How Zimbabwe’s Josefa Became a Gospel Music Legend
PHASE ONE: Filming in Zimbabwe & Creating Compelling Roughcut Stories
1. ALL CONTRIBUTIONS WILL BE DOUBLED BY A MATCHING GRANT FROM A GENEROUS DONOR!
2. REWARDS PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES TO SHAPE THE FILM! CHECK THEM OUT AND GET INVOLVED!
3. EXAMPLES OF MY OTHER FILMING IN ZIMBABWE CAN BE SEEN ONLINE HERE.
A Classic Christian Story in the Zimbabwean Context
Known as the father of gospel music in Zimbabwe and heralded around the world simply as a great musician and songwriter, Machanic Manyeruke’s rise to international fame from humble origins carries profoundly inspiring and telling lessons.
“My father died when I was still very young” Machanic told me during an interview we filmed, “so I thought my life was over.” Like many before him, Machanic had to leave his family home in the countryside to go find work in the city where he faced the kinds of challenges and hardships city life can carry. And, like generations of young men and women before him, he finds support and care in a church fellowship, in his case, the Salvation Army. And it is here that his musical gifts began to take off.
In one sense, then, Machanic's story is a classic Christian one, like that of Dwight L. Moody's, for example, America’s great evangelist, whose own father’s death forced him to leave home to find work as live-in help in the city. But, if Machanic’s story represents a classic Christian one of church growth fueled by urbanization, it is a fully Zimbabwean story set in the distinct cultural and historical realities of Zimbabwean life in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Critical Lessons about Religion and Culture
Among these distinct cultural realities, of course, are the unique forms of music and dance of the Shona people of Zimbabwe through which they express and orient themselves to the beauties of the earth, to our human belongings—families, relatives and ancestors—and to our sufferings, our hopes, and our God (Mwari in Shona). And the music of the Shona people, of course, contributed mightily to all this before any contact with Christianity, let alone any conversion to it. Machanic’s father, for example, was an award-winning performer of a traditional form of Shona song and dance called Mhande. “He had a beautiful voice of singing,” Machanic explains in our project video, adding, with some hesitation, “… songs to his ancestors.” Machanic’s own music, then, which has nourished the faith of Zimbabwean Christians across denominations for generations, draws deeply from the pre-Christian music of his father.
By exploring the sources of Machanic’s beautiful and inspiring music and the variety of influences shaping it (including urban South African ones), and showing the profound impact it has had on Zimbabwean Christians across denominations and now spread around the world in the Zimbabwean diaspora, this film will demonstrate in a moving personal story an important and inescapable lesson of human history. That is, that the growth and movement of Christianity (or any religion) across cultures necessarily involves drawing on and converting existing forms of art and culture to peoples’ newfound faith (like the organ or Christmas for Europeans).
Moving Personal Stories
But, the story of Machanic’s rise to fame as a gospel musician carries other moving and telling meanings, as well: to take one example, the way he sees his own journey in some of the biblical stories he vividly recounts in his music. I came to see this, for example, in several of his songs about the Old Testament character Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, tempted sexually by the wife of the pharaoh's captain of the guard, and, then, through his moral uprightness, rising to become the pharaoh's right-hand man, to whom his brothers unknowingly come to plead for help during famine.
When Machanic’s father died and he was fifteen and still in school, his family couldn’t afford his school fees—only $2-$3 (US) for the year at the time. Though his older brothers were out working, none came forward to help and, therefore, Machanic had to leave his promising educational career to go work as household help in Harare (then Salisbury). Initially at least, he felt abandoned by his brothers. And, as a handsome young man living alone without family in the anonymity of city life, he undoubtedly faced some temptations like Joseph.
But, as with Joseph, God had other plans, shaping Machanic as a morally upright, humble servant of his people, and lifting him up to be a world-renowned musician, to the amazement of his own brothers, Machanic tells us. I came to wonder whether Machanic’s reconciliation with his brothers helped kindle in him the spirit of forgiveness he now embodies as an agent reconciliation in the bitterly divided politics of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
After sensing how Machanic’s own life perhaps finds expression in the several songs he sings about Joseph, I was amazed to then learn that his given name was, in fact, “Joseph" (or "Josefa", in Shona; an older brother nicknamed him “Machanic” because he liked toying around with metal junk, and the name stuck.)
One dimension of this documentary project I look forward to pursuing will be talking with Machanic about what meanings some of his popular and iconic songs have for him. What did they mean to him when he wrote them, and what life experiences informed them? One of his most popular songs early in his career, for example, was Madhimoni (“demons” in Shona). How he came to write that song may well have some telling and instructive stories behind it, as other songs of his might. In these and other ways, I believe, some of Machanic’s songs will come to have even richer meanings to those hearing them. And the life of an exemplary Zimbabwean Christian will be seen to be embodied in the beautiful music he’s been inspired to create!
