Gentlemans Dub Club

THIS PEICE WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON RHYTHM PASSPORT http://www.rhythmpassport.com/

Gentleman’s Dub Club are a staple dub eight piece outfit based in London whom have been producing albums since their debut ‘Open Your Eyes’ in 2012. No celebration of Jamaican music and it’s diaspora would be complete without a couple of GDC anthems blasting through the sound system. I spoke to singer Johnny ahead of their upcoming concert at ‘The Electric Brixton’ 19.10.18.


So reggae, ska and dub are an integral sound for the band. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what Jamaican music and  soundsystem culture means to you personally and within the band?

Most of it, to be honest, did come from specifically within those genres and most of it came from us discovering the music together, and like I said, that was sort of through ‘Subdub’ to begin with. A dub sound system evening hosted by ‘Iration Steppas’, who brought in these big dub rigs from around the country and got others to clash their sound system. Also through the artists that they brought up at these nights, people like, ‘Jah Tubby’ and 'Nucleus Roots’, and then they’d be playing tunes from people like ‘The Twinkle Brothers’ playing live and ‘Lee Scratch Perry’…yeah he came over and played live. So they had a mixture of Jamaican artists coming over to play, and in the UK, more sort of underground sounds and through that we just explored more and just enjoyed listening to those sorts of styles. 


Our influences aren’t really just in those styles though, that’s what we are you know - that’s the umbrella we all huddled under, but, the personal sort of fascination goes really vast, and a long way beyond any borders. We all listened to a lot of hip-hop when we were younger. Certainly we’re all into a bit of drum and bass in various sorts of ways, but then we also went to see jazz and rock and heavy metal music, and classical music. So really that’s where the sound comes from - our appreciation of it is slightly different to the stuff that we put out there. Our appreciation is vast, as any musicians is, because it’s fascinating, you know. You don’t wanna stop, you don’t wanna stop the ear from having the opportunity to enjoy something, and so you gotta explore that stuff. 


But then with the band, you know we’ve never really made any conscious decisions in terms of what we’re going to make and how we’re going to make it - we just kind of jam, come together and see what happens. 


Can you talk me through the musical make-up of the band? As though we were in the recording studio: who would lay the first track down and in what order?

Well we have eight people on stage, and then we all play on the records, and so the rhythm section in the reggae band is always, the beats (drums) and the chords and the bass. That’s generally like the bedding of all of the tracks, and so on this last album (Lost In Space), which is fairly unique, it was quite an interesting process for us to go through, and we’re pretty happy with the output. The whole concept of the album started when I wrote a story…


The story was about wanting to go in search of the ultimate bass line in the far reaches of the galaxy. So we got someone to build us a spaceship, and we went up into space. We went through this process of leaving earth and leaving loads of things behind us, and you know… looking beyond to who knows where… 


We kept on travelling and went past Mars and then ended up getting dragged into Saturn and then flipped up in one of its storms. Then we got flipped onto this other planet, umm, what was it called? Uropa, which is like a moon, and then uh, that’s where we crash landed. As we got out of the spaceship we could hear this distant sort of rumble and it was the sound of this bassline that we had been in search of. So we had to go on foot to try and find it and we ultimately found it being played by this guy called ‘King Jabba’ - the omnipresent bass dictator - who was playing it in a volcano he inhabited. Once we got there, we couldn’t stop moving, so uh, we knew what our path was, and it all made sense suddenly. 


And so we came back with the bassline, um…


So I wrote that story and then we came together, five of us, and we would look at the story, see how it had developed, and then jam at the same time. So we would just sort of play around and then I’d sing on the mic., and Tommy would be on drums, and Toby on bass and Nick on the guitar and Luke on the keys and we’d just find the rhythms and find the melodies. We already had these visuals from the story in mind - these pictures - and so it was quite easy to then just, you know, allow the tracks to appear.



I guess the next question should be: Have you found the perfect bassline, and where was it? 

Yeah oh yeah, ‘King Jabba’ had it…he’s got a 23 stringed bass guitar, that’s attached to the underside of his belly. He just goes really long. 


The single from the upcoming album, ‘Stardust’ has an amazingly creative and image provoking video. For me the impression was that it was a representation of: what’s going on in these crazy space exploring imaginations? What was the focus or aim for this video? 

Without wanting to put a too fine a point on it, the process of writing that tune was sort of spacey and not thinking about it. We were really exploring: it was really late at night, like three, four in the morning, we just started when this tune came out. The sun just came out, some low lighting, mad lighting, you know, and it’s all sort of psychedelic in a sense and so we wanted to follow that through as a theme. We just thought let’s have a crack and see how it goes. A lot of it was developed in the process of doing it rather than conceived at the start, so it was more of a concept we ran with. We had all just met a really great video team and they helped us develop this nugget. 


I see that you also played in Tunisia this year. How do the audiences compare to European and British audiences on the opposite side of the planet? Does everyone have the same skank (dance) in the world? 

Hell yeah… There all wikid… hell yeah. We actually played in Morocco a year and a half ago, and there was a different type of skanking that they do. It was a lot less knees… it was more sort of like a sea of people doing the pencil - sort of bobbing up and down, jumping up and down as high as they could. Yeah they have a different vibe: a full central square of pogo sticks, yeah… and so it’s a different vibe… but you know, that’s got to be the most captivating element of being in this band - performing live, you create a point with every audience. 


