Zulu Zulu Buya…again

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One of the most enjoyable performances Sunduza and I did was at Eziko Arts Laboratory at the Ndlovu Centre in Tshabalala. These events are run by performance poet Desire Moyoxide and provide the opportunity for artists at any stage of their careers to try out new material on a friendly, supportive and enthusiastic audience.

I was pleased to meet up with old friends like the amazing marimba group Rainbow Blaze  who did a storming performance, and familiar faces in the audience like Ishmael Muvingi, a good friend of Simon’s and a superb singer, from the dance theatre group Siyaya.

It had been two years since I was last at Ndlovu. It is an old and rather rundown youth centre and several groups of artists rehearse there – when I first visited Zimbabwe I went there regularly to rehearse with imbube group Umdumo Wesizwe. The place suffered from neglect and lack of funding – I have a strong unpleasant memory of finding maggots in the women’s toilets. Now however the place has been transformed into a vibrant arts venue. It was buzzing with activity and I was both nervous and excited at the opportunity to perform some of the songs we had been rehearsing and recording.

The Sunduza guys were wearing matching blue tops and Charlie took me around one of the markets in the city centre to find something suitable for myself, an impressive flowing purple dress which I hoped gave me a Miriam Makeba look. Simon was always vary particular about his stage wear and as this was the place where he and Jeys Marabini had performed Zulu Buya I wanted to do him proud.

I look back fondly on our set at Eziko – it was chaotic at times with sound engineers running around fixing my microphones but the atmosphere was electric and our performance elicited an emotional response from the audience. I hope this comes across in the video clip.

Rain, rain, rain…and rainbows

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Janet and Sunduza One of the first songs Sunduza and I rehearsed was Rainbow, a song written by Charlie to celebrate one of his father’s nicknames and also the significance of rainbows to Charlie and to me since Simon’s passing.

Soon after I got back to the UK after the funeral, still in shock and pain, I drove to a favourite place of mine, the Idle Valley Nature Reserve near Retford. On the way, I sent up a silent prayer – “Sweetheart, if you can hear me, send me a rainbow!” It was a cold, clear and sunny day, and as I walked around the lake there was no sign of rain.

I met up with a friend for a cup of tea, in the cafe looking over the lake. We had been chatting for nearly an hour when she suddenly said, “Oh look, a rainbow!” – and there it was, as if painted onto a huge black cloud which had suddenly appeared over the lake. It was the first of many comforting signs that Simon is still around. I shared the experience with Charlie, and within an hour he was calling me back saying that he had seen a rainbow too.

Zulu Zulu Buya (Rain, Rain Come)is a traditional Ndebele children’s rhyme – at the first sign of rain after a dry spell, they run out chanting “Zulu zulu buya, sidl’amakhomane!” (Rain, rain come, we eat pumpkins!). For one of his last major performances Simon and his good friend Jeys Marabini did a lovely arrangement of Zulu Buya that became very popular. https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?v=324943367607263

So I was very surprised and touched when Charlie said that he wanted me to sing Zulu Buya following on from the first part of his Rainbow song. He had written a new tune for it and it fitted in really well. It became a bit of a joke between us all that every time we rehearsed and performed it, sooner or later it would start raining – well, it was the rainy season, but Charlie tells the story of one day when Simon sang it during the previous so-called rainy season, when they had suffered weeks of very hot dry weather and water was scarce – and after his performance, lo and behold, it rained.

The first time we performed it was at a Christmas festival in Mpopoma. It was in a park and there were several children in the audience. When I started singing Zulu Zulu Buya there was a roar from the crowd and everyone started clapping and cheering – partly because here was an ikhiwa (white person) singing in Ndebele and partly because they recognised it as something Simon used to sing. I felt like a pop star! A couple of weeks later, driving past some children in the street and hearing them call out, I asked Charlie what they had said. “You are famous Mum,” he replied. “They are saying, ‘there is that ikhiwa who sings Zulu Buya!'”

