Catholics Honour Composer, Author, Priest Ribeiro

By Fortunate Taruva

All roads will be heading to the Assumption of our Lady, Rhodesville parish in the Catholic Archdiocese of Harare on July 19 2014, for a music festival celebrating the priesthood of Father Emmanuel Ribeiro. Fr Ribeiro will on December 13 celebrate 50 years as a priest, and the music festival is part of the lined celebratory activities.

To many people, Fr Ribeiro has been outstanding as a priest especially in the area of church music where he is credited with composing the first Shona hymns in the late 50’s. He has composed many popular hymns to an extent he has lost count, although conservative figures put his lot at 30.

His first song, “Gamuchirai Mambo Mwoyo Wangu Wose” came in 1961 and continues to be sung today. His other popular compositions include “Alleluia munyika dzose”, “Tauya nezvipo zvemupiro”, “Mambo Mwari wamasimba”,”Hwayana yaMwari”, Mwari Ngaarumbidzwe” amongst others.

Fr Ribeiro has a fascinating story which centresaround his “fights” with the church leadership, just before Vatican Council II when he was eager to introduce vernacular hymns against the then church policy.

“I started with music in 1951 when I was at Kutama College. But the music work became more pronounced when I was at Gokomere Mission, training to be a teacher just before I was ordained. The then Bishop of Gweru, Rt Rev Haene encouraged us and his priest to make use of Shona cultural expressions and symbols for evangelisation. Bishop Heane encouraged African musical instruments like drums, rattles(mbira) and trumpets for use in church. That encouraged me and my late friend, Stephen Ponde with whom I was working to compose songs for liturgy.”

His real music breakthrough was to come in 1965, at the priestly ordination of the late Archbishop of Harare, Patrick Chakaipa.

“I was given an assignment to organise liturgy for the ordination of the late Archbishop Chakaipa in Mhondoro. Working with Ponde, we introduced Shona music together with drums, mbira, trumpets and dancing. I remember very well Archbishop Francis Markal saying to me as he was about to leave Mhondoro to go back to Harare, that, ‘today the Church has been born again.’”

Commenting on the current suspension of music courses in the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe by the Catholic Bishops Conference, Fr Ribeiro applauded the bishops, saying that,“the church needs to be controlled and guided, and many of the compositions these days are somehow meaningless, liturgically speaking. We need to come back to the drawing board as composers because we are now composing more for concert than for Mass. We are not using the missal context in our composition. Each mass has specific psalms well set and those should guide the compositions.”

Commenting on the festival that is planned for this Saturday, Fr Ribeiro expressed his gratitude to the Archdiocese leadership who saw it worthy to celebrate his golden jubilee through music which is an appreciation of his works. He challenged the Catholic University of Zimbabwe and Seminaries to have a department of music to help improve the quality of our music and the singing.

Fr Ribeiro was born in 1935 in Zimbabwe into a strong Catholic family. He went to St Francis Xavier College, Kutama in 1951. In 1952 he joined Chishawasha seminary where he did his Junior Certificate in Education, before joining Chishawasha seminary for Philosophy studies in 1954. He proceeded to Gokomere Mission where he did his teaching course. He was ordained a diocesan priest on 13 December 1964


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