It’s just so easy the music, it’s like: we enjoy laying it, and so it seems that sort of filters through to an audience. So wherever they are, if you're playing to a mixed crowd early in the afternoon at a festival set with you know, six year olds to sixty years old with families - Bestival say, that’s really nice. It’s just like you create that connection with an audience, and they’re all unique, I don’t think it makes much of a massive difference at all - location. 

The major difference is, if the audience knows your tunes verses not knowing your tunes, because at the start of the set, there in from the off, they’re kind of singing along, they’re excited, you can sort of feel like the energy straight away. Then other times, you’ll have to step up and sort of really bring that energy, prove yourself, because they don’t know what they’re going to get. 


I think for me, ska and reggae and dub: it’s a community music, and I think part of the pleasure of seeing bands play live, is that you see that connection between the band on stage that is shared with the audience: through the skanking (dancing) and such. But do you guys have songs that you feel obliged to always play live, or that you definitely wouldn’t play live anymore?

It all just happens as it goes, we’ll add new songs as we write new tunes, and if we like them and we think they’re good enough to go in the set, then we’ll put them in, and then you got to make a hard decision with what comes out, and so yeah, it’s not easy. We do get quite a few people coming up to us asking us to play old tunes, you know, there’s a few that you can’t get away without playing, and it’s not really up to us to a certain degree. 


I think that’s a great debate - people buying tickets to go see bands they love, then feeling disappointed in the act if they don’t play “the classics”.

I’m kind of on both sides of that: as a musician I believe in your freedom to express whatever comes, or whatever moves you - that has to be the point of it. That’s why being too closely managed in that outlook, can really water down a project - you got to be able to do what you feel like doing. At the same time, you got to understand why people are buying tickets, so in a way if you lose your audience, then you’ve lost your audience, you have to be able to work with what’s there. 


Is there somewhere you guys feel at home when you play in that area?

We’re playing in Leeds on this tour, where we’ve played loads at the Uni. up there, so that will be a bit of a homecoming. But yeah, London kind of feels like our real home. I mean Leeds is a transient student based audience: so it’s the venue rather than the people that remain the same, but in London you can always really feel an energy.


It wasn’t like that when we first started, I remember when we first went to London the audiences were the hardest. When we first started playing, like seven, eight years ago in London they were always a really hard audience. I’m not sure why, I think it was sort of a case of people standing back and saying “come on, you gotta impress me” rather than knowing what they’re going to get and being up for it. Now however, when you come in and it’s like a really powerful sense in the room, so when you walk on stage, you’re just bang into the moment. 


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‘Lost In Space’ is availble for pre-order 

Releases in January 2019 

Band are also on tour. 

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Yazz Ahmed

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I interviewed Yazz Ahmed: the established face of contemporary fusion jazz. Since her debut album in 2011 - ‘Finding My Way Home’, Yazz Ahmed has been conquering the scene with her original blend of Arabian maqqam scales played on a unique quarter-toned flugelhorn. As well as this, Yazz’s long list of collaborations, such as Lee Scratch Perry and Radiohead has contributed to the addition of electronic music into her sound, earning Yazz global acclaim and success in her creation of a truly psychedelic East to West form of jazz. 

 

We chatted over the phone ahead of her debut concert in the Southbank Centre, in which, Yazz Ahmed will be launching her remix EP of her second album ‘La Saboteuse’.

 

So can we start by telling us the story of how and when you first started to play musical instruments?

OK, so I grew up in Bahrain, we had you know sort of strange instruments in the house, we had the guitar amongst others, and I would just mess around with those not really knowing what I’m doing. I would drive my mum mad by playing recorder duets with my sister. Then when we moved to England when I was nine my mum asked me if I wanted to learn a musical instrument in school and I said “Yes I would love to learn the trumpet”.

 

Why I chose the trumpet is because my grandfather Terry Brown used to be a jazz trumpet player in the 1950’s, and so I saw him as this big kind of hero, and I just thought he sounded pretty cool, and, you know, I just thought: Yeah the trumpet sounds like fun, I want to be like Terry. So that’s where it all started

 

Is this where you got your love of jazz from?

I think so. My grandfather would play jazz records to me, especially British Jazz artists, and my mum used to play jazz in the house and other quite cool music. Reggae, my mums a big reggae fan, so there was a lot of influences around in the house, and I really loved all of them, particularly jazz.

 

Do you feel that psychedelia was always a part of your music, or was it something that grew?

It just seems to have grown into that way. Since working with electronic artists and using electronic music, I’v found it can make you are more fluid, dreamy and outer worldly. It’s just amazing what you can do to music if you just sort of add an electronic element to it. It’s opened up lots of possibilities and  what colours I can get from using electronics as well as acoustic instruments, and it’s really fun to experiment.

 

You’ve had rather a lot of success after your debut album “Finding My Way Home’, can you tell us about an event that really had an impact on you or your music?

Yeah I think working with Radiohead and other major electronic artists has really inspired me quite deeply. In all sorts of ways, learning how to rehearse, how to take myself seriously… that as well, and again this electronic aspect with the recording. Things such as using pre-recorded material and manipulating it, collating it and using it the live performances. So I learned a lot with art-rock kind of people definitely.

