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Daudi Matsiko Discusses Depression and How He Offers Hope Through His Music

Ahead of his gig at Manchester Gullivers, we spoke to Daudio Matsiko about his fragile, heartbreaking music.

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Daudi Matsiko
Daudi Matsiko, Press Photo

Driving home from town a few Saturdays ago, I listened to Gilles Peterson on 6 Music. He was interviewing Daudi Matsiko, an artist I’d not encountered before.

The music he was playing was unlike anything I’d heard in a long time, the most fragile vocals delivering heartbreaking lyrics over the sparsest of instrumentation. His song “I am Grateful for My Friends” really struck a nerve with me, and I sat in the car outside my house and felt like this music had touched me in the same way as on my first listen to The Smiths forty years ago.

Daudi’s album King of Misery is available now on Really Good Records. On the sleeve, Daudi urges us to contact the Samaritans if “You’re experiencing depression, or in a similarly dark place I was when these songs were written.” They can be called on 116 123 or contacted online at www.samaritans.org.

This isn’t simply miserabilism; this is music from the heart. In the interview, Daudi discussed how his debut full-length album, The King of Misery, is a record of a long period of depression that he has suffered. I immediately went into the house, brewed up and listened to the album. I decided I needed to speak to Daudi and made a request straight away to interview him. It is rare that music speaks to me so directly.

Having suffered from depression myself on varying scales over the years, I found it refreshing to hear another man speaking through music so candidly and with a fragility that does not feel forced. Often, his lyrics are almost unbearable. Songs like “Guilt” and “Falling”, I felt that I could have written myself (had I the talent), being so close to my own experiences and thoughts.

Daudi hails from Nottingham and has produced a catalogue of songs that mostly deal with depression, but he has also worked on more upbeat collaborations with the likes of Lauryn Hill.

It must be said that on meeting Daudi for the first time, what immediately struck me was his cheerful nature and laughter. This does not belie the nature of his work in any way, as anyone who understands depression will recognise, the illness is not necessarily indicated by a sad face.

I caught him at a small venue that fitted the mood entirely, Gullivers in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, a room above a pub. Daudi was running late, so we held the interview back until the next day, which worked well as the gig was such a unique experience, that I needed time to reflect upon it before engaging in a discussion.

The mood was set with the wonderful Marcus (Marco) Woolf as support, who following an intriguing intro to his set where he asks the audience to produce a low constant hum at the start that he adds his guitar to, proceeded to tell the story of Esme, a young girl who walked into the middle of a dense forest only to find a beast there. Punctuating the largely improvised folk-horror fairy tale with beautifully fragile songs, not unlike the style of Daudi, the audience was completely silent throughout.

Daudi: “He is an insanely good storyteller. We were acquaintances from 2018, 2019? He had a record out on a Nottingham label called Flex Records, and ever since then, we’ve moved in the same circles. We kept missing each other live for a while, but then we did a little session together on a Manchester radio station; he’s just incredible and such a lovely guy.”

Discussing this with Daudi, this remarkable command Marco held over the audience, he told me how he basically “just sits and waits on the stage, readying himself until the crowd get settled”. We were both in awe of Marco’s opening technique, however, what he calls “Gratitude”.

Daudi: “It was so gorgeous and cool, I think I might ask him if I can nick that, ha ha ha.”

I asked Daudi about the meditation session that he had planned for his hometown gig on Saturday.

Daudi: “Yeah, I’ve got some amazing poets who are going to join me, Sophie Louisa Stephens who is a bit of a meditation boss, and she does these guided meditations. You know some of the themes at the live gig can be quite intense, and sometimes I really struggle to just settle into a space. I’ll give you an example… I went to a film screening recently, showcasing the work of the filmmaker Leanne Davis, She made a short film called The Last Resort, It’s gorgeous and has a poignant story, and at the start you get dropped into this conversation between a mother and daughter who are parked on the edge of a cliff, and they’re bickering.

