Conversation with Mai Suluma
GENIUSES unleash new standards and set benchmarks to dominate in their area of expertise.
They change the industry through their brilliance which inspires, and it is only ignorance that will blind others to notice their magnificence.
Zimbabwe has been blessed to have one of the most successful gospel divas, well known for thriving to produce polished acts.
She has amassed a lot of awards in the music industry, in 2005 and 2007 at ZIMA she won the Best Female Gospel Artiste of the Year and the Best Female Artiste of the Year.
Some of her albums include Zvanaka, Huyai Ishe, Mumaoko, Nokuti Wakanaka, Fara Zvakadaro, Tatenda Taona, Ndewake, First Ten Years, Maitiro Enyu and others.
Her name is Shingisai Suluma (SS).
H-Metro entertainment reporter EDWIN NHUKARUME (EN) reached Shingisai now based in Canada for this wide ranging interview.
Shingisai, who was propelled to stardom by the song Mirira Mangwani in 2000 off the album Mumaoko, revealed about her future plans and how she met the pillar behind the success of her music.
EN: Give me a brief background about yourself?
SS: Not sure about what to highlight now after so many years in the music industry. I am just grateful that I had the opportunity to serve in churches at a young age, I had the opportunity to record my first work when I was in college, and I was honoured to receive the love of my Zimbabwean listeners.
EN: What motivated you to become a musician? How did it start?
SS: I started pretty early, but I did not take it seriously until my teenage years in high school and at church. My motivation was my parents’ encouragement, because they were the first to see what I could not see. I used to sing with my sisters and together would perform in churches and other meetings. Our proud mother would record us on her little cassette tape recorder and play our songs in her car. At that time, the thought of a professional recording was distant.
EN: Who is your role model?
SS: Rather than talk about a particular role model, I am a product of various influences. On the international scene, I listened to Andrae Crouch, Shirley Caesar, Commissioned, The Winans, Keith Green, Twila Paris and many others. These were not easy to come by. Friends who were overseas would bring those recordings on vinyl, then cassette tapes and later on, CDs. On the local scene. Shuvai Wutawunashe was one of my biggest influences, Freedom Sengwayo, Brian Sibalo, and Rita Shonhiwa were great inspirations too.
EN: Why did you choose gospel music?
I am a Christian and singing about it came natural. I could not imagine myself singing anything else. There is something about gospel music that makes it last a long time. It touches on issues that everyone, Christian or not, goes through and it has the ability to console, encourage, and inspire. Sometimes even my own songs speak back to me to encourage me when I feel weak.
EN: You have been at the helm of the gospel industry in Zim at some point. Can you share how you did it and what was the feeling like?
SS: Honestly, I do not remember ever feeling like I was ever at the “helm” of the gospel music industry. My story was not of sudden success. It was a gradual and sometimes painful process of rejection and determination. Even when my music got successful, many others were doing well at the same time, so I do not consider myself to have been “at the helm.”
It was always a shared experience with many great singers in Zimbabwe.
EN: You relocated to China then USA at the peak of your career. Don’t you think it somehow affected the dominance you were enjoying during that period?
SS: Relocating was necessary for several reasons. The most important reason was that no matter what happens, family comes first. My family has resolved to stay together in every situation and so when it was time to move to new opportunities we all had to go. Moving was a necessary change, and one that I would not trade for anything.
EN: Are you still in the US?
SS: No. I left the US in 2018 and my family now lives in Canada.
EN: Which album do you think is your best?
SS: That would be like asking me to choose my favourite child. Every song has its time and every song has its situation. There are some songs that are more widely noticed than others, and they seem to take away from the ones that rarely get requested. Whenever I have the opportunity to perform, sometimes I like to introduce some of the older less known songs and some listeners may not have heard them ever.
EN: Are there any new projects you are working on musically?
SS: I always work on something new. I do not always make the work public, but I always have new concepts coming. I have some ambitious projects that I hope to make public when the time is right.