 

You are of Bahraini and British origin, when did you start to connect to your Arabian musicality origins?

So my father is Bahraini and my mum is British,  and as I continued my music studies and graduated from music college, I started to discover new music.

 

The album that really inspired me to look into the music of my first home, was an album by ‘Blue Camel’ by Rabih Sbou-Khalil who was an oud player. This album brought up memories of the music of Bahrain from where I was  from growing up. That then inspired me to start researching the music and I experimented with mixing what I heard with jazz: then I suddenly felt like I had purpose and I felt a lot more rounded as a person because I was mixing my Bahraini heritage and my British heritage together, and yeah… I became one, I feel like I’m always evolving.

 

So thats where it really began, with that album, ‘Blue Camel’ -  It’s awesome, its a brilliant album

 

From the ‘La Sabateour', I think Jamil Jamal is my fav  - can you tell me about how you came to write this song ?

Sure, so that was the second piece I had written inspired by Arabic scales and rhythms and I mean it’s quiet a complex tune, but also very simple in it’s idea - along this idea and theme of evolving both identities. I used a couple of Arabic scales, but it’s all meshed together it had the kind of complex, kind of, menacing quality to it. I really enjoyed that feeling of being able to mix these two types of music together and also to bring out the wonderful improvisations of the band. Everyone has their opportunity to shine and it’s lovely how it all comes out in the piece…

 

Where are you based at the moment?

I live in a very sleepy village just outside of Lutton, it’s very peaceful it’s a nice change to London, it’s nice to write music and chill out.

 

Can you tell us about your quarter tone flugelhorn?

A flugelhorn is just like a trumpet, but it’s bigger - you can kind fo think of it as a pregnant trumpet, so it’s a little wider, the tubing is bigger, it creates a warmer more mellow sound - so the colours are slightly different when you’re playing this instrument. Flugelhorns don’t usually have quarter tones, which are used more in Arabic music, Indian music and music with that kind of free jazz.


So I had been wanting to play quarter tones to really get into the very emotional notes that you have in Arabic music: which uses quarter tones. For me, I often think of them as the blues qualities in Arabic music: similar to the blues. This kind of music where its very emotional and they tell stories about their struggles - for me thats the Arabic version: quartertones.

 

I feel I can get deeper into the music with my emotions having this new instrument. It was made for me by the guy who makes my other instruments, his name is Kenny and his company collects trumpets. He lives round the corner from me and he has a little workshop at the end of his garden where he makes fantastic instruments all by hand.

 

Are you looking forward to your concert? Have you played the venue before? What can we expect from the experience ?

I’m really looking forward to it, so my band we haven’t played at the Southbank Centre, so its obviously a very exciting thing.

 

What you’ll expect is, we’re going to be playing music from ‘La Sabatoure’ and we’re going to be playing music that is inspired by the music of the pearl divers from Bahraini. Also music that will be using the drumming groups who would typically perform in wedding celebrations, so you’ll here a bit of that.

 

I’ve also invited Brigette Baraha, a singer, and she’s going to sing you three melodies that I’ve written inspired by this music, so that’s really lovely.

 

There’s also going to be some wonderful lighting by a visual artist called ‘Tupac Martia’. It is going to be a visual experience as well as sonic. So hopefully all the senses will be awakened, enthused and excited.


We will also have an oud player who’s going to be opening the set who’s name is ‘Rihab Azar’ and she has an amazing story:

She is from Syria and her birth place is Khan and obviously Khan has been destroyed, and so she moved to London. She’s got this amazing story of her birth place and moving to London and this emotional journey she’s had.

 

I think it’s a wonderful theme of migration and collaboration of cultures, so yeah, she’s going to be opening it, so I’m very excited about that.

 

I should also mention the it’s the launch of my remix EP, it’s really fun to collaborate with other people who are not jazz musicians.It’s really exciting when you never know what’s going to happens, and that’s the beauty of music.

 

Havana Meets Kingston

I had a rather loud chat with a couple of the crew from the this huge fusion project: the brain child of Mr.Savona, this is a fusion between Cuban musicians and Africa in the taste of dub and reggae. Delicous!

Sebye Ntege

Here I spoke to the lovely Sebye Ntege about his music, his instrumentalism, his inspirations for his new album and playing WOMAD. 

LADAMA

LADAMA is a group of all powerful females from various places in South America, they come together to inspire one another with their local rhyhms, but also to teach and educate women around the world as they travel. 

Ian Brennan

Ian Brenann has had many production projects always involving civilisations from oppressed or persecuted communities. He once won a Grammy Award for production global mega-stars Tinariwen, Tuaregs of the North African desert. This year I spoke to him about Abatwa the Pygmy from Rwanda, and their trip together to WOMAD. 

 

Bollywood Brass Band

The great and grande Bollywood Brass Band have been pumping it for years. 

My Baby

Prog-rock funky pyscadelic trio from Amsterdam talk to me about their concepts behind their music, and much more. 

Hashmat Sultana

Sufi soul singing sisters from India brought their award winning talents to WOMAD where I spoke to them about what Sufi music is, their journey to the big stage and their plans for the future. 

Orchestre Les Mangelepa

Legendary band that have been playing in Kenya and all around Africa for 40 years, FINALLY make it across the pond, and I get to chat to them about their first festival in Europe / England, audiences around the world and their style of playing and music making. 

