Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since we moved to Malawi. This time last year we had no idea what we were doing, didn’t know where anything was and thought what the hell have we done, but what a difference a year makes. I say this at the start of every blog, but as each month goes past I feel more and more settled here. The way of life, the culture and the shape of day, the £3 bottle of gin, it really grows on you - although I think there will always be a part of me that misses home.
So I flew back to UK mid June, which was when the heat wave hit, and I swear I got off the plane in London and it was hotter there than in Africa! Flight went great, took off from Blantyre, stopped over in Ethiopia and then straight onto London. It was great to be back in England: cash points that work, Costa, wifi, shops, electricity… the list is endless. I staggered off the plane and fell straight into Boots for a meal deal and - oh my god - I’ve missed them so much. To get a whole, non crushed bag of Walkers crisps and a bottle of Ribena was worth travelling 20 hours back for alone.
Had a great time over the summer catching up with friends and family, it was so lovely to see everyone, and felt like we’d never been away, which is such a nice feeling to have, I’ve missed everyone so much. (Although, sometimes I’d say to Andy as we were driving on the M6 or walking around Morrisons, ‘have we really just spent a year in Africa, feels like it never happened!?’) We slipped back into home life very easily and to be honest, it was lovely.
A weekend away with my awesome cousin, Louise, complete with fluffy dressing gowns and lots of wine, huge catch ups and meals with friends, family bbqs, nights in and quality time spent with my mom, dad and brother, a surprise visit from my friend, Jess and Theresa, who drove all the way from London to the Lake District (let’s not talk about how long that drive took!), meeting Andy’s cousin’s beautiful baby girl, Martha, and celebrating my lovely Grandma’s 80th birthday. The list is endless! We also headed back to the field where we had our wedding reception and popper a bottle to celebrate our 2nd anniversary! (To which a local walked passed and said ‘ I remember you drinking here this time last year!’)
We just had the best time, (just writing about it makes me feel teary!) and certainly made the most of everything we haven’t be able to have over the past year; I lost out of how many boxes of Crunchy Nut we went through, and I must have doubled Costa’s income. It was great to be able to grab a Costa in town and drop in to an art gallery in Keswick where one of my closest friends, Chris works. Before I moved this used to be just about an everyday occurrence (I just spelt occurrence wrong, right clicked it to correct and it gave me ‘endurance’ as the suggestion, haha! I know this will make Chris laugh!) and we’d sit and chat for ages; it’s something I’ve really missed being able to do. Side bar - Chris is an awesome artist, you can check out his Miniature Zoo collection on Instagram @cpnelson.
It was also amazing to be able to drink the tap water and to have constant reliable power. Now I’m very aware that I sound like the typical ‘just come back from Africa so know everything about everything’ gap year kind of person (and I REALLY don’t want to sound like that!) but after not just travelling, but living with very little power and undrinkable water for the past year has made me realise how amazing England is. Before we moved I completely took if for granted, and why wouldn’t I? I didn’t know any different; power cuts were a thing that happened once every year for about 40 minutes and you’d get all excited, cuddle up on the sofa, make sandwiches, and think you lived in caveman times. And before you knew it the power would be back on and you’d just carry on. But it’s when the power doesn’t come back on and the fridge defrosts, you can’t use the oven, your water won’t heat, you can’t charge anything up, and it’s 38 degrees and you can’t even use the fan. And like I say, it sounds OK for about an hour, but try 10 hours later, it’s not so novel any more. And then the water goes and you can’t use the toilet, wash up, brush your teeth, wash clothes or even shower. Sounds like a nightmare, and some days it really does feel hard, but in a weird way I’m so glad I’ve experienced it; never again will I take power or water for granted!
I played some awesome gigs over the summer! Started off with playing two days at Noel Fitzpatrick’s Dog Fest, and then onto The Bedford Live, London. Had a great time playing around the country and locally too. Thanks to everyone who came out to watch. I was so pleased to be invited to record another session for BBC Introducing; an interview and live set which was broadcasted over the summer, and also managed to squeeze in a live performance on Lakeland Radio too! It was such a great feeling to be back performing in England. Moving was a big decision to make for my work, as I knew the shape of my business would change. But I always believe a situation is what you make of it, so even though over here in Malawi there aren’t as many gig opportunities, I am able to write brand new material inspired by such an amazing culture, something I just can’t get at home. So it was a great feeling to be able to merge these two parts together and perform brand new songs at festivals and venues at home and really feel like I’d made the right decision.
But like anything, the time over the summer just went nowhere and before we knew it we were racing down Heathrow’s runway back to Africa (after lugging six huge cases around London underground… oh my days!). Quick stop over in Ethiopia, I was back and four days later ready to hit the stage and play with Malawi’s own Alleluya Band!
