Godwin Muzari Memory Lane
Chiuya chiuyai, Baba chiuyaka
Chiuya iwe chiuyaka, Baba chiuyai
(Mazambara Baba, mazambara Baba)
The voice is unmistakable. It pierces the soul, speaking to the inner being with intercessory waves.
It is the voice of Respina Patai, who is popularly known as Mai Patai. The song is titled “Mazambara”. It is a track that introduced her to the local gospel scene in a big way beyond her imagination. She came into the contest of gospel hits as a dark horse, doing lead vocals for the first time for her husband Ephraim Patai who led the group Voice of Prophecy.
It was an experimental move that worked wonders. It was magical. As the song “Mazambara” shook the music industry, many sought to know the lady behind the silky voice. And she availed herself in a big way at Nguva Yakwana Explosion at the Harare International Conference Centre in 2002.
The popular annual concert had names like Ivy Kombo and her South African friends Vuyo Mokoena, Bulhe Nhlangulela and Lundi Tyamara. By comparison, Mai Patai was among the novices of the event but she turned tables with a performance broke a new ground in her career. The following Monday, one newspaper headline screamed: “Mai Patai steals show at Nguva Yakwana”. Indeed, she had stolen the show. A little-known singer overshadowing the big horses of the race — it should have been a miracle.
As she went down Memory Lane this week, Mai Patai recalled her great victory in unfamiliar territory.
“I was scared because of the names that were on the poster for that concert. I had not shared the stage with such big artistes. At backstage we encouraged each other to have confidence. When we went on stage we found ourselves in front of a big crowd. It was scary, but we had to do it,” recalled Mai Patai. “Ndakapinda ndiri chiguma dova at that show. I was shocked with the response that we got when we did the song ‘Mazambara’. It was a magical moment. There were deafening cheers throughout the auditorium and the zeal with which we did the song also surprised us. We became the star attraction of the concert.”
Nguva Yakwana traditionally had two editions annually. The Harare concert was usually followed by a Bulawayo edition a day later.
That year Mai Patai was initially supposed to perform at the Harare edition only, but her outstanding performance won her a slot at the Bulawayo concert. It was the beginning of a journey that saw Mai Patai becoming a regular performer at gospel concerts and state music galas.
To Mai Patai, the journey was like a dream. She never thought she would get national attention because of a sad background. She had felt sorry for herself for many years and never thought she would achieve anything good in life.
“My upbringing was painful. I did not think I would be someone with a decent life. I would have laughed my lungs out if someone had suggested that I would be famous. I was surrounded by a dark mist in my childhood.
“My parents divorced when I was young. I started living with my stepmother. The situation became very difficult and tense. I stopped going to school due to bad living conditions. My stepmother was in control. My father could take care of us because he was a technical engineer at Juke Box Music, but our new mother did not want me to attend school,” recalled Mai Patai.
She dropped out of school when she was in Form Two to look for menial jobs as she hoped to take care of herself. She kept going to church and praying for deliverance from the pit of poverty. The answer came in the form of a boyfriend called Ephraim.
“I thank the Almighty that I met an understanding boyfriend, now my husband, who understood my situation at the time. He is the one who encouraged me to pursue my career as an artiste. He had discovered my singing talent at church where we met.
“I was married at the age 16 because he was my only hope and I had to be with him. Life at home was becoming miserable with each passing day.”
Mai Patai said her husband assisted her to resume education and also encouraged her to keep focus on music.
“Baba Patai changed my life. I accomplished a few academic goals. I attained a diploma in counseling, and a certificate in theology. I am working towards a higher level. I joined my husband’s group as a backing vocalist and in 2002 he gave me a chance to do lead vocals. That resulted in the making of ‘Mazambara’.”
After the success of the song, Patai allowed his wife to do her own albums while he assisted her at live shows.
“He allows me to be my own person, to flourish and not to lose my identity so that I do not try to be someone else. He also helps when it comes to arranging my music and backing vocals. He has so much faith in me and always praises me for my good voice.
“When I compose songs I usually get inspired by my personal experiences — what others go through, sermons from preaching and verses from the Bible.
“I have done performances in churches in Namibia and I am planning to hold some concerts in Mozambique where my music is popular. This year I am booked in countries like South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi.”
This is likely to be a great year for Mai Patai after she made history by becoming the first woman to be in top three of Radio Zimbabwe Coca-Cola Top 50 charts. Her song “Anokomborera” was on number three while her other track “Ndinodaira” was on ninth position. Both songs are from her 2018 album “Punish the Devil”.
To top up her achievements for 2018, Mai Patai received an award for the Best Woman in Business (in the arts sector) for Midlands Province. Despite the difficulties that she faced as she grew up, Mai Patai thanks her father for exposing her to music when she was a young girl.
“God has a way of preparing avenues for everyone in life. I did not know that the exposure I got to music through my father would shape my career. Because he worked for Juke Box Music, he had lots of music he would play for us and that is how the interest in music grew. I also had a privilege of seeing musicians like Leonard Dembo performing live when I was still young.
“Participating in church choir sharpened a skill that was enhanced by the growing interest in music. I can say my journey in music began when I was very young, but I did not know that I was already on this journey.”
Mai Patai turned 40 last year and says she is determined to continue ministering through music. Her husband says he will support his wife until her dreams come true.
“It was God who brought us together. Everything that we do together goes well. We are in business together and we are in music together. I realised that she is good on her own and that is why I weaned her from being a backing vocalist.
“She has proved that she can go a long way in music. The return she made last year has led to many achievements. I know she will achieve greater things and I will always be there to support her,” said Patai.