By Ogova Ondego and Saphia Ngalapi
Published December 24, 2005
With her Mteule Uwe Macho being massively played in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, Rose Mhando is East Africa’s most popular Gospel artist. But, OGOVA ONDEGO and SAPHIA NGALAPI write from Dar es Salaam, this popularity has come with a price: the album is heavily pirated across the region while the gutter press turns the Tanzania Music Awards Best Female Gospel Musician 2005 into fodder.
The concert is set for 13.00 hours East African Standard Time. But people, fearful of missing vantage places at the expansive Vatican City Restaurant, are already streaming into the venue three hours early.
The star attraction is gospel music performer, Rose Mhando, who does not get on stage till 18.00 hours. But rather than dampen spirits, her delayed performance attracts even more people such that by the time she gets on stage the venue is a swelled sea of humanity.
The gates are closed and the ‘real show’ begins, with Mhando and her 10-member choir—all clad in black T-Shirts with KITIMU TIMU CHOIR emblazoned on their chests and white track bottom trousers with vertical black strips on each leg running from the waist to the white trainers on the ground—singing and dancing as if their lives depended on it. Soon everyone—regardless of class, age, gender, height, weight—is on one’s feet, dancing and singing along to East Africa’s most popular gospel musician’s anthems: Mteule uwe macho, Yesu Nakupenda, and Nakuuliza Shetani. Upon winding up the show almost two hours later, the dancing fans ask for more and Mhando obligingly goes back on stage with her team of six men and four women to sing and dance to Yerusalemu, and Namwambieni.
As she continues to electrify the Vatican City, all roads around the place are closed till the show ends at 19.48 hours. By then the lanky Mhando who does not seem to weigh any more than 50 kilogrammes and stands five feet five inches from the ground, is drenched in sweat from her vigorous singing and dancing. Her adoring fans now not only mob her but are also pulling her from every direction to pose with them as cameras click away.
Unlike other performers whose bodyguards would have whisked them away—if not roughed up some people—Mhando has no such aides. So she simply poses with her fans for close to an hour. Watching the events, one wonders where Nyakati, a weekly church publication had got the information it published claiming that Christians were throwing away Mhando’s music after she was declared Best Female Gospel Musician at Tanzania Music Awards that are sponsored by Tanzania Breweries Limited under its Kilimanjaro Premium Larger brand. By accepting the award, Nyakati had reported, Mhando had betrayed Christianity and was in fact dining and wining with Satan.
In its July 17-23, 2005 edition, the Kiswahili weekly had screamed: Pamoja na kujitetea kwa kupokea tuzo ya pombe, Kanda za Muziki za Rose Mhando zaanza kutupwa (Although she has defended her right to receive an award from an alcohol-making company, Christians have started discarding Rose Mhando’s music).
The publication had gone on to say that whereas some of the people who were throwing away the music had said keeping it would be tantamount to communing with Satan and that her church leader had said she did not accept counsel, the paper had further reported that another church leader had said he could have offered Mhando money if that was what she was looking for in accepting a music award sponsored by a beer-making company.
Out of curiosity, Vicky Kimaro of Mwananchi newspaper, ArtMatters.Info’s Dar es Salaam Correspondent Saphia Ngalapi and I hold an impromptu interview with Mhando after her performance and numerous photo shoot poses.
Controversy has followed you ever since you were declared the Best Female Gospel Singer Tanzania Breweries-sponsored Tanzania Music Awards on July 6, 2005. Would you care to comment on this?
My Bishop has advised me not to comment on this issue before I have consulted him.
But is it all right for you, a gospel musician who sings that one of the wiles of Satan in these last days is to saddle young people with alcohol to accept an award sponsored by a beer company?
What wrong is there in fighting Baal in his own home? There is nothing wrong in this. When Jesus sat with Zacchaeus, I don’t think the latter was a bishop. Jesus knew him to be a corrupt tax collector yet he dined with him and accepted him. The Bible says Jesus did not come for the righteous but for the lost. If I have accepted a beer reward, why did Jesus eat Zacchaeus’ stolen food?