Meklit

Ethio-jazz queen is stepping out of the Mulatu Astake spotlight for ethio-jazz and is taking the name for herself, I talk to her about how she keeps her music contemporary and what makes musicians important in society. 

Amadou and Mariam

Amadou and Mariam need near to no introduction: they have been chart topping the west African music scene for decades together. I was honoured to catch them and chat to them about their music making, community and music in Mali, and plans for the future.

The Herbaliser

 I spoke to one half of the instrumental hip-hop outfit Olly, about Herbalisers origins, why it's instrumental and their journey together in music. 

Tal National

Tal National come from all over North Africa, and they bring their fusion music to audiences the world over. I spoke to them about the origins of their style and playing in England. 

In Conversation with: Afro Celt Sound System

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Afrocelt

@WOMAD 2017

London in the 80’s / WOMAD / Whirl-y Gig / West African Music / Multiculturalism

 

When I was ruffly 16 years old, I listened for the first time to a global fusion album. This album was Release by Afro Celt Sound System. The album boasts multi-culturalism, with Scottish bagpipes, traditional Irish flutes, fiddles, Indian rhythms, West African Kora… to name but a few, all fused with infectious unstoppable electronic dance beats. 

 

This album changed my life. I had never before danced to anything non-western in sound. Nor had I heard fusions from the global North to South. I had also never previously heard the bagpipes sound funky.

 

Afro Celt Sound-System as the name might suggest fuse traditional Western folk instruments with West African instruments and merge the whole thing into the electronic dance scene. Formed in 1995 the Afro Celt band consists of mystro musicians in their own right.

 

In this interview I talk to Simon Emmerson, a prevalent figure in the changing musical trends in London since the 70’s, Larla O Lionáird of the Irish influences, and N’Fale Kouyate, the West African griot Kora player. Together in a cosy yurt at WOMAD Festival 2017, we spoke through the changing trends in music, the global Norths relation to African music and the London music scene through the ages….

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WOMAD 2017 Saturday, BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage, 8:15 - 9:30pm

 

Speaking with : Simon Emmerson, Larla O Lionairde, N’Fale Kouyate, (Johnny Kalsi)

 

I was overwhelmed to be given the opportunity to talk to Afro-Celt Sound System, as a long time lover of their fantastic fusion of traditional folk musics of the global north, with traditional folk musics of the global south, the incredibly versatile fusion dance music has had me dancing for years. 

 

I wanted to try and map out the various influences in Afro-Celts vast discography of music spanning from their first album release  ‘Volume 1: Sound Magic’ (1996). Having since spanned a further nine albums, the endless array of incredible sounds from one album to the next is truly worthy of the term musical ‘melting pot’. 

I started by asking the guys where the Irish Celtic influences came from within the band….

 

Larla: well it comes from Simon meeting Davy Spillane from County Clare in Ireland and they met over Baba Mal records, and that was where the initial content was, and ever since then there’s been a array of performers and singers who, also some Scottish musicians, so theres a big heavy influence and I joined the band a few years ago and I have been playing the Irish flutes and bohdrán.

 

SD: Im studying ethnomusicology in SOAS and I just love it, so can I ask, how did it all come together, with the Scottish the Irish, I know the West African and Indian rhythms too? 

Simon: Yeah I mean we use Bhangra grooves, Dub grooves, yeah it's a melting pot. 

 

SD: How are the songs constructed? Is it all the work of one genius conductor? 

Larla/N’Fale: Ahh Simon, Simon is the clever guy

 

Simon: Ok so I never wanted to be a virtuoso musician. I started of as a punk, my primary agenda was probably as an activist, but then over the years, you get a little bit older, and then music has become a big part of my life. But as a record producer, I got very interested the music that I grew up with in London. 

So as a kid I grew up in South London, I was surrounded by reggae and ska, I as a punk I was very much on the fringes of all the sound systems that you had in London. In the early 80’s I worked in a jazz specialist shop called ‘Mole Jazz’ and I got very into jazz, but I discovered African music. I discovered the music of West Africa; Fela Kuti, I started trying to play African guitar in the way that Africans do it, but in my own kind of punk way. 

So I met a guitarist called Spike, who was in a punk band, and we became part of a band called Weekend and we were playing kind of African licks in a kind of Indie feel. That soon developed to me being in a band called Working Week, through all that I ended up in Africa in the early 90’s and it was Davy Spillaine who set me off on the road to the Afrocelt because he told me that the aboriginal Irish were dark skinned and that there are loads of legends of dark skinned Irish. 

He told me lots of stories about how the North Africans having frame drums like the ‘bodhrán’ and having pipes, and I got interested in the Bardic tradition which is the kind of western magical tradition that goes back to the idea that music is a transformative power, that through song and poetry you keep the ancestral legends alive. I met through Baba Mal, I met the griots, and N’Fale is a West African griot, and living breathing proof that the Bardic tradition is a reality, because this is exactly what N’Fale does, it is his culture, and he is a founder of Afro-celt Sound System.

 

SD: Fantastic, so tell us what is your instrument? 

N’Fale: My instrument in the Kora (twenty-one stringed Harp, West Arica), and the Balafon (wooden xylophone, Gambia) and I sing.