One day I went to Jeys’s house to rehearse a song for the album. I sang him a song I had written and got quite emotional. It was pouring with rain as we worked. Then I received a phone call from Charlie, who was on his way to pick me up; he had got off the bus and was walking up to the house. “Mum! Go outside! Quickly!” he said. Jeys and I went to the door and gasped. The most perfect rainbow lit up the sky.

When we came to record the song for the album, I realised quite late in the day that the children’s nursery rhyme “I hear thunder” would fit into the arrangement, so I taught it to the children and we put it in at the end of the track. When I teach the song in workshops, as I have now started to do in primary schools, I point out that our nursery rhymes tell the rain to go away, whereas Africans celebrate it.

We also asked poet Desire Moyoxide to add his inimitable style of performance poetry to the track. We are extremely pleased with the result and if there were to be a single from the album, this would be it. Charlie’s line, “Shine like a rainbow,” soon became the title of the album – a fitting tribute to a man called Rainbow who continues to shine in our hearts.

Driving around the bend

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Janet driving in Zimbabwe

Janet driving in Zimbabwe

As I mentioned in my last post, driving in Zimbabwe presents many challenges. The roads have to be seen to be believed – an endless mass of humps and potholes, requiring the driver to weave a precarious path from one side to another and back again. It is an old joke in Zimbabwe that you can tell who the drunk drivers are because they are the ones driving in a straight line. Off-road driving, of which there is a lot, has even more pitfalls – the solemnity of my trip to the cemetery on the anniversary of Simon’s passing descended into the ridiculous as I failed to notice a tree stump and got stuck, unable to go forward or backwards, until we enlisted help to lift the car free.

Then there are the roadblocks. I received two ten dollar fines – one for listening to music without a radio licence – particularly galling as it was our own music we were listening to, but I was advised not to say anything – and one for not carrying a workable fire extinguisher. On the one occasion when I was stopped for something I agreed was dangerous – carrying too many children in the back – the officer let me go. But on the whole I was stopped less frequently than my Zimbabwean friends – Charlie said it was assumed that white people were more likely to have their papers in order.

Driving gets doubly scary at night as there are no visible road markings or street lights. And heavy rain causes more problems, as you just can’t see where the potholes are.

Our car is a silver Toyota Ceres. Simon and I bought it in Swaziland, and he drove it, with a friend sharing the driving, all the way to Bulawayo, at no small cost. It was his pride and joy however, and is now Charlie’s. Charlie never tires of adding things to it and even sleeps in it overnight sometimes. On the windscreen he has the words “Dr. Mahlaba,” one of Simon’s nicknames, and at the back the word “Junior.” A pendant with Simon’s photo on each side dangles from the rear view mirror.

Owning a car brings unspoken responsibilities in the neighbourhood. Charlie woke me one morning at six, to say that two young men were outside wanting us to take them and some audio equipment to a place in town where they were working at a wedding. Refusing was not an option. Simon always intended it to be a source of income for the family and Charlie often hires it out for small amounts. I advised Charlie to sell it after Simon died, thinking that it could bring more problems and expense, but I’m glad now that he didn’t listen. It was invaluable to us during my stay.

Diving in at the deep end

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After just one day’s rehearsal we set off on Sunday for the first day’s recording session with Tswarelo of 10th District Music at Ingwe Studios in Hillside, one of the leafier suburbs of Bulawayo. The early start is due to Tswarelo having to be away for much of the next two weeks.

Getting everyone there on time – and Tswarelo is meticulous about timing, belying his country’s stereotype – is no mean feat. Charlie, Tonny and I use the car that Simon and I bought in Swaziland when he worked there for a while, but there are another eight Sunduza members to pick up from various meeting points in the townships. We have to stop in the city centre to buy gas for a stove, as we need to feed everyone at lunchtime and have brought stew cooked at home the previous evening. Add the state of the Zimbabwean road network and the prevalence of road blocks into the mix, and I at least arrive feeling more than a little on edge.

