Matata, matata…problems, problems!

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a moment of concentration in the studio

a moment of concentration in the studio

Matata is perhaps the song of Simon’s that we re-interpreted in the most straightforward way. He wrote it as the title song for the theatre production of the same name. “Matata” is a Swahili word meaning “problem”, perhaps best known to non-Africans in the phrase “Hakuna matata” – “no problem” which was famously used in The Lion King.

It was the first song I chose when looking for songs to adapt for the album, as it is quite simple and affords a lot of opportunities for new material to be inserted over the top of the bass ostinato: “There is a big, big problem.” I wrote a section about the big problem being Simon’s sudden and untimely demise and us all having to carry on without him. Charlie wrote a couple of new bits too, necessitating some fast and (for me)tongue-twisting Ndebele phrases which he insisted I had to learn: “Ukhon’uhlupho lukholu kunzima kumatata!” gave me a few problems!Like all such things, it’s easy once you master it, and I’m glad Charlie pushed me to get it right as audiences were impressed that I managed it.

It sounds like a miserable subject for a song, but it is fast and spirited and quite uplifting. I’m hoping to sort out the video of the Eziko performance to put on here soon.

Zimbabweans live with problems on a daily basis, but never get down about them. I’m not going to go into the political causes of those problems here – I want to go back, and there are plenty of more informed sources. But life is generally quite hard, and has been for some time. I have seen some improvements since my first visit in 2009, when there was little food in the shops, refuse was piled high on the streets (including wads of worthless Zim dollars)and schools were closed as the teachers were not being paid. Now that people are used to using US dollars and South African rands, things are much better for those who are lucky enough to have jobs. Still, however, things that we take for granted over here continue to be issues for Zimbabweans.

Electricity, for example, is at a premium – there just isn’t enough. To address this there is what is called load-shedding – different areas are scheduled for power cuts at pre-arranged times – although sometimes when I was there it seemed pretty random. The family keeps stocks of candles and alternative ways of cooking – gas rings or open fires outside. One of the reasons I failed to keep up a regular blog while I was there was that the times I could do it never matched the times that we had power.

More crucially, water is also rationed. There was no water to be had from the taps during the day – it would typically come on around nine in the evening, when every receptacle in the house would be filled, and we would use water during the day from large plastic bins allocated for each purpose. The first person up in the morning would put on water to heat for bathing – which was done in a small plastic bath placed in the old defunct bath in the bathroom – I got used to these strip washes, with hot water in the plastic bath, a smaller container of cold water to modify the temperature, and a plastic cup for washing my hair. Then I would flush the toilet with the water I’d used – I became much more mindful of not wasting water. Laundry of course is all done by hand – here is Simon’s youngest daughter Amanda doing some washing:

Amanda doing the laundry

But it is money that is in really short supply with unimaginably high unemployment levels – many Zimbabweans rely on support from relatives outside the country and the culture within it is very much that of helping each other – I am amazed how people cope, and not only that but remain so cheerful – it’s a cliche but it’s true. People grow their own vegetables, there are food co-operatives, and a general sense of family and social responsibility that extends beyond blood ties.

All of which gives me even more respect for artists in Zimbabwe, who pursue their passions with such infrequent and insufficient reward, and gratitude that I was given the chance not only to honour Simon but also to offer paid work to those who were involved in this project.

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