Perhaps you should comment on what the media have said about you.
The publications that have hurt me most are those published by churches, such as Nyakati. Had it been secular ones, I’d not have minded because they don’t know God like the former. Nyakati said I worship Satan, that people are discarding my music, that I am cohabiting with someone else’s husband, and that I am a prostitute. They said all these things without seeking any comment from me. They have demeaned me. Christian papers have hurt my children more than they have me. My children can’t go to school as they fear taunts from fellow pupils over these reports by Nyakati. My children are shedding tears. Why couldn’t the publishers have called me if I had hurt them? I am not the first one to win the Gospel trophy from the Tanzania Music Awards. Both Bahati Bukuku and Choir ya Uinjilisti Kijitonyama have taken it in the past. But when I, an Anglican, win, everyone is up in arms against me as if it were OK if only Pentecostals take it! Why didn’t they vilify Bahati Bukuku also when her Nyakati za Mwisho album won in 2004? But all in all, their attack has drawn me closer to God and taught me to be more careful in future. I will consult others before taking decisions on things like Kilimanjaro Music Awards. If God says I return the Kilimanjaro Music Award, I will return it.
Would you mind to say something about your background?
I was born in Dumila village, Kilosa District, Morogoro Province, in 1976. It was also here that I grew up and attended school up to Standard Seven [Grade 7]. I am the last born of five children who were all gifted in music but it is only I who records.
There are unmistakable South African beats, tempo and melodies in your music. You even dress like the late South African music queen, Brenda Fassie. Why is this so?
Although my mother is Rwandese while my father is a Zigua from Tanga, I enjoyed South African tunes from my childhood. I guess this is how I developed taste for South African music.
What is your intention in composing and performing Wanawake wa Leo? Are you propagating patriarchy in asking wives to be submissive to their husbands?
My music is not based on my own intellect or ability but on scriptures. Wives should be submissive to their husbands. If you read Genesis, you discover that it was Eve who led Adam into sin. Had she consulted her husband, she probably wouldn’t have eaten the forbidden fruit and thus brought sin on humanity. This sin of Eve has passed on to all women who don’t bother to consult but just act impulsively. We talk carelessly. Many of us women are not endowed with wisdom. But Abigail, the wife of Nabal, appears to have been the exception. She intervened for her foolish husband when he insulted the King of Israel who had planned to punish him with his entire household.
What about Nipe Uvumilivu—it seems to show that men are always visiting violence on women. Is this always the case?
That song is autobiographical. I have three children from three different men. I got the first one at the age of 16 while still at home. My Muslim parents expelled me from home while the man who made me pregnant abandoned me. Although I was a choir leader, church leaders detested me as if my sins were greater than those of other women and all humans. Although there are women who abort in church while others prostitute themselves and they are well known, my sin appeared worse because of the children I had. I had no peace. I asked for forgiveness from church leaders and God. I persevered with patience given me by God otherwise I could have killed myself.
You mean you got pregnant three times by three different men while you were already a Christian?
Yes. I had become a Christian at the age of 12. Before that I was a Muslim. For three years, I had ailed and was on the verge of death. My parents—who had visited almost every known doctor and medicine man—had given up on me and were waiting for me to die from the serious wounds on my head when Jesus Christ appeared to me at 2.00 am in a bright light. He told me: “Mimi Yesu nimekuponya. Amka ukanitumikie.” (I am Jesus and I have healed you. Rise up and serve me). I was instantly healed. But my becoming a Christian caused lots of trouble for me and my Muslim family. My father, then a Muslim leader, suffered because of me while my siblings did not want to have anything to do with me.
So when were you baptised?
I was baptised in 1990 upon completing Standard Seven. Jesus had appeared to me at the age of 10 while it took two more years before I was baptised. My name had been Sofia but I changed it to Rose after baptism What themes flow through your music?
Contemporary issues like terrorism, suicide bombing, prostitution, Internet, same gender unions, family life, commitment to God, and relationships between husbands and wives. But why do you appear to be making women out as appendages of men?
