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Leading from the Back: inside HARVEST’s choir

HARVEST Live in Concert backing vocalists are a lively family with diverse yet corresponding personalities, writes Mpho Matsitle

The calling

The chosen hardly ever know they’re chosen until the call comes at the most unexpected of time. When it rings, the moment is unforgettable. Mmangi Gumbi, Kagiso “KayGee” Khanye, Anne Silaule and Lebo Mofokeng each have a story to tell about their own “JC moment” of sorts.

For KayGee, who met Thembekile during the Clash of the Choirs auditions many eons ago, the call from an estranged colleague came as a complete surprise. “O nkgopotse jwang?” he wondered. Clearly his performance at Clash of the Choirs, where he mingled with the likes of Khaya Mthethwa, planted a seed for his harvest—the harvest that Lebo alludes to when she outlines what being part of this ministry means to her. “HARVEST is about reaping what I have been sowing all this time musically. Everything about harvest is about getting what you have always wanted all this time. It’s about spiritual gain,” she says of the project.

Being here was what Mpumalanga-born Anne had always dreamt of. She remembers marveling at Thembekile and Lebo at the Residence Church. “They were just amazing and I was looking up to them and thinking, ‘One day I’d love to work with them.’ Look at us today!”

Mmangi first saw Thembekile perform at the now canned Urban Gospel Collectives: a space they unwittingly traversed together with Anne. “When I got the call to be part of HARVEST I was having a fan moment,” Mmangi tells us, adding that although she tried to keep her cool, a furnace of joy was burning inside her. “Was it your Joyous Celebration moment?” a question arises. She agrees almost immediately, indicating (as does everyone else) the seriousness with which she treats this show.

Shower before church

“Every singer starts in the shower!” They chorus their chuckle about where their musical journeys began. This chorus is followed by another familiar one: “I started singing in church,” Lebo leads the chorus. For her it was at the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) in Phomolong, Kroonstad, at the age of 13. A fact that shocks KayGee, who started out at the Rocklands-located AFM in 2007 with an interest in playing the bass guitar. When that didn’t pan out in his favour, he found his base in tenor.
For Anne the bug bit while still in the low velds of Mpumalanga as part of the Christ For Life Church worship team, where she realised she could actually pitch above the shower level. She subsequently gained experience with different artists and bands in
her hometown. She came to Bloemfontein with this hunger, which has so far exposed her to a number of platforms, such as the much-loved Sound Voices, and now this!

HARVEST vocalists having a tete-a-tete with ART STATE. Picture: Anathi Nyandu

Formation

In this team it is Mmangi, the consensus holds, that switches the lights on and choreographs dance moves. “I bring life,” she breaks out in song as she protests the ‘diva’ characterisation, and is excited at being kindly dubbed “the most passionate.” She is a diva sure, but “not in a bad way,” Anne contextualises the personality of her Ladysmith-bred co-singer who has a Macufe experience in her CV and worships at Our Father’s Home.

Passion is what they all have. You can see it shooting radiantly in their eyes when they talk about HARVEST Live in Concert. They however know their place as Thembekile’s bridesmaids.

Thembekile: everybody’s darling.

Lebo gasps when asked for a quick word about the bride, and Mmangi translates her gasp into one word: humble. Lebo eventually finds a revelation: “She’s the sweetest person I have ever known.” “God fearing,” Anne quips. “This woman is strong,” Mmangi continues, “she stretches herself” seeking perfection. KayGee is ever grateful for the patience and compassion of their boss lady, and Anne urges all to acknowledge this key strength their leader has: “she is a beautiful songwriter!”

Pray before you slay

More than anything, they know their identity as the Bride of Christ. They know that all this harvest is the work of the Holy Spirit. They credit Him for the spiritual maturity to avoid the petty squabbles that collapse many good things and make collaboration a nightmare. Lebo was reined in later in the preparations, and says if it had not been for the Lord, she wouldn’t have gelled in so seamlessly with the rest of the squad.

For her part, Mmangi confesses that in her “right mind” she wouldn’t have taken the role of a soprano when she has always been an alto. But God! She contrasts her experiences in other shows wherein if felt more like work than ministry with HARVEST, saying: “It helps that we actually pray together, before and after the rehearsal.”

Indeed, without prayer, choristers easily become quarreling stars.

Jericho Walls shall fall

The choir promises that, come 24 September 2017, there will be a mighty move of God inside Mangaung Civic Theatre. It will be a ministry of epic proportions. “Come to be delivered,” Lebo calls out to the masses. “People are going to know God,” KayGee says of the songs they will be delivering on the chosen night—songs with the power to kick open long-shut doors, heal searing wounds and tear down any which walls standing between us and what is ours to harvest. This, in their collective harmonious voice, is the main reason to fill up the Civic Theatre on Sunday.

The fact that the choir can’t strike a chorus as to which song is a firm favorite serves as proof that Thembekile Tshabalala’s brilliant curatorship will manifest dreams and visions on this highly anticipated night of glorious engagement.

Mpho Matsitle is the Publisher of ART STATE. He is @MphoMatsitle on Twitter.

PICTURES: Anathi Nyadu

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