 

SD: Wonderful, as a student at SOAS University (London) we have the opportunity to spend six weeks studying the Kora. It’s such a beautiful instrument. 

N’Fale: 21 strings there are to tune… *laughs*

 

SD: So in the group we have many different origins, I was wondering if there is a place you perform as a group that feels like a home for the band? A base? 

Simon: The band was conceived at WOMAD 1995. That was the fist time I helped introduce a kind of post acid house rave Sound System called Whirl-y Gig*. 

In 1995 Whirl-Y Gig set up a tent at WOMAD and we played there. Here there was a lot of my friends with bands like Joy, and Transglobal Underground and all the kind of fusion techno bands. Many of which were based in East London. A lot of us were. 

The East London Asian community had created the kind of Asian Underground so you had Johnny Kalsi and we were all clustered around the Whirl-y Gig, of which came to WOMAD, and then from that we started working with Real World (Records). So in a way Real World records and the Whirl-y Gig were very much the source, perhaps the origins of the band. 

That was because East London was this kind of melting pot at the time of multiculturalism, and we’d all been brought up with music from different cultures. Where as Ireland was much more kind of isolated culturally. 

 

Lara: At that time for sure, actually. My sort of introduction to sounds from around the world; so I lived in New York 2000/2001 for about a year and a half, and I’d have the most amazing experience when I walked home. 

Each block I passed would have a completely different musical sound. You had the meringue from Puerto Rico you had the Arabic grooves from Morocco, there was a trance session on in the next block and polish music over the road. This was the sort of scenery I had when I’d finish work and I’d walk home, and so that was something we didn’t have in Ireland. For me going to New York was a similar experience to Simon with WOMAD and such. 

 

Simon: Yes, like I said, when I went to Senegal in ’91 and I walked around Dakar I heard on African radio; there was salsa, there was funk, there was hip-hop, there was a huge amount of latino music there was, bhangra and bollywood, which of corse was huge there. So West Africa was just as much a melting pot. In Baba Mals band there were five languages, so the idea that multiculturalism was invented in the West is not true, there is just a much multiculturalism in Africa I mean reggae… 

 

N’Fale: Latino, the jazz and the pop, the blues all the blues, the pentatonic. In my country there are many natural players, my Uncle is the director of the National Ensemble Traditionál, all these differences come to this National band to build an Orchestral Ensemble, and me I educate in this family, and I discover many different cultures. Polyphonic singing, such as the singing. I am a teacher in Belgium of singing polyphonic, and I do some singing workshops in WOMAD, I use that and I catch some singers too. I am now also in Guinea musical director to coach some people, but this experience Africa gave me many possibilities to hear more different. 

Because I learn in the traditional musical family, I have no choice in my musical education, but when I go I go to a different cultures to study, and to mix again the music. The big musicians always like the musician from African. 

 

SD: So it’s safe to say you are all constantly learning… 

 

*ooh yess** 

 

N’fale: Yes I think we are always sharing, I have worked with for example Lady Smith Black Mambazo, and many others. All these experiences gave me endless possibilities. With Africa being a very nice experience for the world music; to be honest the term world music… I don’t think if I perceive very much that… because they choose the jazz out, and the French music out, the pop and rock … and the rest… what do we have to do with this? Ok same bag; world music. 

 

SD: I completely agree, it can be said that it would only seem to be world music from people in the western hemisphere, as it’s only our genres excluded. 

 

Nfale: In Africa they sing in R&B and they come and sing very nice, but if they hear them they say ok, world music, because he’s from Africa. But then there is jazz music in Africa, the base of jazz, and the blues is from Africa as is the pentatonic, but they call them ‘world music’. 

 

SD: You all like to mix it up…

 

N’Fale: The new thing for me on the music; the ‘afrotronix’ my traditional instrument with electronic, it becomes completely afrotronic

 

SD: Such as the music of Afriqoui, they have the Kora with electronic music, and African calabash drumming dubbed…?

 

N’Fale: I use the calabash, completely traditional, and I used completely modern Panasonic electronic, such as my Wah Wah with my Kora, *impression of a wah wah pedal*. 

 

S:D That’s soo cool.

 

N’Fale: I have one pedal that I like with the sound of the Kora, very very unique to other griots.

 

 

SD: I was hoping to know what music you guys are listening too at the moment in your spare time?

N’Fale: Electronic music

 

Lara: Yeah you know I listen to everything from Rock, to folk music to electronica to classical there so much music I listen to it all.

Theres a  great radio station in Ireland I love. I love that it goes from jazz to classical to pop, to rock. There all just sounds from different genres, I hate, I dislike being put into a genre. 

 

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With this, the band and myself were summoned away from the yurt in order to get ready for their performance. 

 

I made my way over to the Charlie Gillet BBC Radio 3 stage where they we to play and awaited. As expected, the crowd grew immensely, an obvious choice on the bill it seemed. 

Sure enough out came the band, with Indian drums, Koras, balafons, Irish flutes, Scottish Bagpipes various percussion instruments and of course vocals. 

Afro Celt Sound System did not let down. They proceeded to play an electrified performance with grooves that demand dancing, melodies that shake the hips and beats that stomp the feet. 

I felt incredibly pleased to see the awesome fusion dance music performed live with such liveliness, passion and energy, all worthy of the 20 year strong band. 

