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.

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