From the moment I first heard them, I knew there was something different. Something so incredibly special.
‘Simon & Esther’ was their name. Someone in the crowd joked that their name sounded like ‘Simon & Garfunkel’. Another quipped that Simon ought to change his name to ‘Ahasuerus’ – a more appropriate, biblical moniker given this was a church service. In spite of these light-hearted jokes, there certainly wasn’t anything ‘light’ about these two.
The honesty, vulnerability, truth, passion, humility and strength of their music was nothing to take lightly. From the first phrase, the audience was captivated. Never had we heard anything like this before. We were moved, touched and inspired by more than their talent. We had been touched by God.
So it came as a no-brainer to me that I wanted to – needed to interview this duo. Simon and Esther have reshaped the way I see gospel music and are the epitome of individuals who allow the Lord to use them for their work.
Speaking to them on a one-on-one basis, you realise how acutely aware they are that this is not about them at all. It is their ministry and they do not take it lightly. With their spirits, you can sense they are just like you and I, but in their eyes glimmers a knowing that they are on the path of fulfilling their purpose.
Simon, the brains, strategist and planner of the two. Esther, the gentle but strong spirit who lends her testimony to their performances. What a duo. I introduce to you ‘Simon & Esther’.
Who is Simon? Who is Esther? Tell us a bit about where you are from
Esther: I’m the youngest in a family of four. Mine is a very musical family and that is where I obtained my musical side. As I grew up, that musical side has developed into what it is now.
Simon: I’m 27 and I come from Zimbabwe – Triangle though I spent most of my time in Harare, currently in Johannesburg where I have been working and studying for the past 6+ years.
What are you currently doing aside from music?
Esther: I’m currently doing my final year of Economic Sciences Bachelor’s degree at (the University of) Witwatersrand.
Simon: I’m currently working as an analyst for a management consultancy in the energy industry. I’m also a tech startup founder– launching a product (in) 2017.
What defines you?
Esther: A woman who has given herself to serve God through music of the olden day with a modern feel.
Simon: not sure if this is the answer for your question but I like to be “defined” by my value system – my beliefs, my family, my passions, my fears, my dreams, hopes and not necessarily what I have or what I’m able to do.
Tell us about your history in music that brought you to this point.
Esther: I was a member of choir in high school and at church, though I was rather a reserved member. Over the years I developed a fascination of music that is rare in its taste and was fascinated by how old hymnal songs could be given a unique nowadays arrangement. It sounded beautiful to me and to others I shared with. That is mainly what I do as opposed to composing new songs.
Simon: The guitar was a dream from about 4 years old – I remember praying to God for a guitar to drop from the skies. My proper introduction to music came when I was 15 when I was taught about music production and creation via DAW (digital audio work station) by a musical urban grooves singer that used to stay next door to my brother in Harare. So I spent a lot of time making beats, mixing and arranging instruments on Fruity Loops 3. And I remember thinking thank you Lord for blessing me with all these guitars and instruments. So that went on for a while and died down. Fast forward to 2010 on my 21st birthday my cousin bought me a guitar as a birthday present and the rest is history – I taught myself through YouTube videos and theory almost on a daily basis from 2012 onwards.
Simon & Esther
How did the ‘Simon & Esther’ duo come to be? When did you meet?
Esther: We met at a Wits fundraiser concert in May 2016. In addition to being in the mighty Wits SDASM choir that was hosting the event, I was presenting two songs with some friends of mine. Back then, I wasn’t very active in ministry work but was keen to start, so I’d prayed that God would make it possible that I meet somebody whom I could work with. Right after the concert I met Simon for the first time and he asked if I could sing over an acoustic background which he would provide. At first, the purpose was simply to hear how it would sound, simultaneously sharpening our own vocal and guitar skills. We agreed to meet and our first practice session which was very successful and full of inspiration
Simon: In addition, I [Simon] had received inspiration from God to start a unique acoustic sound (guitar and vocals) and I remember sharing it with a friend of mine in the music space. I felt that there was a need for a different sound and approach to our (sda) music as 90% of it is mainly acapella which has been stretched. So I prayed to God to start a guitar and vocal duo and I started keeping an ear for a good unique voice. 4 weeks later, Wits SDASM choir had a fundraiser concert which I became aware of on the day and had no intentions of going but I decided to go and see a friend of mine from Zim that was performing a solo act. As soon as I heard Esther literally the 1st line I knew the reason why I was there and like she said I approached her after the concert and the rest is history.
How would you describe each other?
Esther: Simon is my older brother from another mother.
Simon: Esther is a gifted young lady, a sister, a friend and a talkative person often disguised as very quiet and reserved. She will laugh at any opportunity regardless of the expense.
Your musical style is very unique to what most would associate with African gospel music. Tell us a bit about your creative process and what inspired you to almost reinvent how we have come to know gospel music to sound? Do you write your own music?
Simon: I often come up with short melodies on the guitar and 90% of the time I just record them and then I revisit them and look for words that are fitting (existing songs or new words or a mixture of both) and allow it to be a workshop with Esther so that she puts her ideas, feel and style to it.
Esther: I am still trying to learn the art of music writing. I rearrange old hymnals. Simon writes some of our song and other friends as well.
How long does it take for you to complete a song?
Esther: It usually takes me a day; however it only comes by inspiration. I can hardly just come up with a beautiful rearrangement randomly.
Simon: Anything between a day and a week and months J
How often do you meet and rehearse together?
S&E: Depends if there is a concert or new song for presentation but at least once a week.
Esther, your voice gives Tracy Chapman/Chiwoniso-esque vibes. Could you share your inspiration?
Esther: I will be very frank that I did not even know about Tracy Chapman until people mentioned this as we were doing the ministry. I want to believe that God can inspire people by himself because I also do not know why my voice is inclined to that kind of music.
Simon, how long have you been playing the guitar and who inspired you? Do you play any other instruments?
Simon: Consistently for 4+ years (almost every day). I just liked the instrument without any particular inspiration somehow as I said from like 4 years old. However when I started to learn and play the guitar I was attracted towards more quality music as opposed to noise so the likes of Dr Oliver Mtukudzi, Asa Louis Mhlanga etc. I’m a beginner on the keyboard.
As a duo, what is your objective?
S&E: To spread the message that Jesus Saves, He cares and He loves Mankind.
What do you think the world needs to realise about Christ’s soon coming?
S&E: We want the world to realise that this event should be viewed as an exciting event as opposed to something that arouses fear within us.
If you could perform anywhere in the world for any audience, where would that be and why?
S&E: The idea is not to limit our music to “SDA’s” (Seventh-Day Adventists) but to genuinely take it out there so one day we would like to present at a church with a huge following or on the DSTV gospel channels, but of course we believe we are going to travel abroad as well and wherever English is understood would be nice to go and minister.
When all is said and done, how would you like to be remembered?
S&E: The duo that sang more than music. They sang Christ.
Safe to say these two are doing just that & I look forward to following their ministry. To keep up with them, be sure to like their Facebook page: Simon & Esther Music.