. Somebody onstage shouted to the audience: Are you having a good time? Not yet, was the answer. But the young and the restless were having a whale of a time upstage.

Finally came the main act Vocal Extraordinairé. Fronted by Eric Moyo, the 2008 idols winner, Mkhululi Bhebhe of Joyous Celebration and Thembelani Mdlazi who happen to be the founding directors of the 24-member gospel group, the youngsters are drawn from across the denominational divide.

The large majority are female with about five or seven being male. The singing cannot be faulted as we witnessed.

They are indeed an extraordinary group of singers and dancers.

They started their set with vocal stylising on songs as if to demonstrate the vocal firepower of the group. After the vocal showcase, songs such as Ndouya led out by Mkhululi’s younger brother reached a crescendo.

Later a boy called DLukes came on with shakers on a Zimbocentric tip. Othniel Mangoma, the legendary percussionist, could now emerge from the shadows to demonstrate why he is one of Zimbabwe’s go to percussionist.

He has worked with many celebrated top musicians including Dudu Manhenga.

Vocal Ex’ repertoire referenced Naija, DRC, South African sounds but their gift shined through for me when they did Zimbo-originated music. Eric kept tormenting the audiences with Sabastian Magacha’s hit song Bhosvo.

Show-stopping moments occurred when this girl called Chelsea was jogging about on stilettos like they are running shoes. She is the bona fide dynamo on stilts and was one of the stars on show singing Mhanya kutembere nguva yakwana.

Her mum was also invited onstage and all could see where the young woman gets her energy from as she did the Borrowdale dance with zest and power which stunned everyone.

Another mum Moyo led out on UJesu Uphila Kimi after being invited onstage. Dumi Nyongolo, introduced as a sweet voiced one, complete with traditional regalia and bare feet appeared on stage.

The pint-sized muso sang songs off his album and danced some. Ultimately, Eric Moyo is one classy singer in a league of his own. Taking the audience through Tye Tribbett’s He is able to Come as you are, his gift shined through as a pastor’s son.

There is always the fine line gospel musicians like him must tread though. You are either performing or you are ministering.

It’s either your showcase or it is the Jesus show. It can’t be both. To cap the show Mkhululi in sailor suit explode on to stage with the now famous hit Ichokwadi.

“If someone from South America can sing along to this you can sing along too” he shouted to the fans. Mkhululi is by now widely travelled because of his Joyous Celebration work.

He now also travels as a solo act and has become a major feature of the current Joyous Celebration act.

For a kid who was not expected to walk as a child, the young musician danced like his life depended on and when you speak to him, the name of Jesus hardly departs from his lips. The fans lapped up everything he served them.

It was a special night with a full house of fans witnessing the rising tide of a local gospel wave in Vocal Ex. Time will tell if they can be differentiated from Joyous Celebration or Zimpraise.

On one of the group’s own compositions Mufudzi Wangu, Vocal Ex hinted the difference. The song had a mbira backing which was uniquely plaintive.

“Our aim is to bring out the music from the cultures that are found here in this part of the country,” Eric Moyo said in an interview after the show.

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