Charlie Simpson on his Singing in the Jungle Experience

  September 28, 2015

Charlie recently spoke to BT-TV, about the challenges of writing a song with a tribe who have never seen a guitar and why it was almost a "train wreck".

“When I found out about the idea for the show, it sounded really interesting. I came in and met the producers and they just basically gave me this book and said ‘Is there any tribe in the world that you’d be interested in going to learn about and live with?’. And it was a pretty extensive list – I could have literally gone anywhere. But I wanted to go to Africa because my wife grew up in Kenya
“When I got to Namibia, the San tribe did this initiation ceremony which was quite intimidating. You’ve got the entire tribe all standing up doing this dancing and the chief healer came over and put this stuff on my head and started blowing away any spirits and I was like ‘This is mental!’
Charlie Simpson Singing in the Rainforest 2
“And then they played me their song and I played them mine – a track called Emily off my last solo record. And that was the most nerve-racking point because I was like ‘This is the point of no return’. And the reaction was amazing. Some of them had tears in their eyes – it was really, really special. And they sort of welcomed me in and I felt very comfortable with them from that point on.
“They’d never seen an electric guitar before and they had never heard music through speakers or even seen a piano. The music that they’ve been accustomed to is all acoustic and so the idea of electric music is just a completely crazy thought.
“It was amazing to watch their reaction but it was so difficult to try and bring them in and bring them out in the song. And I was at the point where I just thought ‘This is just not going to happen. It’s not going to work. This whole idea is going to be a complete train wreck’. 
“It was the day before the performance and I kept trying to look at them to say ‘1, 2, 3 – come in now’. And they looked at me blanked-faced. And I can’t remember if you see this in the show or not, but basically the way we got round it was we got these signs and drew symbols. I would draw a big clap and then I just got someone off-camera to hold it up, so they literally reacted to what they saw.
“We got it to the point where it’s just about in time with the music. But it was really difficult – and we just got it back at the end. If we hadn’t thought of that, I don’t think it would have happened. Not without another two weeks of practice.
Charlie Simpson Singing in the Rainforest 1
“Luckily, they all had really good voices. Because another worry I had was that ‘Maybe they can’t sing? And if I start playing guitar they’ll have to pitch to it suddenly’. Without any piano, guitar or anything rooting the notes, they’re free to wander between keys. But they grasped it, so that was lucky. I think that to me that’s the brilliance of music. It’s its own language, and because they can sing they didn’t need to hear that particular instrument. They just hear the note and that’s just the way the brain works. That was beautiful to watch, actually.
“The song is going to be available for people to buy straight after the show goes out and all the money raised from people buying the song will go straight back to the San people. I’m looking forward to people hearing it.
“The whole experience was eye-opening and thoroughly enjoyable. It was something that I’m very pleased I did, and is something that I’ll always remember. It’s a really treasured memory for me.”

Charlie Simpson appears in Singing in the Rainforest at 9pm, tonight on Watch.