In Conversation With: Oumou Sangaré

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@ WOMAD Festival 2017

Wassoulou / Mali / Feminism / Social Commentary

Having recorded her first album ‘Moussolou’ in 1989 in Bamako Mali, Oumou Sangare has made the music of her homeland: the Wassoulou region in Mali one of the signature sounds to make it globally from West Africa. As well as this, Oumou has globalised the local sound of the Kamale Ngoni. 

Having been singing since a young child, and catching the attention of many, including African blues maestro Ali Farka Touré, as a voice of her generation. Oumou even went on tour at the age of 16 with the percussion group Djoliba, and by the age of 21 Oumou was already a star. 

 

Aside being the ambassador for Wassoulou, Oumou has alway used her voice, local and globally for social comment. Specifically commenting on topics such as women status in society, child marriage and genital mutilation. Her first album was an unprecedented hit in West Africa with over 200,000 copies sold locally, consequently in the coming years, Oumou played at every major venue in the world, and toured with global legends. 

 

Using her voice for women across the world, Oumou was named ambassador of the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation - fighting hunger across the world), furthermore she won the UNESCO (promotion of peace and security)  prize in 2001 for her work speaking out on social issues. 

 

Of course in the proceeded eight studio albums, Grammy nominations, amongst many other awards have showered Oumou, and she is celebrating her latest album release ‘Mogoya’ (2017) by playing a few gigs around the world. 

 

I find myself here at WOMAD Festival 2017 about to talk to Oumou Sangare before her big show on the main stage. As I wait with her for our translator I am taken aback by her sheer presence. An energy emanated from Oumou has an intensely powerful, righteous woman. A little humbled, I began…. 

 

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Sophie Darling (SD) : Firstly, it is such an honour to be sitting here opposite you. I am in love with your music, and also with your activism. 

You’re an advocate for women rights, I wanted to talk about the difficulties of your strife? Was being an advocate for women rights and such a conscious decision you made to use your voice to make these political opinions, or was it something that came naturally? Something you felt you had to do? 

Omou Sangare (OS) : Very difficult, very. It was a conscious decision, I didn’t have an easy childhood, my mother was sick a lot, I felt I needed to fight to make her happy, to allow her to be happy, I wanted to fight for the injustice, against the injustice of being so sad all of that time 

 

SD:I am aware that one of your albums is entitled ‘Ten Kola Nuts’ which is the going currency for a Malian wife, can you tell us about that concept? Why did you want to talk about it? 

 

OS: It’s like a marriage package, It’s like an engagement, it’s an asking. There’ a lot of different stages in marriage, the engagement stage, then you have the devot-age stage. Basically I wanted to talk and use it as a symbol to talk about marriage, because for me that’s what deprives women of her rights, ok marriage can go well and it’s good for her, but if it goes badly, then the woman will be deprived of her life, she might become a slave, and she doesn’t want that to happen, it’s a symbol… it’s symbolic. 

 

SD: At what age did you start to play with the music Are your family musical? Where you encouraged to play music? 

 

OS: My mother, my mother *laughs* didn’t want me to leave school to follow music, but  she did want me to sing, because my own mother was a great singer, my grandmother was a musical star as well, and so my mother encouraged me, as my mum said she would hear her mothers voice in me, but she didn’t want me just to be a singer, she wanted me to follow my studies as well as be a singer. 

 

SD: Has your mother managed to see you perform at all? 

 

OS: Now yes *laughs* oh. No no no, go to school Oumor, she waited until I was a big girl, she waited until I was professional, yes.

 

SD: I know that in the early days, Nick Gold the record producer of World Circuits took an interest  in you after he was handed a tape of your recordings. How did you find things changed for you? Were the social barriers surrounding gender and music easy for you to manoeuvre? Were difficulties enhanced?

 

OM: No, the story about how he heard the music was that Ali Farke Touré was a huge huge fan of mine . So when the first record came out, he was screaming my name everywhere, and telling everyone about it, and playing the music, this is when Nick heard it for the first time, and then he went to Bamako and he said he heard it everywhere everywhere, he said oh I love that women voice, I would like to meet her. 

 

SD: Wassoulou music, I was wondering if we could ask a little about that, as I don’t know much about it. 

OS: So Wassoulou is the music for dancing, for rejoicing, for relaxing, but it always carries a message

 

SD: Do you have any pre/post gig rituals for good luck? 

 

OS:*laughs* Oh yeah, sometimes, I pour a small amount of water on the ground, sometimes I might forget, but always I try to do it, for the ancestors, for my grandmother. 

 

SD: Were you taught to sing, or where you born this way? 

OS: I was born with it

 

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I left feeling charged up by Oumous very presence. I joined the huge crowd awaiting by the main stage to watch the Songbird of Wassoulou take to the stage. Loved by an adoring audience, Oumour Sangare exploded the stage with her powerful voice that emanated across the festival. Playing old and new tunes, Oumou focused mainly on her album. With dedications to women, wives and mothers, the reaction was of indulgence and love as the audience danced and sung throughout the entire performance. 

 

I was honoured to have spoken to Oumou Sangare, and can confirm that the new album is fabulous. 

