I did not meet Ambassador Jonathan Wutaunashe when I did their story 2006. He was Zimbabwe’s ambassador to India then. I, initially, got in touch with him when we wanted to start a religion column in the Saturday Herald. It was suggested that I got in touch with him and sound out the idea. After talking to him, I realised he had a story. And I asked him to write about the Family Singers.
It’s his story below:
When a project is born out of love, it does not die easily, hence the binding love Christians have had for centuries.
And modelled along the same love, The Family Singers - probably the fourth Zimbabwean gospel group that took gospel music many steps higher brought together Jonathan and Shuvai Wutaunashe (now husband and wife) to sing about love and minister the gospel of family values and ethics.
The two started as a duet singing at youth camps and church conventions and even recorded Zororo and Tenzi, which failed to hit record stores because of financial constraints.
Jonathan recorded vinyl discs titled Chishamiso with the backing of The College Trio comprising Jonathan, Timothy Tavaziva and Sheunesu Matemavi as well as Ndine Shoko with a little help from the late Chris Matema as the nominal producer.
Ndine Shoko was recorded the same day the late Jordan Chataika was recording Shabini (Vanhu Havamborara). Chataika thought it might be interesting to do a duet some day as he thought Jonathan played "like Jacob Mhungu", and the combination might be interesting. Unfortunately, the collaboration never materialised.
Jonathan then recruited Simon Muyambo, Billy Mafusire, Mathias Nkala, Noah Ziumbe, Clinton Muvezwa, Paul Thamaga, Shumirai Chitenhe, Dzidzai Chinouriri and Vanessa Rajah, who were part of the worship team in the Family of God Church to join Shuvai and him in forming an outreach band that would release evangelistic records.
When Reverend Andrew Wutawunashe, the church founder and elder brother to Jonathan, heard that the church band was planning to go public, he suggested name Family Singers, which everyone agreed, captured the character and mission of the group.
Rita Shonhiwa, Lucy Damaliane, Sarah Duro, Shangwa Sithole, Killian Ncube and others were later to join.
Later that year the group had enough songs for an album although the majority of producers did not even agree to listen because their professional opinion was that the market for gospel music was on a gradual decline and would disappear altogether in a matter of months.
One producer observed that even the strongest inspirational artiste in their stable, Freedom Sengwayo, was not selling because the popular mood was swinging away from church music.
Jonathan argued with Matema for over an hour, contending that the industry had no notion of the public’s appetite for message music because the majority of industry executives were forgetting to attend church!
Finally, Matema relented and the Family Singers were booked to record with Teal Record Company.
The group decided to cut Shuvai’s Tarira Nguva as their first vinyl seven single, with Billy’s Rudo on the flip side.
The success of the album surprised industry executives and songs were hits on the then Radio 3 Hitpick programme. While initially a few discs had been produced, the company went into overdrive to meet the overwhelming demand for the record.
It did so well that it was included in the compilation, Take Cover/Zimbabwe Hits, which Teal Record Company licenced to international labels like Shanachie Records.
In tandem with the active recording schedule that followed, The Family Singers embarked on countrywide tours that always combined special singing with the preaching of the Gospel. This formula has been maintained through the years, as the group’s founding vision was to preach the gospel in as many ways as possible through music.
They also received invitations to sing at other churches’ events, civic and national events, weddings, baptisms and funerals, always without charge.
Other initiatives were launched to get people together around gospel music. One of those initiatives was The Family Singers Plate Club.
The Family Singers would book a hotel functions room, pay for three hundred people to eat there on a Friday night, and then pray that their invitation for parents to take their children out for dinner and listen to family values would elicit positive responses.
The group went on to record a number of seven singles and albums which proved very popular with audiences. The albums included Shine On, African Praise, Nditorei, Nguva YeAfrica, Prodigal Son, Thdzoka, Ndasukwa, The Preacher, Minamato and Thurai.
Popular singles included Nditorei (Shuvai), Vana Vanokosha (Jonathan), Ndinokudai Jesu (Simon), Ndasukwa (Shuvai), Komborera (Jonathan), Ipenye (Shuvai), Mitoro (Jonathan) Rudo Rukuru (written by Jonathan for Shuvai), Let The Children Live (Shuvai), Watching Children (Shuvai), Jesu Yindlela (Rita), Simba (written by Jonathan for Shuvai), Ndovimba (Jonathan), Mitoro (Jonathan), Mitoro (Jonathan), Munondichengeta (Billy), Rudo Rwashe (Jonathan), Ndinotenda (Shuvai), Mitoro (Jonathan).
The Family Singers' African Praise was probably the first Zimbabwean compilation of celebratory praise, and continues to be sought-after. Members of the group wrote original material for the album, and then spiced it with familiar public domain numbers.
The album opens with Paul Thamaga's Praise the Lord, followed by a snippet of Shuvai's Ndasukwa, Jonathan's Mwari Makanaka. A number of artistes have, unfortunately, made anachronistic claims of authorship of Simudza Maoko Ako which was actually composed by Rachel Mushosho of the Family Singers.
With many new gospel artistes acknowledging them as role models, the Family Singers have mentored some gospel artists. In 2004, they created Bandstand, a TV programme that showcases gospel talent and offered tips to singers. Producers like Stephen Suluma, Richard and Pastor G were on the mentors' panel of the programme which was presented by Shuvai.
From their Facebook profile
Founded in 1981, the Family Singers are a premier Zimbabwean Gospel group that has maintained a commitment to serious, as opposed to fad, Gospel music. Under the leadership of singer/songwriter/producer/musician Jonathan Wutawunashe, the group is fronted by the gifted Shuvai Wutawunashe, Jonathan’s wife, who sings the lead on most albums and has written a number of popular hits. The group’s workin...g objective is to send out songs that mean so much to so many through the careful crafting of each song to be a vehicle of the message of Christ’s saving grace and the resultant gratitude and joy of the saints.
The Family Singers hold the firm belief that the motive of a Christian music ministry must be to communicate the love of Christ to audiences, and to encourage them to respond to that love by giving their lives to Jesus.
Singing the message of God's saving grace through His son Jesus Christ is a compelling calling for Jonathan, Shuvai and the Family Singers. The events they enjoy ministering at the most are evangelistic crusades, as most of their songs are about God's power to save sinners and to sustain that salvation through the great truths contained in the Bible, which makes believers holy through "the washing of the water of the Word". In addition to ministering throughout the year, Jonathan, Shuvai and the Family Singers devote two weeks in December every year to outreach concerts under the banner "Family Singers and Friends".