Roby Mathew

Every couple of days, one comes across a hidden treasure. I believe it was late last year, when I first heard that Roby composed and performed his own music. After downloading his album, I must say that I have yet to find a more compelling theme of what life is.

I rise up and feel the Sun wash me over,
A southern Son of a nation, or what’s left over.
Grasslands as far as the eye can see,
A wind that says you’re alive and free.

His lyrics ranging from African Son to the Long Walk to Freedom illustrate this theme of freedom. I am sure his music will leave you with a sense of having found a new treasure.

You’ve studied in three different continents and your music is captivating audiences across the world. Would you care to elaborate on your career and how people or countries have impacted your style of music?

It’s definitely a blessing to have lived in the places that I have and to have come into contact with some pretty amazing music and musicians. I still remember when I was a child in Zambia, watching Paul Simon’s Graceland tour – seeing him up on stage with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, and loving that sound. I taped that concert and watched it so many times it drove my mom crazy.

I never started playing in bands till I went to boarding school in India, and even then it was more out of luck. A friend and I auditioned for lead singer of our class rock band…and he got the job. Fortunately for me, he was a keyboardist as well, and the band needed one pretty badly, so he had to switch to keyboards, and I had grabbed the microphone before anybody knew what happened.

Coming to the U.S. was great because it was here where I really started playing the guitar, as opposed to just banging out power chords. College was amazing from that perspective – hanging outside the dorms where random people would just show up with guitars and we would jam for hours. Funnily enough, when I joined my college band, I tried to get in as a rhythm guitarist, but after they heard me they kinda looked and me and went “Um, well…can you sing?”

People term your music as spiritual yet an eclectic blend of pop and rock. What is your style of music and how do you manage to pen such powerful lyrics?

I find it hard to classify my music into one particular genre. I think certain songs I write fall clearly into some category like a pop, rock, world music, etc. But as a whole, it’s hard to place the entire album into one category. Every song I write is about something I’m very passionate about, and the style of the song always seems to evolve from what I’m feeling. For example, I wrote ‘Crazy’ about an unattainable love, and when I started playing around with guitar riffs, this ballad tune just seemed to come out.

For ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ – it’s a piece about an African icon – but when I composed this piece, orchestra, strings and piano sounds were what came pouring out of me.

As far as lyrics go – as long as you write about something you are truly passionate about – and you treat every time you sing those words as the first time you’re singing it – you can never go wrong.

I recall attending a concert at Hebron where you performed. Was boarding school the first place you started performing and building a fan club?

Boarding school was definitely the place where this journey began, the face of my band changed so many times during my time there – from a Guns ‘N Roses cover band, to a Christian worship band. I was never comfortable being the lead singer though, people always used to come to me and say something along the lines of “Kid, you got a great voice, but stop hiding behind the microphone and SING!” But I guess I gradually got the hang of it, and nowadays I’m pretty comfortable with a guitar, microphone and room full of strangers.

Why is your website called the Wanderer’s Realm and the album Wanderer’s Raag? (Any puns on a gypsy educational background?)

I used the term Wanderer when I decided on the album title because that was a description I felt suited me. I’ve lived/studied in a few places and I’ve loved them all – yet I’ve never been able to call any one of them home.

I liked the concept of a Raag (or Raga) when I first came across it reading about Indian classical music. It is the Indian version of the Western musical scale; it is not static and allows for composition and improvisation. I felt this was a good description of my music – there is a framework that all my music is based on; my faith – and this does not restrict it but rather is the platform from which I improvise and create different and varied musical pieces.

Have there been highlights (regrets or achievements) in 2002 that have helped shape the future direction of more albums and songs?

Well, right now I have decided to focus more on performing live, as I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the studio, but neglected actually going out and playing some live gigs. I haven’t thought a whole lot about future songs except to probably have more songs with an upbeat African rhythm, and probably explore more into blues-rock.

In the song, Long Walk to Freedom, the lyrics portray Nelson Mandela’s struggle for freedom. Are there other reasons why you wrote the song?

Growing up in Zambia – the influence of Nelson Mandela, even though he was still on Robben Island at the time, was huge. Movies were being made about his life, songs were being sung all across the world demanding his freedom. I can still remember watching live as he was freed, and also his visit to Zambia shortly after his release. I had heard the theme that I use in this piece when I was a child, and I found it so inspiring I felt it would be apt to attach it to a tribute to ‘Madiba’.

How do you balance work life and still being able to compose, sing and record your own music. Is there a time management secret you could share?

I have no concept of time-management whatsoever, which is probably exemplified by the fact that I’m writing this on company time. However, it is hard to strike a balance, and sometimes you have to sacrifice time that you would rather spend doing something else in order to finish up a song or to practice scales, etc. I think the key to it is to enjoy what you do, because then it doesn’t really feel like you’re sacrificing anything.

Word on the street is that you are quite a good football player. Do you devote your free time or talent to any other people, projects or groups?

Ha, I’m not that good. I spend my summers playing both in a cricket league and a soccer league. Both of which are good fun. Soccer was always my first love growing up, and I was convinced that one day I’d be able to play professionally. Unfortunately, ‘twas not to be…
Besides that I play the guitar for my local church and youth group – which is great, despite all the grief I get if I mess up just one note…

What are your most treasured memories of Zambia? If you could do one more thing in the country what would you choose to do?

I think the people are my most treasured memory. That’s what everybody usually had to say about Zambia, “The people are so nice…” And this was in spite of all the troubles they faced – most of which we can’t even begin to imagine.

I think if I and when I go back I’d like to travel around and see more of the country and its people. The wildlife is also something I miss, especially in the urban jungles most of us inhabit now. I’d love to go back and take hundreds of pictures, and then put it in a book, entitled ‘Graceland’

Album Listings

1) African Son
2) Crazy
3) Poets and Lies
4) The Distance Between
5) Super Power
6) Blue Bird
7) Falling
8) The Eclipse
9) Freedom
10) TeenTal
11) Drifting Away
12) Ode to the NRA
13) My Own Country
14) Long Walk to Freedom

Links

Official Website

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  1. Uncovered by Roby Mathew - By The Zambian For Zambia - February 7, 2012

    […] ‘Uncovered’ is officially out and available. You may remember Roby from our earlier interview when he first came out with his debut album titled Wanderer’s Raag. The Uncovered album […]