in this section:
I've been singing and playing music all my life - at home, in school and church and with friends - then later on in folk clubs and pubs, and then bands - and all along, with friends. When I lived in Zimbabwe and then Malawi in the 1980s, singing was an important means of communication, before I was able to speak the conversational Shona/Chichewa I eventually learned. I came home with over a hundred gorgeous songs and choruses buzzing in my ears, many of which I've been teaching and singing in Scotland and elsewhere ever since.
In Africa I started writing, beginning with a monthly column in the New Internationalist, "Letters from Mawere", and moving on to books and essays. I carried on writing for ten years, till in 1998 cultural commentary gave way to different kinds of exploration - dreamwork, poetry and other things. (Since 2006, I have gradually returned to writing again, and my Rough Guides to the Heartland will soon be launched in website format - what I am calling a blook - not a blog, not a book.)
As I said, music has accompanied me through life - in fact, during my ten years in Fife from 1990-2000, I made my living by singing, playing and facilitating music groups. But it wasn't till I was offered the job of directing the Voice House community choir in Edinburgh, starting in January 2001, that I turned to music wholeheartedly, and let it become my main creative outlet.
Over the past ten years, I've found myself both arranging and composing for the groups I sing with. I have slowly developed different groups for different kinds (and lengths) of musical pieces. Since 2003, I have been running Saturday "spirituals" workshops (or "Songs of the Earth and Heart"), teaching my own chants and songs, many of which we have recorded.
I have been writing songs since I was 14 or 15, but in spite of years of playing in bands and leading sing-songs and musical ensembles, I never felt able to perform my own songs in public till December 2004! One or two concerts got that urge out of my system, and over the past couple of years, with massive help from a brilliant (and saintly) singing friend, and lovely contributions from some excellent musicians, I've been working on my first album.
Looking further back, I studied German in the 1970s, eventually writing a PhD on German Naturalist and Expressionist drama, under the inspiring and friendly guidance of Professor Edward McInnes. (During this time, I sang in several choirs, most notably and enjoyably the Edinburgh University Renaissance Singers.) Then I wandered off to the USA, where I travelled about, fell in love, and spent a year living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with frequent visits to New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina felt very close to home, and I was grateful to have the chance to visit New Orleans again in 2009, and be shown around the recovering city by my good friends Peggy and Julia.
Meanwhile, back in the early 80s, I'd always wanted to go to Africa, so that was what I did next for 6 years, from early 1984 till the month the Berlin Wall came down - November 1989. (Did I mention that I spent my year abroad as an undergraduate in West Berlin?) One way and another, I managed to miss nearly all of Mrs Thatcher's long reign.
My first return visit to Zimbabwe (and first ever visit to South Africa) in spring 2011 - stands out as a highlight. It reminded me just how much I owe to Africa - both musically, and in wider human terms. The whole way I work with groups is based on the attitudes and values which living in Africa taught me. It seems to me that, in contrast with the way we Westerners usually talk and think, in relation to Africa we are always net receivers. We have more to learn and receive from Africa than to give, or teach.
contact Yvonne: 0131 653 2146
site updated 17th April 2013