THERE comes a time when the ducks line up in the proverbial row and, when heaven smiles on a people.
There also comes a time when even the most jaded of people have to acknowledge that something great is before their very presence.
That time manifested itself this past Saturday night at the Family of God church auditorium. The people of Bulawayo came out in droves and packed the city venue to witness the launch of the Family Voices album.
Entitled Time for Breaking Through the 14-track album recorded and engineered in South Africa at Vocal First Studios, Johannesburg, was touted as the eight-member a cappella ensemble’s debut album and they sang like their lives depended on it. To do true justice to all that happened last weekend, I would need four pages.
From glory to glory
Can things get any better for Family Voices? Can they stretch their dizzying run of career success which some watchers say really began with their appearance on one of Africa’s best loved soapies?
One thing for sure is that what most of the music-loving folk in the city witnessed was something superlative and breathtaking as the eight-member crew of Bobby James, Tinashe Chitsaka, Brighton Ncube, Bazil Mafu, Melusi Sibanda, Ronald Magigwani, Michael Sibanda and Luke Kamanga took audiences through an evocative set of foot stomping gospel songs that spun a whole breath of styles indigenous to Zimbabwe and across the Limpopo.
Another thing is that these boys are no divas, which helps. To be frank, I was a bit unsettled to see Eric Moyo leading Family Voices in a song. I was thinking: no man you have had your chance at glory, leave the youngsters to shine for Jesus too! I mean Moyo has had his unfair share of chances! Anyway, I later found out that he was one of the original members of Family Voices and has assisted the boys in terms of voice training etc. . .
At the dinner to celebrate the launch show, Lindelani Mkhize passed by on his way from adjudicating at the clash of the choirs competition at the ZITF on the very same day alongside fellow judges Charles Charamba and Pride Priestly.
The respected worship leader Mkhize listened to Family Voices as well as a stirring rendition of No More Night by Moyo that had the close to 100 dinner guests floored by its sheer brilliance.
There has never been any doubt that Moyo can belt. What has been questioned is his commitment to work for his musical career . . . . Up front, however, I can reveal that Moyo will feature on Joyous Celebration 19 alongside Family Voices! Mkhize, the famous South African group’s director declared as much about Moyo at the post launch celebration dinner. The news about Family Voices I got direct from the group’s manager.
A shrewd manager with the golden touch
So it’s official: Family Voices is on the path to musical greatness under the Midas touch of one Simon Mambazo Phiri, a renowned arts impresario in Zimbabwe.
I have to admit that Mambazo, founder of Sabela Music Projects as manager, was quite audacious.
The idea that you can sell $10 and $15 tickets for a performance in Bulawayo hitherto was the very stuff of madness or over reaching to say the least.
“People were saying that it’s too expensive to pay $10 for Family Voices, we don’t even pay that much for Oliver Mtukudzi. But we are saying that come on this is the only Family Voices in the world. Also the show is five bucks and the CD is five bucks,” he had said before the show kicked off.
But the crowds, which included the resident minister for the Bulawayo metropolitan province Eunice Sandi, reverend Paul Damasane, Muvhango actors, pastors, businessmen, media packed the auditorium and were treated to a ccappella gospel music of Family Voices supported ably by another a ccapella ensemble in stand which hails from the seventh day adventist church.
The church is famous for its a cappella vocal tradition with groups such as Trake 6 from the US and Shower Power from Zimbabwe.
Chat with Simon Mambazo Phiri before the show.
Noontime I was having a chat with Mambazo about the group.
How did he manage to pull off the feat of bringing over the Muvhango soapie stars (Gabriel Temudzani Chief Azwindini, Rami Chuene Kgomotjo and Mulimisi)?
“We met the producer when we were recording in the studio and he liked what we were doing. The guy realised that we were serious about what we were doing. He said I love these guys and I have an idea.
“He didn’t say the idea but he gave me a card. A month later he called and said ‘I want these guys to appear in an episode of the soapie’ and I said ‘cool but we are in Zimbabwe and he said it doesn’t matter, come over’.
The guy (Khumbulani Hlongwane) is a co-owner of Word of Mouth Productions that produces Muvhango for SABC. So because of our seriousness they said ‘how can we be of assistance with the album launch?’ We wanted the top guys and that’s how we got the chief and the others.”
The definitional elements of the show’s success.
Firstly, have a boy band that makes the girls squeal. Make them eight to spoil fans for choice.
Secondly, they must have a serious work ethic and a large dollop of talent. “It’s uplifting to work with young people who are God fearing as well as they are talented,” explained Mambazo.
Thirdly, have a strong supporting act such as Stand band from another denomination to help draw crowds and break the fallow ground by whetting appetites on stage whilst heightening the suspense. Including well known and loved celebrities in the guest list helps generate the much needed hype.
Fourth, the elements of surprise i.e design your show in such a way that you bring out the dramatic and unexpected. “The idea is that you don’t just stand in a line and sing. You have to present every song as an act,” Mambazo said on his production values for the show. Word of caution: Be tasteful. Overkill is a definite no.
Fifthly, belief in God? Yes, but also serious guerrilla marketing, on social media platforms, posters in every church where they were allowed.
Sixth, have corporate partners willing to associate their brands with yours. The Family Voices gig had a couple.
Seventh, an audacious manager who understands that they are handling a “product” and more importantly, believes in its viability in the market place so much that they are prepared to take risks to push for its success.
“The way to arrive is to wait for the people to tell you that you have arrived buying your music and attending your shows.”
Mambazo, his boy band and well-wishers took a gamble that paid off big time. A glass ceiling has been shattered for local artists. In the show’s aftermath, Mambazo chortled: “It’s good that everyone has been paid out and we owe nothing.”
Indeed, close to over 800 tickets and CDs sold plus other merchandising related with the group’s launch, Family Voices had every reason to smile.
The tide has turned: Bulawayo now is buying local. “You just have to have the right (artistic) product”. Family Voices has arrived.