The Sunday News
Nkosilathi Sibanda, Showbiz Correspondent
SOME artistes get stuck along their careers when fortunes no longer favour them but not for Ishmael Muvingi.
The seasoned actor, director, dancer, choreographer and now musician has a thing or two to share about how to survive and adapt in the ever changing and often not lucrative local showbiz scene.
Starting out as an ambitious stage actor, from Emakhandeni suburb in Bulawayo, Muvingi was at primary school cut out to be counted among theatre’s greatest talents of his generation. Now at the age of 44, he has seen it all and rubbed shoulders with big names.
He has worked with world travelled Siyaya Arts, Iyasa, Sadalala Amajekete and now plies his trade at Zimbabwe’s best ensemble Umkhathi Theatre Works. To top the list, Muvingi has had stints on the world’s biggest theatre stages in the United Kingdom, Germany and United States. While theatre has been his mainstay, he juggles television drama. But, the biggest and most unexpected break so far has been his entry into music.
After doing theatre and TV and cinema, the diverse artiste had his fame reborn in music, under the stage name, Litshe. In a wide ranging interview, the artiste reveals the secret of his agility and adaptability in an industry that many falter. His journey is more than just of the proverbial Jack of all trades. It’s an entanglement of artistry.
“I give credit to my primary school teachers who told me to pursue the performing arts. They said I am multi-talented and that was my motivation. The start of this great journey was at Robert Tredgold and it became interesting as I experimented in all the art genres at Milton High and Inyanda High schools.”
Muvingi, in 1995 joined township street theatre gang, Sadalala Amajekete. By that time in Bulawayo, theatre for development projects were the in thing, with as many production groups formed in every township.
At the turn of the millennium, the group disbanded and he found home at Umkhathi Theatre Works. It was not long before he jumped ship to the then globetrotters Siyaya Arts. Eight years later, he traced his roots. Again, he settled at Umkhathi.
He says his sudden shifts between the two biggest theatre bands was a lesson so harsh but required.
“As an artiste, one has to find a home and not be limited to try new things. I wanted something new and demanding and Siyaya then offered me that opportunity. But I must admit that it was not easy changing groups in a short space of time. I learned that loyalty counts in as much as the availability of opportunities. One has to take the risks.
“I toured with Umkhathi in 2004 when we attended the Aberdeen International youth festival in Scotland. In 2006 I travelled with Siyaya Arts and it was for a good nine years going all over the greater part of Europe and Asia.”
Of his greatest moments on stage, Muvingi recalls performances at the Womad festival, Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe. He also prides in being a teacher at university level too.
“Getting to be in front of audiences that appreciate theatre like in Europe opened doors for me. I was invited to impart theatre at high school teachers and students, universities and communities. My focus was primarily on teaching African music, dance and drumming.”
His comeback to Umkhathi Theatre Works was a blessing. After a brief hiatus, having spent considerable time abroad, Muvingi’s star shone bright as awards and more acting roles came his way. He was to feature as the lead actor in the much-admired Zambezi Express.
“I put Zambezi Express at the apex of all my achievements. I won the best artiste award on the act. I will also not forget my stint at Siyaya where I was part of the artistes that recorded Futhi Njalo at Real World Studios owned by Peter Gabriel in England,” said Muvingi.
The Bulawayo-born and bred artiste was later to get a nomination for the National Arts Merit Awards (Nama). An array of recognitions was to follow his stardom.
“I got a Nama nomination in 2007 for best TV actor. More awards came my way, as I gained experience in both theatre and TV. I won the Roil Bulawayo Arts Award for best theatre actor and outstanding male dancer.”
His appearance on TV drama shows was not a fluke, he was prepared and ready for it. So familiar is his husky voice when he does radio commercials and voice overs.
“My long stay as a stage dancer and actor guided me well into a smooth transition to TV drama. I was to get gigs for TV commercials as well,” he said.
Local TV followers know well that Muvingi’s husky voice was meant for the small screen. He has featured in local super dramas like Insuku zokucina and Ezakomkhakha.
Muvingi’s greatest leap has been on music where he prefers to be called by the moniker, Litshe.
“I started my own band called Band With No Name in 2016. Now I am doing solo projects as Litshe and so far I have recorded four singles at Rockup Studios all produced by Nyasha Nyika aka Neshville. I have also featured in songs with Mabex, Khuxman, Iyasa and Calvin just to mention a few. In the meantime I am working on my album which will include all the singles.”
True to his somewhat down to earth character, Muvingi does not mince his words when he gives thanks to arts gurus Matesu Dube the Umkhathi director and Raisedon Baya of Intwasa Arts Festival.
“What is a man without his brother and sisters in the hustle? The artiste that you call Ishmael Muvingi and Litshe is a product of many people that include Raisedon Baya, Matesu Dube, Simon Mambazo Phiri, Innocent Dube, the late Clever Chimwanza and not forgetting all the women who made it worthwhile to groom and uplift myself in the industry. Without them, I do not think the world would have known of my talents,” said Muvingi.