‘Zimbabwe’

Anger can be a powerful driver when it comes to writing a song. For me, prejudice and injustice are two things that really make my blood boil and the political situation in Zimbabwe certainly has more than enough them to get the creative juices flowing.

It’s hard to know where the song ‘Zimbabwe’ song truly started. Did it start with the horrific behaviour of Robert Mugabe’s supporters following the first round of the Presidential election in 2008? He was running against Morgan Tsvangirai but lost the first round by 43.2% to 47.9%. Because neither candidate achieved 50%, a second round was needed. In the intervening period there was mass violence against supporters of Tsvangirai by Mugabe supporters. In the end, Tsvangirai withdraw, calling it a ‘violent sham’ and Mugabe won a landslide. It seemed as if the rest of the world just chose to ignore it.

Did it start a year earlier when I visited an old musician friend of mine in Germany? John Pearse originally hailed from Hook in Yorkshire, but grew up in Prestatyn in North Wales. After a period working for the Martin Guitar Company, he eventually settled in Besigheim, Germany. John was a major influence on me, helping me a tremendous amount when I became a professional. He performed the role of influencer for countless others when he presented the 1960s BBC 2 show ‘Hold Down a Chord’ and German magazine Stern even described him as “the nation’s guitar teacher“. To hear some of his work on Youtube, click here.

While I was visiting John and his wife in 2007, I got to play with very talented and fascinating African musicians. Two of whom came from Zimbabwe, so it was in my mind.

Or, did it just start when I was noodling around on a riff that bore a slight resemblance to the T.Rex song, ‘Jeepster’? Unlike Jeepster, my riff was in a minor key and had deviated quite substantially from Marc Bolan’s original.

Certainly, the tune came first, which is often the case with my songs. I think it’s possible all these things just came together – the African musicians in Germany, Mugabe’s ‘victory’ in 2008, and my riff. My anger was there below the surface, pushing me forward to find words to express it. The fact that Mugabe and Zimbabwe almost rhyme didn’t hurt, then the rest almost wrote itself – “dirty regime and killing machine, torture opposition, starve the population, at the end of a rifle, vote for me.” It is almost a rant; certainly not an academic assessment of the political situation.

In total, the song took about a day to write. I compose longhand, with the guitar on my lap. The song was then recorded at my friend Terry Jones’ home studio. The room is small, essentially a soundproof box, and I played in the dark to get that claustrophobic feel. The percussion was later added by Danny Mallon in New York (Facebook). I had met him several years earlier when he toured with the Woody Mann Trio. His percussion on this track is something I particularly like, it reminds me of the sounds of Zimbabwe – snakes, heat and the intense rhythms of African drums.

As an expression of anger and frustration at injustice, I’d describe this song as a success – Billy Bragg endorsed it and Amnesty International showed interest. When I then uploaded the track to Youtube, I received an email from the Zimbabwean High Commission asking me to remove it and stop playing the song. I’m pleased to say I didn’t stop playing it and you can still watch it on Youtube, here.

To hear a section of ‘Zimbabwe’ on the album ‘Have a Taste of This!’, click below:

 

‘Have a Taste of This!’ can be bought directly from me, here, or downloaded via iTunes and Amazon.

Tags: , , , , , ,

LIVE DATES

RECENT GIGS