EN: Who are your favorite musicians in gospel and secular music?
SS: Many artists have come out of Zimbabwe in the last few years, and listening to the quality of their productions has been refreshing. I was glad to work with Janet Manyowa. I have also collaborated with Comfort Manyame, and an upcoming artist Rose Mambo. I have great respect for Emelda Tshuma, an amazing vocalist I have had the opportunity to work with. I listen to the late great Oliver Mtukudzi, who I was honoured to host during one of his US tours.
EN: Any bad experiences in music?
SS: I do not like to keep a record of bad experiences. I believe that bad experiences have the potential to make us better people. While I do not like to tell stories of bad experiences, I like to be grateful that each one of those experiences had lessons and gave me an opportunity to be a better person.
EN: Your husband is your manager in your music business. Was it the best idea or arrangement?
SS: My husband is not just my manager. Managing my music business is a small portion of what he does. He is my producer, he records and edits my videos, he is a songwriter, he plays keyboards for me, and he directs the music during rehearsals and performances. I don’t know of anyone else as fortunate as I am. I know that this kind of arrangement may not work well for everybody, but it has been the best for me. I love it
EN: How do you describe your husband? What kind of a person is he?
SS: He is a great guy – that’s why we have been married for 23 years and counting.
EN: How did you meet your husband?
SS: We met as teenagers at a church group, but we did not know each other enough to think of a future together. We went our separate ways to two different countries and it was then that we started communicating, growing our friendship, and eventually fell in love.
EN: What are the things that annoy you the most?
SS: Besides flies and mosquitoes? I love talking about things that encourage me the most. The less I have things that annoy me the better life becomes. I believe that I have to make myself difficult to annoy, because negative emotions are not just draining, they are unproductive.
EN: Any plans to do an album with your sisters Tutsirai and Nyasha as you were once an acapella group during your childhood days?
SS: I still sing with my sisters. Both of them, and my brother, in the Joystreet Choir. My younger sisters Belicia and Bryna and my cousins Faith and Rumbidzai also sing with me. Doing an album together sounds like a great idea. You, Edwin, can take credit for that when it happens.
EN: Are you following Zimbabwean gospel music? And which artistes do you think are doing well at the moment?
SS: I know I will omit some great voices out there, so I will not even try. But I do listen to the radio on the internet streams and I would like to point out how I am impressed with the production quality coming out of Zimbabwe. The producers are doing an amazing job indeed. I am always proud to introduce Zimbabwean artistes whenever I have the opportunity.
EN: How old are you?
SS: You don’t ask a lady her age. When you find out, you don’t say.
EN: What advice would you want to give to the young and aspiring gospel musician?
SS: Two things:
Listen wide. Do not limit your listening to only the music you enjoy. Listen to music that you may not necessarily enjoy. There is always something to learn, especially if you are not sure why other people like that music. That is what grows you.
Imagine wild. Do not limit your creativity. Go beyond what you have seen. Try something new. Find your personal uniqueness. Don’t be a copy.
EN: Do you still have two children or you have added another one?
SS: Children? No – I have two amazing young ladies. Tashinga is a piano player and a drummer, and Tiara is a guitar player.
EN: And has it been your wish to stay in the foreign land? What really made you to relocate there?
SS: There’s no place like home. I am here for a reason and for a season. Once that is accomplished, I will be back home.
EN: How do you manage to balance music, teaching and motherhood? Are you still into teaching art and design in textiles?
SS: No that season of my life passed. I am not a teacher anymore. Music and Christian ministry are my life’s major commitments now. My daughters are grown and I no longer have the problems of early motherhood. Even though I do not teach in schools, I am still a teacher at heart and I work to teach young women who are in my care, helping them to grow into productive women in their communities.
EN: Thank you for your time and this interview.
SS: You are welcome and thanks for your patience as you waited for us. We have been very busy.
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