With the departure of George Lee from London there was no more Anansi and much of the flavour of music had dried up for me (apart from my new adventures with Kabballa - a different style, but nowhere nearly as challenging). So I seized the opportunity to take a trip to Southern Africa to visit George in his mobile studio in Swaziland, do some recording, and then go on tour with his new group, firstly in Mozambique, and then in Botswana to celebrate the first ten years of their independence.
I took a flight from London via Paris to Maputo, accompanied by Danny (Ade)Koya, a singer whom George had invited along for the tour. My arrival at Maputo airport was a shock - I had last been there in the mid seventies in the height of its colonial glory (for the privileged few, of course) and was amazed to see how things had deteriorated. This was nothing compared to the state of the roads and buildings, with no sign of any maintenance having been done for decades. I was relieved to continue the last leg of the journey to Matasapa airport (near Manzini, Swaziland) in a small twin-engine aircraft in the hope of more comfort at George's place.
I soon got down to some serious rehearsing with the new members of the band while George and Benny King (engineer) continued with the tracks he was laying in his mobile studio. It was at this time that I met the young (teenaged!) Jimmy Dludlu who was fiercely determined to learn as much as he could. His guitar playing already showed the promise of what was to come. Then the time came for us all to head for Maputo and start playing the various concerts that were scheduled.
The first concert appearance was well received despite the difficulties faced by the promoters in acquiring sufficient instruments and amplification for the venue which had been a cinema in its previous life. We then went on to play a few nights at the famous MiniGolf restaurant situated at Costa del Sol. It was a fascinating experience to watch the monkeys swinging through the boughs above our heads as we churned out our high energy afro-jazz to the wealthy clubbers who were oblivious of the poverty all around them.
Then the bad news broke: Samora Machel, the Mozambican president, was been killed when his aircraft crashed in South Africa - off course, but apparently guided there by some malfunction, or, as many still believe, by the relocation of a radio navigation beacon by the South African secret services. We were immediately confined to our hotel rooms along with Roots Anabo (reggae band from Berlin) and others. During this time I remember spending several hours sharing with Jimmy Dludlu some of the knowledge that I had gained from my experiences with Johnny Fourie on how to use the most appropriate finger positions in playing the various scales and modes between the limits of the instrument's register, in all the keys.
We were required to leave town in order to free up hotel space for those who would be attending the state funeral, and as we taxied out from Maputo airport three Zambian airforce aircraft arrived with the bodies of those unfortunate to have died in the crash. It was a sobering time, and these experiences inspired my composition entitled Samora which I recorded soon after getting back to London at the end of 1986.
We got back to Manzini, and soon thereafter set out for Gaborone for the independence celebration tour which took us also to the Jwaneng mine and Francistown - at two extreme ends of the country. We appeared alongside Zimbabwean Thomas Mapfumo's band, a folk band from Moscow, and various local acts. It was not musically rewarding for me since the instrument that had been provided (a battered Rhodes piano) hardly functioned, and the amplification was in any event deficient. This probably explains why my recollections of this trip focus more on the arid countryside and the night skies. I was however inspired to write my song Francistown which recalls the lively spirit of this old town as I experienced it whilst falling asleep in my hot and sultry bedroom on a summers night.