Last Friday night saw the much-awaited PERMICAN Awards take place at the City Sports Cente in Harare. What an event! What a night!
By Marshall Shonhai, Harare
Let me just put it out there! Gospel music is alive and growing in Zimbabwe and the way these awards were staged made me proud to be associated with gospel music.
My attendance of the awards was made possible by Shabach Tha Band I ran into the guys at Batanai Gardens Mall a couple of weeks back and I was asked to attend. Many follows up where made, including WhatsApp messages and a call to say “you’re on the guest list” made me feel kinda important. Thanks, Jeremiah Spirit Fingerz Mutsakani
I have a keen interest in how we stage the kinds of events and so attending this one was a must with or without an invitation. I am an interested party and more so for gospel music, I really want to see it do well because it is after all my first love.
Many times Church events are just supposed to be that, “church events” and not much expectation is placed on them. Well, not so for me, I believe excellence starts in the house of God, that is why I believe church events should actually be the standard-bearer.
To be honest, the standards are rising, admittedly we still have a very long way to go but we are far from where we used to be and we are on the right track.
So let me start by taking my hat off to Pastor Ted Courage Lazaro and the whole team at PERMICAN, ChristTV, and UFIC for an event that pushed the level very high for award ceremonies in the nation. This was by far the best I have attended or watched in recent memory. Well done and congratulations!
So what worked for me?
1.) The stage, the sound, and the lighting!
That was on point! You could clearly see that someone was thinking and the way those 3 worked together was clearly in line with the event theme “Creatively touching souls”. Its not every day you attend a local event and all 3 are on point, hardly! One always suffers but this time around the organizers of the event nailed it.
What blew me away was the backdrop, it was made of 5 big LED screens with 2 on the wings, the creative part was the “dead space” in between the screens, it could have been left like that but these guys made amazing use of it by putting the band there. The complete picture was one huge screen! On the top level was the lead guitarist on the left, the drummer and keyboardist in the middle and on the right the bassist. The bottom line had four backing vocalists on the left and a 3 men brass section on the right.
The actual stage was so specious and in all honesty, could have carried that band too comfortably.
The City Sports Center is notoriously treacherous when it comes to sound acoustics. It is horrible! I have watched many seasoned sound engineers fail to master that venue. Not this time around, it was crisp, it was perfect!
2.) The band!
Oh boy! I’m gonna put my head on the block and say right now, currently, in this nation, there is no session band that is jamming at the same level as Shabach The Band. Now it makes sense why they pushed hard for me to attend, they knew they had it on lockdown! Impressive! They were the resident band and played for every act on the night with the exception of Minister Mike Mahendere who used his own band. The change in bands was very clear too in terms of sound, you could tell something had changed. If any artiste is serious about staging a gig or a live recording these boys are it!
When the show began and the band started playing we looked at each other with my friend Thomas Matikiti and wondered if it was a CD playing or what? Turns out it was a live band! The quality 👌🏾
Many artistes performed on the night and all of them used the band, no one came with a backtrack something gospel artistes are notorious for. So the band mastered all the songs and genres and guess what there were no second takes!
3. The performances
Epic! That is the word to describe those performances and I want to single out Courtney Antipas Sharon Manyika Machingura Michael Mahendere Kudakwashe Mutsvene and Janet Manyowa for those big acts with a very special mention to Ngonidzashe Mavera Aka Prophecy! His set was ridiculous! It’s been a long time since I’ve watched someone put on a real show and he did just that. The high energy, the dancers and the delivery was simply exceptional. His double up with my boy Takura Shonhai on Jehova was what can I say? Sick! In hip hop lingo. It was amazing to say the least.
The show was kicked off by some dancers who gave a good account of themselves and were followed up next by Gemma Griffiths who performed the song “Ndinoda kuimbira Jeso”. She nailed it!
One thing that stood out about these awards was the performances, the acts were polished and well-rehearsed. They staged a real show, no mistakes or second takes. Some of the mainstream acts can be given a serious run for their money by these gospel acts if not outplayed!
It’s been years since I’ve seen my good sister Sharon Manyika on stage, used to dance for her back in the day and it was good to see she hasn’t lost her touch and that trademark “attitude” which she brought on her duet with Courtney. Her worship song was delivered graciously. Lady of the moment the multi-award winner Janet Manyowa was a beast on that stage, she bossed it. Her confidence keeps growing with each outing, she owns the stage.
Brain K also gave his all, he was part of 3 non-gospel artistes that performed, together with Gemma and Takura. Something I know was received with mixed emotions by many. Secular artistes in the church is always a big issue. What’s your take on it?
Everyone dressed up for the occasion (except yours truly who didn’t make it home to change). It was a real red carpet event and artistes and guests alike really went out of their way to clean up. The Fashion police were on hand to receive everyone on the red carpet led by none other than Tafadzwa Zimoyo TheBoss
5. The MCs
When I saw 3 MCs I was at first skeptical how that was going to work out but it worked out just fine. Tich Mataz was legendary as usual, he was ably assisted by the beautiful and bubbly Rebecca Muchenje Miss Becky and the gorgeous Samantha Mussa MS Red. The 3 had chemistry and did not for a single moment get in the way of each other. They varied the way they came out, at times as individuals, then the ladies alone or Tich with either of the ladies or all three of them. The ladies, of course, had to make a fashion statement changing 3 or 4 times!
