I have no regrets leaving active showbiz:Mateo
…Zimbabwean singer, Mateo talks about quitting showbiz, faith and the future
Like vapour, he vanished into his own world far from the city lights, and celebrity life.
Matthew Kawunda popularly known as Mateo left the music scene 15 years ago, never to return.
But he has no regrets!
Tucked away in a sedentary Domboshava, about 20 km from central Harare, Mateo one of Zimbabwe’s finest vocalists to ever grace the entertainment scene does not mind living the simple life.
“The only ones who notice me, is the older generation that know who I am,” he chuckled as he narrated his story to The NewsReport Entertainment.
But giving up the fame was not easy.
“It was not easy, that is the truth, but I could do anything to find the truth. I do not think, it is enough to be famous and successful,” Mateo said.
“Moving out of Harare helped in a big way. I do not think I could have left a lot of things in that environment. I had to leave a lot of things to live a simple life, but I have no regrets”
Mateo recalls his first shot at stardom, when he joined the talent search show, StarBrite in 1993.
Although he did not win that edition of the talent search show, Mateo curved his way into the showbiz.
It was at StarBrite where he met the legendary dub poet, Albert Nyathi who would be instrumental in his choice of music genre.
As a young man living in post-war Zimbabwe, Mateo’s taste of music was influenced by foreign musicians and music styles. But with Zimbabwe in desperate need of young artists that resonated with the local community, Mateo would soon change sounds and even attempted writing Shona lyrics.
“The person who made me introspect was Albert Nyathi. I used to do rock and soul music. He made me want to get in touch with my roots, that is when I started writing Shona lyrics,” he recalls.
With Nyathi, Mateo made a cameo appearance in 1994 hit song, Senzeni Na?
But it was not until 1996 that Mateo got his major break on the music scene.
His German producer, known as Baba Dee a talented artist offered to record him.
“When I met Baba Dee, I had tried recording before. I got turned away by many producers. I was bringing something new on the market, so it was not easy to sell yourself to producers,” he said.
“Baba Dee said I want to do an album and asked me to hear my ideas. The first song we did was Watoda Rugare. On the song It was a reflection on my life. I was thinking about my life. You grow up with ambition which never come to pass,” the 52-year-old singer said.
Watoda Rugare album took Mateo eight months to record, as the duo sought to create a perfect product.
“We also did a lot of jingles during that year. We did a particular jingle, a Christmas jingle that was very popular.”
Watoda Rugare went on to become one of his first successful projects, attracting interest from local DJs.
The year 1997 brought more success to Mateo with the album, Washayei.
At this time, Mateo was not signed to any recording label.
“After Washayeyi, my profile started rising. I was not signed so I would pay for my mastering, cassettes, and marketing,” he said adding that most independent artists struggled to get recognition.
Despite the rocky path, Mateo struck gold with the album Asambe Africa.
“This is when I started to make Afro music. One thing I have realised is that you will never compete with the Americans. That sunk in eventually, that I should not lose my local industry, not just with the language by the stories I tell,” he said.
Pamuhacha and Asambe Africa were outstanding hits from the album, enjoying massive airplay. In no time, Mateo became a household name.
“Baba D produced Pamuhacha. We wanted to come up with a sound that appeals to all races and languages. We wanted to put Zimbabwe on the map, musically,” Mateo recalls.
Pamuhacha, a love song about a couple planning to meet at a secret rendezvous is one of Zimbabwe’s best love songs.
Mateo’s haunting vocals, blended with Patience Musa’s enchanting melodies that made the song a timeless hit.
“Willom Tight was on backing vocals. The late Fortune Muparutsa requested to be part of the song, but my producer said the song was complete, so he had to be featured on another song, Asambe Africa,” the soulful music said.
The Asambe Africa project blended various genres, shaking the local music scene.
Having met Musa and Tight at Nexus Talent run by Edgar Langeveldt in 1997, Mateo thought of adding flavour to his music by blending smooth melodies and ragga.
Muparutsa was a late edition to the team, only providing vocals for on the second verse on the song Asambe Africa.
“Mateo and Friends was a platform for new talent. I wanted to put other vocals in my songs and add some flavour.”
Tight would go on to have a successful solo career releasing songs like Wekumaruzevha Ndiripano and other hit songs.
In 2000 his curiosity with sounds led to produce Ngoma Mafaro in Kenya but the album;” did not do well.”
“We did a lot of shows, but things were happening in the country and in our lives,” he reminisced.
As he faced a stern test in his musical career, Mateo sought divine guidance.
“I was now running my own company when I met the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had always asked myself certain questions and they got answered. In late 2007 I started learning the bible. At that time, I was working with Andy Brown on an album, but I decided to take another path,” he said.
With many of contemporaries dying young, Mateo was convinced taking the religious path would save his life.
“I found a lot of answers. As musicians we have questions and when you go to the bible, you will find answers. All these years I have been trying to get my life right, I saw that there is now more to life than the fame and fortune. Right now, if I am to do music, I will selective where I perform. There is a certain accountability that I now have,” he said.
“Art should be viewed in a new way now. We should know that we will be accountable to our maker.”
After a 15-year-hiatus, Mateo resurfaced on the music scene with Kulcha Houz, led by guitarist Trust Samende.
“I enjoyed performing my songs again. After prayerfully considering Trust’s proposal I agreed to record. He is a professional,” Mateo recounted his experience at Kulcha Houz.
On Kulcha Houz Mateo performed hits like Pamuhacha, Ndiripano and Waenda.
The episode of Meet ‘N’ Jam sent music lovers on memory lane.
Some thought he was dead, but all agreed that the soulful Mateo’s vocals are still as enchanting as they were in the 90s when he held the mic for the first time.
Despite his appearance on Meet “N” Jam, which received rave reviews, Mateo still enjoys his quiet life in Domboshava.“I will not be returning to active music, but I will be selective of the platforms I sing in,” he said.