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Matshidiso and the pursuit of love, justice and music

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Matshidiso, a singer-songwriter based in London.

Influenced by the folk-jazz of Nina Simone and the neo-soul stylings of Robert Glasper amongst others, Matshidiso’s music has a freewheeling, naturalistic feel with storytelling at its core. It’s beautiful, theatrical, and all held together by Matshidiso’s stunning voice. It has been a pleasure to connect with her over the past year, and we’ve loved getting acquainted with her work – and we reckon you will too.

For those who haven’t come across you yet, can you introduce yourself?

Hi there! My name is Matshidiso (pronounced Mat-Sea-Dee-So – a South African name –  from the Setswana and Sotho tribes – meaning blessing or consolation). I’m half South African, half Jamaican and born and raised in London.

I’m a piano player, composer, arranger, producer, singer, teacher (and now a podcaster!) – but mostly I would call myself a songwriter. I love the way you can have an idea in your head, hear the instruments, visualise the story behind the song, add words to it and then watch it come to life with other musicians – it’s one of the most magical things for me about making music. I suppose it mirrors creation and what God did – He had an idea and spoke it in to being – we get to do mini versions of that through our own creativity.

I started playing the piano at 7, but actually (to cut a very long story short) trained as a human rights lawyer/barrister before switching to a full time career in music. I started writing songs during my undergrad Law degree, writing songs in the safety of my living room – so many I’ve lost count. Then in 2012 I chose music full time – it was one of those moments when you realise you only have one life so you might as well really live it.

I’m still passionate about social justice (I do stuff in prisons, internationally, work around racial justice) and I reconcile the 2 sides of me this way – I use creativity to promote social justice.

Is there a song that particularly sums up your work?

I often say about my music that I write about 2 things – love and justice, which really is about 1 thing – love.  I wrote a song called Fragile which is about love and whilst it doesn’t ‘sum up my work’ musically because we’re always evolving, it is the essence of what I’m passionate about in terms of the words:

‘Love in our hands is broken, love in our hands is worn, blurred the lines of it and twisted its form – fragile. I have stolen and I’ve been stolen from, left his heart for the birds, exposed to the sun, he was fragile. I have known love where I could barely breathe to look into his eyes as he looked inside of me, we were fragile’.

You’re working on a new album and we’re so pleased that, through our Patrons Scheme, we’ve been able to help that come closer to completion. Can you talk us through the album and how it’s progressing?

Sure – and thanks so much for helping to make it a reality!

This has been a real journey. It starts around 2017 when I put a new band together, and we would gig my songs and they would naturally evolve with the venue, the audience, the band set up (we’re a 7-piece: me on piano and lead vocals, then bass, drums, saxophone, guitar, 2 backing vocals). People would often ask for the recordings of these songs after our gigs and I didn’t have them!

Alongside this, I had written 3 songs that I considered a trilogy and I envisioned a series of short films, one for each song that comprising singular but interconnected narratives expressed through different dance styles (ballet, hip-hop, contemporary dance), and all shot in South Africa.  So in 2019, I headed to South Africa and started working with a team to bring these songs to life – we shot 1 out of 3 of the videos – a song called ‘Glean’. (See images and video from the process here).

Back to the album.  At the end of 2019, I started working with my drummer on arranging these songs we’d spent 2 years playing for the album. We would record the album and also properly record the trilogy of songs for my South African films. We had planned to start recording in April 2020 – well, as we all know the pandemic happened! We managed to record one track that was released in July 2020 on March 12th a week before lockdown in the UK – called ‘Quiet Love’.

We managed to get back into the studio for a week in August where we recorded the majority of the songs – all the instruments and guide tracks for the vocals. And here’s the thing with recording: 1 – it usually takes longer than you think and 2 – when you listen back to things you realise what needs work, re-recording etc. So since August, I’ve been going to the studio in the evenings to record vocals, re-work some tracks and do overdubs. We did that with the electric guitar – my original guitarist tore a tendon in his hand so was out of action – fortunately I had another guitarist who spent 5 hours one Wednesday over Zoom doing it!

Your Patrons Scheme has allowed me to pay that guitarist (who is amazing!), to mix and master Glean so that we can edit the South African film, and it’s also gone towards studio time to continue recording vocals.

The album is on its way – one of the things I’m very conscious about is creating an album that has an arc, a narrative that makes sense all the way through. That was thanks to a great conversation I had on my podcast, Holding up the Ladder, with Prince’s former sound engineer, Dr Susan Rogers. She was explaining how Prince would record his albums and it really was so instructional for me! If you’re a musician or a Prince-lover you should listen to it here.

So I’m currently finishing the tracks I already recorded and writing and arranging new materials – it’s like pushing out a very big baby! But I think it will be worth it and Sputnik’s Patron Scheme has been instrumental (excuse the pun!) to the journey, so thank you very much!

To stay connected with Matshidiso and her music in the lead up to the release, you can follow her on Instagram, subscribe on YouTube, or follow her on Spotify. As mentioned, you can also follow her podcast ‘Holding Up the Ladder’ here – or watch another interview with Matshidiso below.