6. The rise above stereotypes.
Now that was refreshing! The most political place in this world is the church to the extent that because of differing beliefs and doctrines particular artistes do not or can not perform in certain churches. The organizers of the awards rose way above the expected stereotypes and brought in artists who would otherwise never perform in a church service at UFIC. One of the current artistes on heavy rotation is Mambo Dhuterere and having him nominated and even winning an award at an event hosted by churches that he seemingly castigates in one of his songs, shows magnanimity on the part of the organizers. It shows maturity and inclusivity.
7. The Winners.
I always say the hallmark of any award show is in credibility. The PERMICANS, to be honest, got it right in the winners they announced. Of course, we all have our personal favorites that we would love to see win everything they are nominated for, but in all fairness and honesty, this is one award show that will have very few people questioning how the winners came about. Many times these award shows leave public opinion deeply divided but not this time around. Well done to the organizers, the awards can be taken as a correct representation of what happened on the gospel scene in Harare in 2019.
I say Harare because surely you can not tell me that no artiste from Bulawayo and Matebeleland deserved to win or even a nomination. I’m not talking about tokenism but true representation and inclusivity. Something the organizers might need to look at in the future because these are the only awards in the nation that are specifically for gospel music. They need to be national in representation.
What did not work?
A number of minor things did not work for me, little things that took away the gloss off an otherwise amazing event.
1. the reception
We sort of just wondered into the venue with no one to receive us or direct us where we were to sit. Which was rather shocking for me because UFIC is known for excellence in that front. Halfway into the venue that is when we eventually found an Usher, asked where the guest list was and she did not have an idea. She said she was going to ask and disappeared for a good 10 minutes. When she eventually pitched she still had no answer for us. We eventually just found somewhere to sit. Right in front not questions asked! I found that to be odd.
2. The late start.
The show was running late and the crowd got a bit restless and the catcalls and whistles started. I don’t know what caused the delay and I’m sure there was a good reason for it but it was a letdown. Especially with one of the MCs being forced to appeal to the crowd to give them just “5 more minutes” and the show would start.
I understand the show was supposed to be seamless from the red carpet presentation straight into the opening act. That didn’t happen. Remember we get only one chance to make first impressions, that were missed.
3. The Voiceover.
It was boring! Whether it was pre-recorded or it was someone actually doing the announcements off stage, his voice is not made for it. You want someone with an imposing voice, a DJ Mox kind of voice. If its gonna be announced that “and now ladies and gentlemen please welcome your MCs Tich Mataz with Miss Becky and MisRed” you want a voice that is going to make you excited. Even that “and the nominees are” you want “ziVoice”.
4. The award presenters.
I think we will always struggle with this one, most of them are busy getting in their own way and you can’t blame them, the stage is not their everyday business. Usually, it’s officials from the sponsors who are asked to present awards and things usually go off the rails when they start speaking off the cuff.
They need to be prepared and have a dress rehearsal if possible. If there is a script then let it be sent to them on time, especially if they’re going to learn their lines. I set next to a lady who was presenting an award and she had no clue what she was going to there to say. I spoke to her and calmed her down and as we were talking that is when she received a message with what she was supposed to go up there and say. Obviously, that was too late so she made up something else. Fortunately for her or is it unfortunate, she didn’t get to say anything because as soon as she was introduced the voice-over went straight into “and the nominees are”.
5. Exiting and entering the stage.
The stage had 2 staircases, one on the left and one on the right side of the stage but it seemed the entry and exit point of choice was the left side. So everyone going on and off stage used that side which made it all look clumsy. I think people should be led on stage one way and exist the other way so that they do not get in the way of those coming up next.
6. People walked out before the end of the event.
People do leave before the end of the show for various reasons chief amongst them were rushing to catch public transport. This was not the case this time around. A couple of times along the event there were chants from the audience saying “minister, minister, minister” in an obvious request for home favorite Minister Mike Mahendere to come in the stage. He was billed to be the second last act and as soon as he finished his act and left the stage the whole place emptied as well.
The event was at UFIC and Mike is loved there, I think he could have been brought on right at the end since he was “home” maybe that could have kept the audience in, I don’t know.
Those are very minor issues that can be easily ironed out for future events otherwise the main things, the important things worked and that’s what matters at the end of the day.
It’s a clean bill of health for the PERMICANS from me. A thumbs up!
Just a few thoughts in conclusion. Maybe in the future, we could consider hosting these awards outside the church and take them to other venues or cities even. Or maybe the plan is to keep them there, just a suggestion.
A number of people have raised the question over the ties between the church, the awards, the TV station, and one artiste. How do you strike the balance?
I think it will always be an issue but the best way to deal with it is by being credible! The voting and adjudication process has to remain above reproach. I remember some years back there was an outcry after Minister Mahendere had turned out the biggest winner on the night, fans and artistes alike cried foul. They felt he had won because he is from UFIC. About Friday night can we deny that he was the best male artiste in 2019? I doubt many can dispute that.
Credibility, credibility, credibility. That is the word, he has to win on merit all the time. It’s a tough one but it’s something the organizers have to live with for some good years to come.
This review would not be complete without mentioning Marble Madondo’s performance. The gothic “undertaker” look caught many by surprise, Kuvhundutsa vanhu, it trended online with many questioning it for the church. I love creativity and artistes pushing boundaries so I will let you draw your own conclusions about it. The look is from her video which was released earlier in the year
Gone are the days when gospel artistes would just go up the stage and just sing. Friday night they brought their all and left it on that stage!
Images credit _ A G PRODUCTIONS