The man who hides behind a guitar: Hudson Simbarashe reflects on five decades of jazz

28 May, 2023 - 00:05 0 Views
The man who hides behind a guitar: Hudson Simbarashe reflects on five decades of jazz Hudson Simbarashe

The Sunday News

Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter 

HUDSON Simbarashe is a quiet, soft-spoken man. 

When in conversation, he rarely seems to raise his voice and it seems unbelievable that there could be anything that could force him to raise decibel levels. 

Simbarashe has one of those “quiet faces” that seems to have been designed to disarm any person that might approach him with an argument in mind. He looks like the archetypical strong, silent type of man, one that speaks only when spoken to, guarding his words jealously and ensuring that no inappropriate sentence ever escapes his lips.

It is perhaps the reason that those that are familiar with his character are startled when they finally see him with a guitar. On stage, Simbarashe is a different animal and watching him live feels like watching a man trying to interpret divine messages from ancient spirits using a guitar. It’s an enchanting, bewitching experience and in his storied music career, Simbarashe has left many picking their jaws off the floor. 

The unassuming maestro, who recently held a show in Bulawayo to celebrate his five decades in the music industry, told Sunday Life in an interview that he always hides behind the guitar, an instrument that allows him to say out aloud some truths that he would usually leave unspoken. 

“I always hide behind the guitar. On stage, the guitar does the talking for me. It’s my medium and I speak through it. I find it much easier to speak through the guitar and that’s why my performances are so unpredictable because I don’t know what I am going to say next,” he said.

Simbarashe is a member of that dying tribe of musicians that cherish the stage more than the studio. On stage, to paint the truest picture of himself, although this portrait, he said, changes every time he picks up the guitar. 

“The stage is like the office that I work from and how I work depends on the people that are there. The mood of the crowd and the energy determines how I will perform on that particular day. I cannot present two shows that are identical. I go into my shell and I pick whatever comes, whether it’s an emotion or whatever, and I present it to the audience. However, I always present it differently,” he said. 

Simbarashe’s relationship with the guitar has evolved over his 50-odd years in the music industry. Indeed, Simbarashe speaks of the guitar like it is some sort of long-term romantic interest, one has taken time to learn and cherish over time. He treats the guitar well and in return, it allows him to speak through it. It is his spokesperson when he finds himself lost for words. 

“When I was younger it was a bit difficult to express myself through the guitar because I did not know the instrument as well as I do now. It has grown to be a part of me. I think I now know the instrument better. With age, you learn a lot of things and when I pick up the instrument every day, I play something new that I have never heard or played before, so it’s a never-ending experience,” he said.   

Given his love for the guitar, Simbarashe is disheartened by how young people’s enthusiasm for the instrument seemed to have waned over the years. 

“It was sad for the guys that wanted to play the piano when we were growing because there were no pianos in homes. There’s no one that I know that had a personal piano at home. So, it was easier to learn guitar because it was a common instrument. Perhaps that’s why we had a lot more guitarists than pianists. These days, I naturally get disappointed when I see young people not interested in the learning the guitar. Worldwide, the number of guitarists in countries like the US is increasing. With us it’s the opposite. We are digitalising and imitating the guitar using the computer,” he said.

Hudson Simbarashe

Simbarashe recalls the days when he used to spend his days in city council clubs dotted around the city, waiting for his chance to get his fingers on a guitar. That passion and hunger is something that he believes is missing in today’s crop of musicians.  

“The city council clubs that are scattered in the western suburbs were our school. We had musical teachers planted there and all the instruments, trumpet, saxophone, guitar, were all there. In some cases, we even had a grand piano. You had to love music because there was no patience from the guys that were instructors. If you were slow or hard to teach, you would be pushed to the back of the queue. If you heard the instructor play a song, you would cram it, go home, find a scrap guitar somewhere and try to reenact it. That was the most difficult part because no one would tell you which chords to play. It was magic,” he said.

While technology has made things easier for today’s generation of guitarists, Simbarashe believes that perfection and passion have been sacrificed on the altar of convenience. 

“There’s difference between how we learnt music and how we learnt to play. With us, you had to learn the instrument on your own. There was no internet to help and you had to have a good ear and listen to the chords properly so that you play them accurately. Now everything is much easier. Everything is digital including the studios and you can edit tracks. There was no copy-and-paste back in our day. If you made a mistake you had to stop and start afresh, even if there were 30 seconds of the song left. 

“It encouraged perfection but now there are alternatives. For example, you don’t even need to know how to play the saxophone because you can get that sound from the computer. For me, that’s sad because if you imitate a sound, you will not bring it out as it exactly is. You lose out on the artistry. When you know the instrument and you play it very well, there are some intimate parts that you get to know about it. These are things that you get to lose if you get an imitation of that sound from the computer or whatever they use nowadays,” he said.

After five decades in the music industry, Simbarashe believes he still has more to say through his beloved guitar. He is set to release three albums, including one recorded with the legendary Keith Farquharson. While two albums are done, another one, the Hudson Simbarashe Road Trip, which will see the musician tap into the sounds of Matabeleland for a 10-track effort, is in the pipeline. 

“The journey is never-ending. The greatest thing for me to do now is to remain visible and relevant. I want my music to influence part of this generation so that they always remember that they have a past. You have to have a foundation and that foundation is rooted in jazz, marabi and blues, which is the music that we grew up listening to. 

“I was influenced a lot by blues but unfortunately a lot of young people don’t understand the structure of simple blues. So, my music is a little bit of blues, mixed with a bit of jazz and African tradition. We take that bit of African music that we have within us and then we fuse it with blues and jazz,” he said.      

Mgcini Nyoni, one of the brains behind the Hudson Simbarashe Experience, said a number of shows were in the pipeline to familarise more Zimbabweans with one of jazz music’s unsung heroes. 

“As much as people acknowledged that he is a legend, how many people have actually seen Hudson play? So, the idea now is to get Hudson on the road. For June, there’s a show planned for Indaba Book Café, then there is a show planned for Alliance Francaise then afterwards we will cross the border. Hudson is also going to release three albums, two of which are already done,” he said.

Share This:


We value your opinion! Take a moment to complete our survey

This will close in 20 seconds