History of Hymns: Zimbabwean song calls congregation to worship

“Jesu, Tawa Pano” (“Jesus, We Are Here”)
Patrick Matsikenyiri
The Faith We Sing
, No. 2273

Jesu, tawa pano;
Jesu, tawa pano;
Jesu, tawa pano;
tawa pano, muzita renyu.

Jesus, we are here;
Jesus, we are here;
Jesus, we are here;
we are here for you. *

Patrick Matsikenyiri (b. 1937) is one of the most important figures in the dissemination of African Christian song in the last 30 years. He is an active contributor to United Methodist church music in Zimbabwe.

Among Mr. Matsikenyiri’s most important contributions to the church in Zimbabwe is his involvement in the hymnal, Ngoma: dze United Methodist Church Ye Zimbabwe (1964, 1995). L.G. Zhungu, chairman of the hymnal project, acknowledged Mr. Matsikenyiri’s work on the hymnal in the foreword, especially for “noting mistakes in some songs and missed lines and verses in some songs.” His ministry in Zimbabwe has also included organizing annual choir competitions, directing Wabvuwi—a Methodist men’s group that sings a hybrid style of songs somewhere between western and traditional music—and composing many songs himself.

A headmaster of schools for many years, Mr. Matsikenyiri was deeply involved with the leaders of Zimbabwe’s movement for black majority rule. He served as conference music director for the UMC in Zimbabwe from 1968 until leaving in 1990 to study in the United States.

Patrick Matsikenyiri

In 1993, he completed undergraduate and graduate degrees at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va.. He then returned to Mutare, Zimbabwe, as a music lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities at the newly opened Africa University, a post he held until retirement in 2002. He developed a four-year music education major program beginning in 1996, the first of its kind in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Matsikenyiri has gained international recognition through his work with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the United Methodist Church in the U.S. In 1979, just before the civil war for black rule ended in Zimbabwe, he was invited by the WCC to Geneva, to plan music for the 1980 Mission and Evangelism Conference in Melbourne, Australia. Continuing on the WCC worship committee in 1982, he served as animateur (music leader) for the WCC Sixth Assembly in Vancouver in 1983.

He has served as a member of the Global Praise Working Group for the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries, contributing songs to three volumes of Global Praise and compiling the Africa Praise Songbook: Songs from Africa (GBGM, 1998). In 1998 Mr. Matsikenyiri prepared the conference choir for the WCC Eighth Assembly held in Harare, Zimbabwe, and served again as animateur. He continues to compile collections of songs from Zimbabwe, most recently Njalo (Always): A Collection of 16 Hymns in the African Tradition, edited by Dan Damon (Abingdon Press, 2006).

“Jesu, Tawa Pano” is one of Mr. Matsikenyiri’s best-known songs. It is a gathering song often used by the choir during a processional into the sanctuary. The song may also be used for gathering at the table during communion.

While the text seems simple to Westerners, one cannot take the act of gathering for worship for granted in a country where transportation is expensive; a lack of local jobs forces families to separate to find work; political instability is a way of life; and many people care for others who are suffering from HIV/AIDS. “Tawa pano” (“We are here”) is a statement of celebration that, in spite of life’s many difficulties, we have overcome them to be present with God’s people for worship.

The last phrase, “Tawa pano, muzita renyu” (“We are here for you”), focuses us on the reason for our gathering. We gather in the powerful name of Jesus, the one who walks beside us in our struggles and offers hope and healing in our adversities.

© 1990, 1996 General Board of Global Ministries, GBG Musik. Administered by OneLicense.net. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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