It seems all kind of jovial at first and then you realise what they are arguing about, and the punch of the film just literally brought me to tears. And I was so self-conscious of the person I was sitting next to, that I was holding back the tears ‘til my face hurt because I didn’t want to cry in front of the people I was with. So, I just hope that doesn’t happen at one of my shows, I just want them to feel able that they can be whoever they want to be, and how they experience the gig and behave… it’s ok.”

“Some of the themes at the live gig can be quite intense, and sometimes I really struggle to just settle into a space”

“I’m not unaware that some of the tunes can hit a bit of a nerve, and dropping people in that is quite intense, so I just want to be mindful of the audience. So that’s where the meditation comes from, I just want to create that space. I wish I could do it for every show, and I’m trying to get back on the meditation train myself. It will help me develop because it’s a gig but also it’s home.”

Daudi does indeed sit for a short while, almost meditative, save for the odd nervous comment before embarking on his set. He checks with the audience first if they are ok if he just runs through the ten tracks of his album in order and we happily allow that.

“Well I am not some kind of Demon

But it is what I see when I look in

‘Cos I told lies and I believed them

And I broke promises like skin”

Daudi: “I wanted to be direct about where I was at, It was really scary to be honest, particularly with the song “Guilt”, I was afraid of that being out there. When Gilles Peterson played it on the radio ages ago I was like “Oh no it’s out there”, but at the same time it was a relief. I really like to paint myself into a corner and I wanted the album to be the most honest thing I could do at the time”.

“oMo (Man)” hurts just as deeply, and the images of Daudi co-habiting with a shop window dummy before smashing its face in with a hammer in the music video, only make the listening experience darker.

“Falling” is perhaps for me his finest song, certainly his strongest in terms of how it feels to be inside that dark cloud that far too many of us recognise. The repeated brittle refrain of “I Don’t want to be alone” brings the term “heartfelt” to an entirely new level. I told Daudi that this felt almost like an updated version of The Smiths’ “Please Please Please let me get what I want”, which he seemed happy to accept. It certainly has the same impact on me as that most perfect song has, and I imagine it will share a similar longevity.

When we briefly discuss my own experiences with depression and how the album has affected and inspired me, Daudi is pleased that his job is complete if that’s how it lands with his listeners.

Daudi: “I really appreciate that, it means the world because it’s for people like us you know. It is an album that initially I made for myself, but it is for people like you and me who have gone through this sort of thing. And it’s not a case of “Well that’s the end of it and it is all fine”, It’s ongoing and It’s not always easy. Sharing is good though and I think airing really helps.”

“Fool Me As Many Times As You Like” is almost too painful to even visit to be fair, whilst “Derby’s Dose” is disturbing on many levels.

“I’m bound by fear made worse by time

I’m gagging like Derby’s dose is mine.”

Daudi tells the audience how Derby was a slave who was tortured by the slave overseer, and serial rapist of some 3000 victims, Thomas Thistlewood in 1756. The dose, recorded in the shameless Thistlewood’s lengthy diary, was the act of one slave defecating into the mouth of another before being gagged for hours. Derby, Daudi tells us, died before the gag was removed.

Daudi Matsiko “King of Misery” Album Artwork

Daudi Matsiko “King of Misery” Album Artwork

Daudi: “I usually hold back from telling the full story, but last night I thought, D’you know what, It’s a headline show, so I took a risk and told it. I think it went down ok. Sometimes in the past when I’ve told that story the room seizes up, and the anxiety in the room goes through the roof. I didn’t get that last night.”

DP – “No, I thought there was a connection…”

Daudi: “Yeah, I’ve been developing how I tell that story over however many years. In one of my worst shows before the pandemic, it didn’t work because I didn’t include the audience, and I think the important thing is to remind the audience that this is us. It’s not an accusation or an us and them thing, it’s just human.”

