Mthokozisi Dube in Johannesburg
The melodic wheels are certainly turning swiftly for celebrated former Joyous Celebration vocalist, Mkhululi Bhebhe.
The former CBZ A-Academy and Idols East Africa runner-up is, without doubt, a mighty man on an African mission.
The man affectionately known as MK recently left the comfort of the well-oiled ensemble, Joyous Celebration, after a seven-year stint to embark on a solo career.
The fruits of his journey with Joyous are there for all to see – the man toured 23 countries, some repeatedly, over the last four years. Quite interesting, his music has traversed borders across the entire globe and overrode the language barrier. MK has ministered in non-English speaking fatherlands including French Guiana and Suriname and in his native Ndebele as well as Shona. But the language hurdle has never been enough to thwart his dream of carrying the message of the gospel through song across the globe.
And now, his new musical journey has taken off stunningly, with his Ultimate Praise Experience live DVD and CD recording a massive success.
“It’s electric, sends shivers down my spine each time I listen to it. It brings me to tears, makes me jump up in praise and fall on my knees in worship. This is definitely the Ultimate Praise Experience, it brings you back to the heart of worship,” said one Abigail Maphosa, who attended the live recording and has been listening to the album since its release early this month.
The visionary behind the Ultimate Praise Experience, MK, is equally elated, but remains grounded with his utmost desire to turn it into a movement popular for giving acclaim to the living God.
“I’m overjoyed by the way my solo career has taken off. I never thought that ‘The Ultimate Praise Experience with Mkhululi Bhebhe’ would be well received and embraced the way it has been,” said MK.
Interestingly, the 21-track offing, recorded in the City of Gold, Johannesburg, was dubbed a recording for “Africa by Africans”. The self-effacing muso featured some of the continent’s celebrated and award-winning gospel musicians. Nigeria’s Steve Crown of the You Are Great fame, multi-award winning Evelyn Wanjiru of Kenya, Celestine Donkor, a Ghanaian gospel diva as well as Enkay Ogboruche from Nigeria all played a part in the album.
Sbu Noah, popularly known for his outstanding tunes in Joyous Celebration, also featured on the song Baba Wethu.
“The project is everything I expected and more, it resembles who He is. I was shocked to realise how big the artistes he involved are in their own countries,” said Sbu.
An avid fan of MK’s music, Tonderai Salimu, says talented South African drummer Sabu Satsha and Zimbabwe’s accomplished lead guitarist, Frank Mavhimira, give the album a rare flair.
“He worked with established and gifted artistes from across the continent and that speaks volumes of how highly regarded he is. I love the song Kuyangimangaza – it’s a beautiful composition that makes us proud of MK,” said Salimu, who took to the stage to dance when MK belted out Hakuna Zvinorema during the live recording.
Soft-spoken vocalist, Sbu added: “Mkhululi was able to give a snippet of what he experienced in his world travels – a piece of wherever he has been. The people he has previously ministered to across the world will be happy to hear songs in their languages.”
MK included a song in a Suriname language, A Bung Neng, which means a good name in reference to the hallowed name of Jesus Christ. He has visited the island once a year since 2013.
Enkay does a song in the Igbo language Nara Ekele, which means Take All The Glory. Wanjiru, a darling to gospel lovers across East Africa, sings Hakuna Mungu Kama Wewe (There’s No-one Like Jesus).
“I’m overly grateful to have had all the musicians from Africa come through to contribute to this project. I always wanted to do something that brings the entire continent together and their involvement definitely brought in that element,” said MK.
Despite the perfect start, the purist in him still yearns to do better and push doors across the globe.
“Until my music is sung in churches in Russia or Panama or China then my work is not yet done,” he said assertively.
Anyone who has followed his musical journey from the time he was a teenager at Family of God (FOG) will know the man means business. His break into Joyous, arguably the most successful gospel ensemble on the continent, came as no surprise. The relentless MK has always taken his musical career seriously and credits God for being in the forefront of opening doors for him.
“I lost my job in Zimbabwe in 2008 and I thought my world was crumbling, but God was pushing me towards my destiny.”
Fascinatingly, Sbu, who has grown to be a close friend to MK says his exit from Joyous was no quirk and came timeously. He believes MK is set for great things in the music world.
“It’s really about what God has planned for him, I don’t believe in coincidence, his move came at the right time,” said Sbu.
MK was with Joyous right from Joyous 15 when he delivered a stellar performance with the song Tambira right until Joyous 21 when he did the song Zvamaronga in Dallas, Texas.
“Joyous taught me never to despise the days of humble beginnings. I’m sure when they recorded their first instalment many years ago, they never saw their brand growing this big in just two decades,” said MK.
The trick, for him, is to be consistently first-rate and exceptional in the business. He has resolved to maintain a teachable spirit as he builds a brand.
“I’ve maintained a relationship with Joyous principals and I still engage them in my plans and seek their guidance and counsel to fine-tune my personal brand as Mkhululi Bhebhe,” he explained.
Perhaps that explains why his solo career has taken off so well. The man is standing on the broad musical shoulders of men like Jabu Hlongwane, Lindelani Mkhize and Mthunzi Namba, the Joyous founders.
“I’ll not let this stop me from pressing even harder because releasing a product and people embracing it is not enough. The real work has only just begun. I want to see my music reach all four corners of the world and changing lives in an amazing way,” he said.
The vision is quite clear for him – the “Ultimate Praise Experience with Mkhululi Bhebhe” has to be a musical brand to be reckoned with.
He wants to develop a truly African brand, 100 percent self-funded with an objective to bring people from all across Africa under one roof to worship the name of Jesus Christ in all languages and different African Dances.
Wanjiru believes MK is on the right track.
“I know his sound will bless the world because it is full of hope and gratitude directed to God. Collaborating with African artistes sends a message of unity that we are one,” she said.
For MK, the platform he is creating must also promote up-and-coming talent from Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“In the near future, I’ll be holding auditions to unearth raw talent that I’ll nurture under my company, MK Music.”
The man is a living proof that background has no bearing on where one ends up in life. Just over two decades ago, he walked around with a torn shoe with cardboard inside, but fast-forward to 2018 he has carried the message of carefree praise and worship to 23 nations across the globe.
“This goes to show that God can use anybody and my job is to be the springboard that young exceptionally talented people will use to reach their sphere of influence,” said MK.
And as the sound of fans celebrating his gift increases, all MK sees is the hand of God over his life. He redirects all praise to his God and remains poised to touch and impact many lives with his musical gift.