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Interview: Nyasha Thondhlana, singer

05 January 2018

‘I was bullied at school — I only found joy going to church and singing in the choir’

My name sounds like Gnasher from Dennis the Menace. I used to get teased about it growing up, but I absolutely love my name and what it means: “grace”. And I truly believe that grace is what’s allowed me to be where I am today.


I started singing at the age of about nine or ten, in my primary-school choir, which won many competitions in Zimbabwe. But I only started taking singing seriously when I was 15, when I joined New Wine Church in London.


I created the United Praisers as a vocal collective group, united in our wanting to praise and worship the Lord, and spread the gospel to the world.


I’ve written most of my songs, but also co-written some of them. Each song has a journey or story of its own. Some are written from a specific situation; some are written based on a melody that’s come to mind while playing guitar; and I’ve written a lot of songs while being at church, and either the atmosphere or a word triggers it.


I’ve performed in various venues: churches, bars, and different events — mostly Christian events. My music’s on iTunes, Spotify, and all the major music websites. Or you can book me to come and play.


“Jump to the beat” is my new pop dance song. It’s an upbeat song, and gets people to dance and jump. It’s a song of praise and thanks to the King for all he’s done for us and what he’s going to do.


I pride myself in liking different types of music, as well as being able to write different songs. On my latest album there are pop, dance, old-school gospel, rock, and contemporary songs


Music doesn’t currently pay the bills for me, though I want to do music ministry full-time. Currently, I’m a business analyst, helping different organisations create IT solutions to solve their problems and fulfil their dreams. I listen to what the business wants to achieve, and then help our development team to design computer systems. So I’m influencing change in different organisations, which is great.


I wouldn’t call them New Year resolutions, like becoming a vegetarian; but I do set myself targets. Last year, I set a target to get myself on the housing ladder. It didn’t happen, but I did try; so I hope this year to do it. We had our first child last year in December; so I’m also trying to be the best dad to him: reading certain books, becoming a better parent, getting close to God. And how can I be better at music, get my new album to the furthest part of the world to reach the most people?


I’ve an older brother, younger brother, and a little sister. I lived 13 years of my life in Zimbabwe, where we were very wealthy. My mum’s a university lecturer, and Dad’s an accountant, and, at the time, they were in excellent jobs. But things were worrying there, and when my mum was offered a short contract at the university in Bloomington, Indiana, they said: “OK — let’s go for a new life and education for our children.” The people of Indiana were amazing: we didn’t expect anyone to say hello, but they showed us love. It was a real eye-opener.


But when that year ended, we came to the UK, and it was the most different contrast. Everyone was only looking out for themselves; no one smiled at us; and we went through a severe time of poverty. We lived with my auntie and uncle for the first year — two families in a three-bedroom house — we were so cramped, and food wasn’t lasting long enough, and my mum was pregnant with my little sister.


We moved, but my parents couldn’t find work, and the house had rats and cockroaches. My mum found work in M&S, but that didn’t pay the rent. They took out a loan, but couldn’t pay it off. I remember waking up and there was nothing to eat for breakfast; so my dad just picked up pennies in the street till he found 20p for a loaf of bread.


But God worked a miracle. In one week, my dad got an accountancy job with the NHS, and my mum was offered a lectureship at the University of Nottingham. When I went to university the next year, they were earning so much I couldn’t get a grant.


All this really helped me to find God. I had to learn who I am fairly quickly. People used to bully me at school and call me ugly. I only found joy going to church and singing in the choir. That’s where someone told me, “You can sing!”


My first experience with God was at the age of about seven. The pastor was preaching and I wasn’t listening, but he asked people to give their lives to Christ. I said to my friend, “Let’s go,” as a joke. I started walking to the front, and then something just hit me and I started crying. After I said the words, I felt free. Since then, life hasn’t been the same.


I’m now married to the most beautiful woman in the world. We have a one-year-old baby.


I last went back to Zimbabwe to see my family three or four years ago. I’ve been praying and asking God to take control of things there; so I’m happy that this recent change [of President] has happened. But I’m fearful about the way that the army wants to be a part of the government and to make decisions. Things may not go better. We need people who have a different way of thinking, not wanting to exploit the Zimbabwean people; so I’m praying that it won’t be another dictatorship.


If I couldn’t work as a musician, I’d be an athlete. I used to be part of my school athletics team when I was younger.


My parents have been the greatest influence in my life. They took a big risk in leaving their home to create a better life for us. They did everything in their power to make us happy.


When I’m not working, I love spending time with my family, watching TV programmes, football, basketball, and American football, playing guitar and singing. And I love travelling and meeting new people.


I pray for my family and friends most, but also for people in need. I was once someone who needed help, and I know how it feels to be without.


Seeing children hungry or in pain makes me angry. Every child should be given the chance to have a future, and I believe that there’s enough food and shelter in the world for all kids.


Seeing people blessed by my music, and spending time with my family makes me happy.


The work I’m putting in now, and the steps I’m taking to influence my community and the world, gives me hope for the future. I see myself helping people in need, and also ministering hope into people’s lives; so I’m hopeful that I’ll be an instigator of change in people’s lives.


If I was locked in a church with anyone, I’d choose Jesus. I am a lover of Jesus, so having even ten minutes with him would be life-changing.


Nyasha Thondhlana was talking to Terence Handley MacMath


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