 

Oumou

In Conversation with ÌFÉ (Otura Mun)

IFE

WOMAD Festival / Religious expression / Yoruba - Ifá practises / Electronic - London music scene

WOMAD 2017 Sunday, Ecotricity Stage, 5-6pm

 Otura Mun and Sophie Darling @ WOMAD Festival 2017 

Otura Mun and Sophie Darling @ WOMAD Festival 2017 

IIII+IIII Album Out now: 

Pronounced “Edgy-Og-Beh” 

 

As a student of ethnomusicology,  the concept of music as a form of religious or spiritual expression is something we frequently touch upon; be it the use of the African mBira for connection with the ancestral spirits, or the Islamic recital chanting of qawwali music, but Otura Mun’s debut album in his ÌFÉ outfit; IIII+IIII is a unique contemporary exploration of faith and spirituality through electronic music.

 

ÌFÉ firstly as a title of an album resonates religious connotations as it rings familiar to the ‘ Ifá ’  faith system within which our profound conductor of this musical outfit is himself, a practising priest. Ifá  is a branch of the Yoruba religion practiced throughout West Africa (Benin,Togo, Niger ect) I spoke to Otura Mun about these undeniable connections of faith in the album that at times plays as a spiritual experience; 

 

Otura Mun:  I initiated in Ifá; which is a part of the Yoruba religions as practiced in the western hemisphere. In which basically I am a priest, we are also called babalawo and our job inside that religious practices (Ifá) is divination. 

So my job is basically to find and define, what we understand as the divine destiny that each person is living or expressing at any particular moment in their lives, or looking back in their lives. So if you sit down in front of me, I’m going to define the sign out of the 256 (signs) that talks about the energy that you are manifesting.

 

Within Ifá, a process involving a wooden ‘divination tray’ named the ‘Opon Ifá' is used along side the sacred palm or kola nuts named ‘Ikin’, together the babalawos (otherwise known as Iyanifas/priests) will use this with the ‘256 signs’ in order to establish someones energy with the divine; 

 

Otura Mun:  My job (as a babalawo) is to identify the energies and help you balance yourself with it, with the idea that if you can grab onto your destiny and the life you are supposed to be living, and adhere to it right, and walk that path, then you are going to enjoy the fruits of life, have a long life of health, salvage relationships with people, you know, open roads in life. 

But if you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing, if you're not walking the path you're supposed to be walking, then you might experience loss and sickness and conflict. So my job is to help you see that destiny, and help you to give yourself to it. 

 

So some of what you're hearing in the record, is sort of maybe me coming to terms with another way to view the world around me. Because I initiated in this practice maybe around four years ago right; so this is an African religion and an African way of viewing and understanding the world that you live in, right. So maybe seven years ago I would have thought it would be silly to be praying to a stone, right, because of my western up bringing, I couldn’t understand that a stone has life, it is expressing itself, just the way that say this wood *holds table* is still expressing itself you know what I mean. But I couldn’t really wrap my head around that, it was me, meeting a new me, working through this new way of understanding the world, and inside of the songs, theres almost always a theme that I'm dealing with, and they’re general theme, say like loss or forgiveness. 

 

The last song ‘Yari Gemini’ is talking about forgiveness and it’s talking about a friend of mine that helped me get through a ruff moment in my life, you know. And so, Geminis are the two stars that are in the sky, and so I think about living with this best friend of mine forever, we’re going to be together forever you know, and inside of the Yoruba religion, the two twins are ‘Ibeji' and so theres a song at the end of the album, where I'm talking about the Gemini's being these two stars in the sky, but then you flip it and were singing to the Ibeji which are the twins in the Yoruba religions. So there’s sort of several different levels on which you can understand the music 

 

Having presented the album originally on ‘A World In London’ as an exclusive ‘new release’ back in May on SOAS Radio (https://soasradio.org/music/episodes/awil-221-full-swing), I’d relinquished in the opportunity to divulge fully into the album. Each tune sways seamlessly through speaking Yoruban or Spanish to English lyrics; as with faith that transcends languages, it seems this is another way in which the album becomes almost a religious experience. With further reminisce of trip-hop and a Cuban percussive section, I rather became entranced with the album. I asked Otura Mun how the rest of the world have reacted to the release…

 

Otura Mun:  It has been pretty amazing, I am really just overjoyed with the people that have hit me up from so many different parts of the world I think that were somehow able to connect through the music, on so many different levels, whether it was somebody who lets say is initiated in a certain part of the nation that let’s say is part of the religion, and say it touches them there. Or whether it's someone that doesn't speak either Spanish or English or Yoruba, but it is somehow able to connect with the sentiment of the album, in a very clear way. I’m just really grateful to be able  communicate with so many different people, and for people to be able to pull something out of the record that’s meaningful, that’s special. 

 

Knowing full well that the chart music of Puerto Rico, where Otura calls home, has for some, time been highly dominated by the reggaeton rhythms since the 1990’s. I ask Otura if this has had an impact on the success of his electro-afro-cuban album at home in the heart of Puerto Rico, and if this effects, as ÌFÉ, where he feels most musical at home…

 

Otura Mun: Home for me is in Puerto Rico, but actually to be honest, my home for performing is London. I love the UK, this is the third time I’v been here this year, all the shows we play in UK have been amazing. Im also a big fan of UK music, like I like listening to BBC One Extra, Mr.Jam  is cool, I love al that stuff and so I mean, home is cool, we actually have played three shows in Puerto Rico in total, that’s it. 