We soon settle into the pleasant surroundings at Ingwe, however. After a warm-up we rehearse our first song. Tswarelo’s procedure is to record what he calls a pilot, which will serve as a guide track, in the main part of the studio, and then to record each individual voice or instrument in the sound booth. This ensures the best possible results as each voice can be perfectly balanced in the final mix, which will be done back in the UK with Keith Angel at Wavelength Studios in Doncaster.

After a trip to the local supermarket for some sadza, or, more accurately, isitshwala as we are in Matabeleland, to accompany our stew, we have a relaxing lunch outside before a few more hours’ recording, establishing what is to become a normal pattern of laying down an average of two tracks per day. Things are shaping up.

Relaxing during a break in recording.

Relaxing during a break in recording.

Leon recording

Leon recording

Beyond panic…

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Simon on our last day together

Simon on our last day together

So the day has arrived – I could easily spend another week getting ready, and still not feel fully prepared. In an hour I’ll be leaving for the station, travelling by train to Heathrow to catch an evening flight to Johannesburg, the last place I saw Simon in August 2012. He would have been relaxed and laidback as always, whilst I am half-frozen in a snowstorm of panic and self-doubt.

On from Johannesburg to Bulawayo, by air this time, eschewing the uncomfortable bus which takes hours and includes an extended stay at immigration control at Beitbridge on the South Africa-Zimbabwe border, especially long at this time of year. On one memorable journey the other way, our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere on the Zim side. While Simon chatted happily to other passengers,  I wandered into the bush for a pee and got bitten by a spider. My ankle swelled up almost immediately and when we finally reached Jo’burg I had to be attended to at a clinic. So the plane is, I hope, a relatively luxurious alternative.

Beyond that is my reunion with Charlie and the rest of the family, an afternoon and evening of rest before rehearsals with Sunduza on Saturday and our first recording sessions on Sunday and Monday at 10th District Recording Studios. We’d have preferred a longer rehearsal period, but Tswarelo our engineer has already delayed a trip to South Africa for us, and is keen to get as much down as possible before he leaves.

So I’ll be writing lyrics on the train and plane, listening to the Sunduza clips that Charlie has sent me and beginning to craft in my response. I’m looking forward to having just one project to concentrate on for the next month.

But for now, a strange feeling of calm envelops me as I realise there is nothing more I can do, and that this is really going to happen…

Shifting into panic mode

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Can’t believe how much I’ve got to do before I go – apart from all the trip and project preparations, it’s my youngest granddaughter’s birthday at the weekend and I’ve also got to take Christmas into consideration, never mind about all the other projects I’ve got on the go…

Charlie, Simon’s son, is well on with rehearsing songs with Sunduza after a Skype chat we had about potential song collaborations. One is based on Woza Ngena, a traditional song Simon performed exhorting children to learn and keep alive their traditional songs and games.Simon loved children – he has five – Charlie, Ormmie, Tonny, Cristabel and Amanda – plus a little granddaughter Ashley.

Simon's first meeting with his granddaughter, Johannesburg 2011

Simon’s first meeting with his granddaughter, Johannesburg 2011

I found this video on You Tube of a nice exchange Simon had with children in the audience during a Sunduza tour.

Counting down to take-off

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Simon Banda in Gri-Eshe, Harare 2012

Simon Banda in Gri-Eshe, Harare 2012

Hi, welcome to my brand new – and first ever – blog which will document my adventure in Zimbabwe. I’m going to stay in Bulawayo with Charlie, my partner Simon Banda’s eldest son, and other members of the family. It’s almost a year since Simon’s sudden death and this trip is about commemorating his life and work, creating new music with Charlie and members of his group Sunduza and other musicians he used to work with, like Jeys Marabini, Willis Wataffi and the performance poet Albert Nyathi.  My flights are booked and I’m leaving on Thursday 5th December and returning on 1st January – celebrating New Year in the air then.