As a servant of God, I draw all my raw materials from scriptures. The Bible says, “The man is the glory of God and the woman is the glory of man.” Do you see where the difference is? Even when people are counted in the Bible, only men are and not women or children. Because Adam was created before Eve, the man is the undisputed leader. When God said, “Let us make man in our own image, He created man first and then he made Eve from the rib of Adam. This is why the Bible says women are weak vessels and appeals to men to bear with them. Should we insist n making women leaders over men, then we are going against the Holy Scriptures. Wives should listen in church in silence and only consult their husbands at home if there is anything they didn’t understand. Man was created for the glory of God and woman for the glory of man.
In what formats is your Mteule uwe macho album?
DVD, VCD, Video, and audio tapes.
You must be very rich as your album is played in matatus, buses, bars, and homes in Kenya.
Pirates control my music in Kenya where I have neither an agent nor a distributor yet my music is being sold there. The same applies to Uganda. Although I know these pirates, I am leaving them to God. It hurts to know that your music is being stolen and you can do nothing about it. But sometimes God allows the piracy of our works in order to enable people to hear his word and get saved.
Are you planning to put out any album soon?
Not so soon. It takes a while to compose and record an album. Mteule uwe macho took me 17 years.
Who puts your music together for you?
A group of instrumentalists called Gospel Crew.
And you have a standing band?
From the 40 members who back me up, eight are permanent. They are Peter Lugano, Samson Ernest, Grace Ernest, Anna George, George Mugonwa, David Lugano, David Ngoliga, Leonard Mohogu, and Veronica Luvindu.
What language is that you mix with Kiswahili in singing Yesu Nakuopenda?
Kikaguru. This is the language of the Wakaguru people of Morogoro.
Where do you worship?
I am a member of the Anglican Church in Dodoma. I began at Dumila in Morogoro, then went to Mamajusi in Moshi.
How did your music career begin?
Before I became a Christian, I sang in Madrasa. I believe it is the Holy Spirit who enables me as I can’t read or write music professionally.
Who funds your music?
My manager, Nathan Wami.
Then does he have the rights to your music?
No, I have all the rights of composition, singing, teaching and recording.
A legal tussle over copyright to Kila mtu atauchukua mzigo wake song has erupted between composer Eliniradhi Enirisha Mswia on one hand and the Nairobi-based record company, Tamasha Corporation Limited, and the Town Parish of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Arusha Diocese) on the other. Is this likely to happen to you and your church?
No. Upon recording my album, some members of my church claimed I had recorded their songs. I asked them to tell me which songs of theirs I had recorded but they couldn’t name any. When we do something in churches, it is like a gift to the church and the church should not take this as its right. The church shouldn’t deny us rights to exploit these.
Is the Church oppressing musicians?
At the time I got my three children I was teaching 10 church choirs. The Church didn’t care about my welfare. That you hold concerts to raise money to build a church that doesn’t even care about what your children eat is shocking. It is a big shame and scandalous even before Jesus Christ.
Do you consider the Church an obstacle or an enabler of creativity?
Many times it is an obstacle. You can’t progress if limits and rules are set for you. Why should the preacher be set free to act as he wishes while the musician’s freedom is curtailed? I have gone through thick and thin, church people claiming their songs were recorded by me. If I prepare a meal and invite people to eat, why should they turn around and stop me from partaking of the meal I have prepared? Why do preachers use the offerings we contribute to the church? I am like a Levite and the Bible says Levites earn their living from the altar. What should I do when the altar has nothing to offer? In the Old Testament, Levites abandoned temple service when they could not make ends meet.
So what problems have you or are currently facing in your work?
Being oppressed by the church and pirates. Although I have no distributors in Kenya and Uganda, my music is pirated there. Kenyan pirates threatened me when I asked them who gave them authority to sell my music. They said I should leave them alone as I have no legal power over them in their own country.
What projects are you working on now?
We have built a video recording studio and recorded one album that we should be releasing soon. We are set to record the music of eight other choirs through our video production studio.