Let me back track: around May time I was put in touch a group called The Alleluya Band from a place called Balaka, about two hours’ drive from us. And the more I learnt about the band’s story, the more I just had to write and share it! So 30 years ago, a Catholic Priest, Father Mario, moved to Malawi from Italy and set up a small school and hospital in Balaka, helping out some many of the local Malawians, calling the charity ‘Andiamo’. Balaka is in the middle of nowhere, no shops or proper healthcare and is a very high risk area of malaria, so the charity is really important. The Alleluya Band was formed by Father Mario with locals as a bit of fun and to help raise some money for Andiamo, but over the years Alleluya has become a really big deal in Malawi, and are now known around the world! Andiamo has grown and developed now schooling 350 students and has maternity and infants ward in the hospital. So I met with one of the charity organizers and were invited to Andiamo on 20th May for a huge wedding celebration where Alleluya would be performing. I ended up performing with them too to around 1000 Malawians; we had an awesome time!
So when the band got in touch with me and explained they were holding a concert in the city I live to raise money for a operating theatre for the hospital, I jumped at the opportunity to support and perform with them again! So Saturday 26th August came round and we performed an awesome afternoon concert at at lovely place called La Caverna, a Restaurant and bar with an awesome stage set in the garden. We played around 5 hours between us and raised just under £1000 for the hospital. And we had such a great time, with an audience of around 300, dancing, a bbq and a huge jam with the band! The perfect thing to have the first week back in Malawi. It was great to see our friends there too and to catch up with everyone we missed from here over the time away. I can’t wait to play again and record with The Alleluya Band soon!
Now it’s October and we’re well and truly back in the swing of Malawian life! Markets, sunshine, crazy driving and lots and lots of monkeys! Summer is just starting here now so the heat is rapidly building; I’m currently writing this in Mug & Bean, South Africa’s version of Costa, with iced coffee and air conditioning, heaven!
Album recording has well and truly started, arrangements coming together and meeting with local musicians to collaborate. I’m so excited for you to hear what I’ve been working on, it’s like nothing I’ve ever done before, and I’m loving it.
Next event on here is an amazing festival called Tumaini (meaning ‘hope’ in Swahili) Festival, held in Dzaleka Refugee Camp on Saturday 4th November. The festival brings together thousands of people for one day to promote peaceful coexistence and intercultural harmony. I feel so honoured to have been asked to perform and it’s going to really eye opening to visit a refugee camp; I’m definitely going to be doing a blog post on it, so keep a look out!
The festival currently has a Kickstarter page, so if you’d like to support, find out more and follow the event take a look here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/28211758/tumaini-festival-2017-at-dzaleka-refugee-camp
Man, this has been a long blog… one more thing and then I promise I’ll go! Just quickly, because there’s no way I can write this post and not mention it! One of my most favourite artists, Newton Faulkner, released a brand new album ‘Hit The Ground Running’ last month and IT. IS. AMAZING. I’ve had it on repeat for the last 3 weeks and I’m completely in love with it.
I’ve listened to Newton Faulkner for about 10 years and have been a huge fan since his first album, ‘Hand Built By Robots’. It came out while I was in year 10, GCSE time, so holds a lot of memories being played at first time parties and while sneaking beers by the lake side. (Fun fact- I actually met Newton Fa
ulkner in Euston Station, London about 5 years ago. I’d just arrived to gig, and as I was waiting to meet my Dad, I noticed this tall, ginger dreadlocked guy about 6 feet away from me. No way. It can’t be. No once else in the station seemed to notice so I thought maybe it wasn’t him. There was only one way to know for sure… so I slowly side stepped over, and tried to get a quick glance at his his left hand - long finger nails equals guitar player, equals Newton Faulkner. (Oh god, I sound like such a creep... it makes me laugh just remembering this story!) But sure enough my stalking technique worked and 10 minutes later I had a photo, signature and a nice chat with one of my most favourite musicians. It really meant a lot to me and I was so glad I went for it and asked him!) ANYWAY…
Yes, so his new album ‘Hit The Ground Running’ is just brilliant, it’s the perfect balance of song writing and production. It’s such an open, minimalist sound, with amazing melodies and beautiful soulful tracks. I read an interview saying this is the first album where he truly feels he’s found his style. I love how open he is; after 10 years of writing, only now is he confessing contentment, inspiring me that not everything has to be perfect and things develop over time, something I need to remember in my writing.
So yes, I’m completely in love with it and highly recommend grabbing a copy, I promise you won’t be disappointed. And I’m so happy that throughout my life Newton Faulkner’s music holds so many memories for me, and in another 10 years time, memories of Africa will be framed by this new album.
Happy October everyone, looking forward to writing again soon,