I recommend Daudi check out Moor Mother whose harrowing show I saw in London recently. Her new album The Great Bailout deals with the ongoing effects and aftermath of slavery in a much more confrontational and sonically disturbing fashion, and Daudi also brings into the discussion Angeline Morrison, who’s album The Sorrow Songs (Folk Songs of Black British Experience) takes yet another approach to telling such stories. In Daudi’s words, “Telling difficult stories in a lovely way”. He counts Angeline as someone who took him very much “under her wing”.

Daudi: “She’s not pandering to anybody, and the audience really responds to that. I saw her at two shows and at that point I had no idea how to do a gig, and it was like, WOW! So that’s how you do a gig. I’ve been doing shows since I was like 13, and I’m 35 now, so since seeing her, it’s been like injecting love back into a failing marriage. She was lovely and particularly supportive of me, and very much lifted me when I was down and feeling hopeless about my music”.

“I need you to stop calling me on my phone” opens side two of the album and starts with the peculiar line

“Filth runs through my mind

Every second, every second

And I want it”

Daudi:  “This is a song that’s hard to talk about, that opening line, I’m not prepared to talk about on stage. Ha ha ha, that leaves that can of worms open.”

The title track, “King of Misery” has a tongue-in-cheek name, based on the painting that his friend Stephen Teeuw created of Daudi holding a pink ukelele. The image now adorns the album cover. The amusing image compelled the artist to bestow Daudi with the name, “King of Misery”, which he found hilarious and kept.

In an outro that is reminiscent of Elbow’s “Grace Under Pressure”, Daudi calmly repeats the phrase “Fuck Off”. Daudi agrees with me that there is a glimmer of humour in this line.

Daudi: “Yeah, but sometimes I even cry when I sing that, it is a bit of a punchline. My friend Adam Scrimshire who mixed the record described it as that the other day. There’s a point we reach in the album where it’s like, “Ok, enough!” and it ends a particular train of thought. The song was originally written as a bit of a joke, and then one day I was sitting at the piano and I just started singing those words, “Fuck Off”, and it was satisfying and it made me laugh.

I didn’t know how to finish the story of the song but I knew I wanted to address the King of Misery because that was the joke between me and my friend Stephen. I went to visit another friend and artist, Keaton Henson, he’s a wonderful songwriter and a lovely guy, and we played the song ping pong and we had a song by the end. It is funny, it’s like a juvenile joke, but at the same time it’s so justified, ha ha ha, It’s a gentle Fuck Off and its one that I will happily abide by.”

“The song was originally written as a bit of a joke, and then one day I was sat at the piano and I just started singing those words, “Fuck Off”, and it was satisfying and it made me laugh.”

The final song on the album “I am Grateful for My Friends” beautifully sums up that lifeline of friendship that is so important when suffering from depression, and in some ways, despite the tragedy that remains in the verses, the chorus is uplifting.

The set ends with an encore of two older songs, “Houston in the Blind” and “Take Me Old”, the latter being as straight a love song as we are going to get from Daudi, but still completely heartbreaking.

Seeing Daudi live and having the opportunity to speak with him has made for an inspiring and thoroughly memorable 24 hours. Before I leave him to prepare for his show in Hebden Bridge, I ask him who his album is specifically aimed at, as it is difficult to ignore the perhaps unintentional focus on men’s mental health.

Daudi: “I really hope it’s wider than that, everybody is welcome, from all kinds of walks of life and genders. What really moves me is when people struggling with their gender speak to me, and I think I mentioned last night about how sometimes I feel like I’m the definition of on the blag, but you don’t really know who is listening.

“The thing is, I’m a Cis-Gender male, so I’m definitely trapped in my own sex, but I think the experiences are more than the sum of their parts. I do think it is important that men talk about their feelings more, not being afraid, not being like I was in the cinema the other day. Just breathe out and not be afraid to admit that you are struggling.”

Del Pike is a University lecturer in Film and Media in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.

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