Matsikenyiri, a Methodist, was born in Biriri, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and died in Mutare, Zimbabwe in January, near his home village a few kilometers from the border of Mozambique, as a result of complications due to the COVID-19 virus.
Matsikenyiri brought music from Zimbabwe and surroundings into the ecumenical stream. He paid attention to detail, but the more pressing concern was catching the pulse of the song.
He offered music workshops around the world, telling stories of waging a fierce battle to get the rattle allowed in worship—even while trying to reduce the volume of rattles so they would not overwhelm the singing. He was known for his big, hearty smile, and for getting worshippers up on their feet trying out some moves.
He was part of the famous team of musical animateurs at the 6th WCC Assembly in Vancouver in 1983. Over many worship workshops, he invited others into the harmonies and rhythms of his continent, always inviting people into the spirit of the song. He worked to develop an organization of African church musicians on a continental level. He composed songs, like Jesu tawa pano, which has found its way into hymnals all over the world.
He also led an Alleluia from Zimbabwe in the Cathedral of Copenhagen, Denmark during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 1995, helping to lead a service that reflected the world. He organized and conducted the choir for worship at the WCC 8th Assembly in Harare in 1998, and the assembly, like so many across the world, could feel the power of his tradition.
Rev. Dr Mikie A. Roberts, WCC programme executive for Spiritual Life, recalled meeting Matsikenyiri in 1996 at a “Liturgy Alive” workshop held in St Lucia. “That event was sponsored by the WCC in collaboration with the Caribbean Conference of Churches,” said Roberts. “His enthusiastic teaching of African songs motivated all of us as Caribbean participants to take pride in creating and sharing our own music with the rest of the world."