Overview and Summary
This is just a taste of some of the profound and inspiring meanings this film will explore in telling Machanic Manyeruke's story. Others might include some of the dark and challenging moments Machanic faced in his journey. All these stories will be told not by a narrator, but, instead, by Machanic himself and by his family, friends, neighbors, and others close to him, like Lieutenant Thomas Kagoro of the Salvation Army, who rescued him on the streets of Harare. We will also hear from those who inspired and supported Machanic in developing his distinct musical style, including fellow musicians like Oliver Mtukudzi, and from leading scholars of Zimbabwean music. In this process many truths and insights will come forth that I have no idea of now. They will be at the film's heart.
Furthermore, all these stories will be told against the background of seeing Machanic in his day-to-day activities: helping organize the youth of his township of Chitungwiza, for example, to provide services Zimbabwe’s government no longer provides, or leading his music team to celebrate a community or Salvation Army event, or working with family to farm land in his home village, or recording new songs with his talented team of musicians, as he now does, with computer-based recording equipment in his own home in Chitungwiza. Such scenes will bring to life many realities of life in contemporary Zimbabwe that Machanic and other characters we meet will reflect on. (For some examples of how I capture such realities in film, look at some sample passages from my film African Christianity Rising: Stories from Zimbabwe online here.)
In all this, viewers will get to know a man shaped by his life and faith to be a humble servant of his people and a voice of reconciliation in his country--a person shaped by his ongoing walk with God, whom he has come to know in deeply personal ways, ways reflected in the moving songs he writes and performs. These songs, often reflecting dramatic moments in his own life, and heard over a montage of shots conveying these realities, will be powerful vessels in this film. When translated into English at moving moments of our film, they will make Machanic’s outstanding music better known throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.
In addition to the finished film, we will produce some music videos of Machanic's songs to eventually post online and draw people to his work. Digital copies of all the footage we shoot will be given to Machanic and his family for other potential uses in the future.
Finally, given the economic hardships in Zimbabwe now, funds are set aside in the project budget to remunerate Machanic and his music team for time they spend to help meet the project's filming needs. As you will see in our introductory video here, Baba (“Father”) Manyeruke enthusiastically endorses this project and is ready to embrace all that is needed to make it happen.
Machanic Manyeruke's Personal Appeal
Phase One and Beyond
This project represents the decisive Phase One in making this film: it covers filming all the footage in Zimbabwe, and, then, editing moving story threads from it, including a music video of Machanic’s team recording a new song about his life he is writing for our film project. Pieces of these roughcut stories will be shaped into a trailer and other promotional videos to promote the completion of the full-length film for broadcast and educational uses.
PLEASE NOTE: ALL CONTRIBUTIONS TO PHASE ONE WILL BE DOUBLED BY A MATCHING GRANT OF $20K FROM A GENEROUS DONOR, ENABLING US TO COVER ALL EXPENSES FOR PHASE ONE!
Phase Two of this film work, not part of this project, will involve building the entire film as a moving, captivating and memorable story, and doing all the finishing work on it—subtitling, mixing sound, color correction, etc.—as well as clearing all rights, doing credits, etc. We are convinced that completing Phase One will open the doors to enable the completion of the final film to meet the highest standards for broadcast in Europe, the United States and Africa.
Please note that all contributors to this decisive Phase One of this film will eventually be the first to receive copies of the finished film. Meanwhile, they will receive at the close of Phase One downloads or DVDs of a new original song Machanic is already working on for this project, about his own life and journey with God, along with a music video of it including footage of his music team recording it in his home in Chitungwiza.
Finally, any contributions beyond our Kickstarter goal of $20K for this critical decisive Phase One of our film project will be put toward meeting the additional $18K needed to complete and release the finished film, along with interesting Extras, and deliver it on authored DVDs and other media.
Risks and challenges
There should be nothing that would get in the way of completing this project--that is Phase One of producing the complete full-length film--and distributing the immediate rewards from this phase. Mr. Manyeruke is fully on board and enthusiastic about the project. Also, I have gained permission to film in Zimbabwe on two occasions, most recently in 2011, and expect no obstacles to that. He is considered a national treasure by the Zimbabwean people and their government. And I am experienced filming in Zimbabwe.
As far as completing a finished film from the footage shot and sequences edited in Phase One, I do believe that in the course of doing this work we will identify funders and distributors who will interested in the final film and will help fund its completion.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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