Mathew Tembo Q&A
The New Hazlett’s very own Bill Rodgers sat down with upcoming CSA artist Mathew Tembo to talk about his work, Chachacha, premiering October 15 as part of our Community Supported Art Performance Series.
You are a Zambian born musician now living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and traveling the world playing music – looking back, what motivated you to come to Pittsburgh? And from now, what new developments do you see on the horizon?
I decided to move to Pittsburgh to be with my six year old daughter who lives in Pittsburgh with her mom. Lately, I have been thinking about going back to school for a PhD in Ethnomusicology at the University of Pittsburgh. I am also excited about the future of my band, Afro Routes, in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas. I am also looking forward to collaborating with more artists in Pittsburgh regardless of what style of music they are into.
How would you describe your sound and style of music that people will experience at the New Hazlett? Is there anything you would compare it to?
I am not sure if I can compare it with a style that people in Pittsburgh are already familiar with, but I have heard people calling it “Afro pop” here in the US. My music is very rhythmic, happy, easy to sing along to, and very danceable. It features the silimba and kalimba, both traditional musical instruments from Zambia, with a pop band including a horn section.
Your instruments are not only handmade by yourself; they are also made using natural elements such as gourds. What does this craftsmanship and preparation add to your relationship with the music that you play, compared to instruments bought from a store?
I feel very connected to my music and the musical instruments that I play. Making my own musical instruments gives me the freedom to tune the instruments the way I want them tuned, giving my music style a truly unique sound.
You perform in as many as six languages other than English – what are the advantages of singing in these languages and do you find there to be any challenges communicating with English-only audiences?
All the six languages I perform in are spoken in Zambia, where I am originally from, and some neighboring countries. The advantages are that I can express myself more strongly by singing in the languages I grew up speaking, and I am able to communicate to a wider audience in those places where these languages are spoken. I don’t find it to be a challenge communicating with an English-only audience because I make an effort to explain what I sing about when I am performing.
What kinds of people, places, and ideas are developed in your song narratives?
Politics and social commentaries have become the center message in my music. I try to be as inclusive as I can when I am developing my music ideas because I understand that I also play music for audiences that do not understand the languages I sing in.
Do you see positive change currently happening in Zambia?
Zambia is currently going through an economic struggle. There has been some gross mismanagement in the running of the country’s affairs, but it is a great feeling to see that more and more people are getting to know their rights and getting more education and, hopefully, this will see the country’s young democracy grow and better people’s lives.
What impression do you hope your audiences leave with after your performances? Does this change depending on where you are in the world?
Performing in places where people understand what I am talking about it is for sure different from performing before audiences that do not understand my language, but I hope that my audiences feel more connected to my culture, my struggles as an African, and our struggles as humanity after my performances.