Driving around the bend

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Counting down to take-off

8 Comments
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.