August 7th, 2010
The games have begun. We did our first recording session on Friday, August 6th. I would have burst out the champagne (they actually have champagne in MalawiJ) in celebration but I thought it much more fitting to do that once the album is completed…especially considering the logistical issues of doing a full-scale album here in Lilongwe, Malawi. This isn’t exactly Nashville.
Kaitlin our amazing piano player and I got there early so she could practice. We ran over all of her parts and I tried my hand at “being producer,” something which I am still getting the hang of. As soon as we begin rehearsing, the difficulty of getting a clean recording hit me: There was a sprinkler ts-tsing next door, excited dogs who decided to have choir practice right after we arrived, birds migrating outside, and the roommate moving out of his room. You can plan ahead, but sometimes planning is just to make you feel better. I managed to find someone to walk the dogs, but the birds were set on being on the album.
8:45am Enter the Engineer
Our sound engineer arrives with all of his gear and we begin the task of jerryrigging a studio out of our dear friend’s piano room. Finding a piano is virtually impossible in Lilongwe. Transporting a piano is…impossible. So when we found this beautiful German Sandner piano, since we couldn’t bring the piano to the studio we brought the studio to the piano. We took off the front panels to expose the hammers and set up two mics in front on either side of Kaitlin.
9am Enter My Producing Accomplice, Peter Mawanga
Peter arrives with Faith, one of the singers on the album and an amazing guitarist. He rehearsed the pieces with Kaitlin and Faith was beside himself, eating up every riff with a big smile on his face. Once we locked it in, Faith and Peter went outside to work on songs.
9:45 Test Run
We do an initial recording and the piano pedal is squeaking like crazy. We have to regroup and try a new mic’ing arrangement. Our engineer replaces the microphones behind the piano so now there’s a soundboard blocking that squeaky pedal.
10am Try Again
Squeakiness? Gone! We have found our sound and its time to do a real take. Peter listens to the recording with our new mic positions and is game. Kaitlin’s fingers are dancing in her pockets. Our engineer is ready. Take one.
10:10am Take One
Sitting on the other side of the door in the hallway I listen with my eyes closed as I hear the first notes of our album being recorded. It was a surreal moment. The faces of people telling us their stories, those drives through Malawi and rolling up to Peter’s studio to rehearse just as the sun was setting…this is the imagery flashing through my mind as I listen to Kaitlin’s piano.
10:20am Take two, three, four, five….
We begin another take which is to be the second of eight. In between takes I go outside to check on Peter and Faith. They are jamming away and Faith is coming up with all of these tasty licks to Peter’s songs. This was the first time I had ever heard of Faith and a new wave of excitement washed over me, having just been washed over by the excitement of Kaitlin’s piano tracks which are already sounding really good.
Just before lunch we have all the tracks we need including the “master” track, where Kaitlin absolutely nails the timing. This is important since the rest of the band will have to match her timing. Unfortunately the birds decided to cash in on her ending and there is a faint tweet right as we’re fading out. I am hoping our fearless engineer can mix some of that out. I leave happy and amazed at how easy everything seems to be coming together. A forgotten pair of headphones here, some squawking birds there…all in all things are going smoothly and we haven’t hit any major roadblock yet. I can’t wait to hear the whole track with the other instruments.