 

It’s totally really well received, it’s just that the music scene in general is really conservative over there you know, it’s sort of over run by like, reggaetone and just a lot of crap music. And so you know, there is a space for what were doing, but it’s soo new, that the people, especially the young kids, haven’t been able to reach out and interact, so yeah we play internationally a lot. 

 

I managed to catch up with Otura Mun after his set at WOMAD Festival UK 2017. Otura was playing on the Ecotricity Stage at a sun setting time of 5-6pm. Having listened to the album extensively before the set I was expecting an immersive performance, however was taken aback by the reaction of the audience, whom much like a religious ceremony seemed completely entranced in his soundscapes, almost as if sacrificing themselves to the music. Playing nearly the whole of ‘IIII+IIII’ I left the set feeling as tho I had received a generous helping of IFE’s music, and with unshakable taste for more. I asked Otura Mun if this was the reception they always receive when they play? 

  

Otura Mun: I tell you we didn’t want to leave the WOMAD stage! I suppose we do receive a similar audience participation wherever we go, but you know once again, the UK crowds are a lot of fun. For some reason I think that you guys know electronic music out here, and so you're used to those sounds and those types of performances, and so yeah, I just think that theres something about it, I don't know what it is, I can't put my finger on it, but this music in a way is built for you guys. I think perhaps you are the party people *laughs*.

 

I highly recommend listening to IIII+IIII in solitary concentration. The beautiful harmonies of the lyrics resonate such as a choir singing a sacred Yoruba praise song. I feel that the album is a journey through the faith and ÌFÉ is the carriage of our discovery. Perhaps in this new era IIII+IIII marks an age of albums being a medium of faith expression, and in themselves become an artefact of religious meditation. IIII+IIII in this case becoming Otura Muns religious manifesto. 

 

The opening song being perhaps the opening ceremony in our journey; with a call and response typical of it’s African influences, along side the cuban son rhythms, we are welcomed to the melting pot of inspirations to be found in the album through a soft meditative chant. The album then immediately picks up in the second track ‘Bangah' (Pico y Palo) with its foot tapping electronic Jamaican dancehall esc energy, suddenly we are able to revise and absorb the message, but it seems we can also express the album through dancing. The third track ‘YUMAVISION' diverting and taking us to a trip-hop ÌFÉ. As well as taking us through a concoction of traditional and contemporary sounds; IIII+IIII also subtly and seamlessly blends Afro-Cuban rhythms, such as their use of the ‘Son’ rhythm which inspired Salsa and originally was of an Afro-Cuban descent. ÌFÉ helps to shine a new light on these otherwise heavily Afro-Cuban sounds rarely heard outside the boundaries from which they originated.

 

All in all, ÌFÉ’s IIII+IIII may be a personal spiritual exploration for Otura Mun, but it’s also a unique exploration of music as an expression of religion, blurring the line between preacher and the preached and perhaps adding a medium to how one can express faith.

 

Check out Songlines October magazine review in which IIII+IIII received a 5 star review;

 

In Conversation with: Vigüela

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Vigüela are a Spain who take their traditional music to a global audience. Having been playing for over 30 years together, Vigüela, part family members, aim to keep alive and vivid the traditional repertoire of specific styles from their home in Castilla La Mancha. The melismatic vocals and pulsating guitar rhythms create a beautiful harmonic sway. 

 

I managed to catch up with Vigüela at WOMAD Festival 2017 before their slot on the BBC 3 Charlie Gillet Stage, and I spoke with them about their influences, their traditions and how they were finding British WOMAD. 

 

Members: Juan Antonio Torres, Mary Nieto, Carmen Torres, Luis Garcia Valera.

 

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Sophie Darling: firstly did you enjoy your set 

Viguela: Yes of corse, a lot 

 

SD: So let us know the relationships within the band, how do we know each other? 

Viguela: Antonio is founder of the band, he was 15 years old, so that was 35 years ago. Carmen is his sister, so she joined very very soon after he created the band, Marie is from the same village as they, she joined the band ten years go, so they know each other from all their lives, and she has been involved with many groups of women singing and playing music, and so when they decide they want one more woman, they asked her to come with them. Louis is from the different region is from the north and he is like on hour away. We know from the world of folk and traditional music, he is a director of a school for music, so we know him and we needed one more man so he joined the band 5 years ago,  he is only 21 years old. He is from the south eats and we know him only over the internet before we met in person, because he is active mainly int eh traditional practise of music, so he. 

They go to play in the street, so he spend a couple nights in this world, so we wanted to bring someone here, because he sings and he know this music directly from his family, especially his grandfather is his inspiration but also his mother is dancer, and she dances wonderfully so when we had this cache to come to womad to play here on the bbc3 stage, we thought about bringing  a guest artists to show what he can do, the music he knows can join perfectly with Viguela, because it continues in a style of music that is like a language. 

 

SD: Can you explain a little bit about your genre of music, and for example is there a strong timing

Viguela: This is a very interesting questions, because the question of rhythm is quite intriguing, beaus elf you put up a clap you always say this is awful, because you can't play this music with a clap, because the procession of ‘compas’ you have these music sheets with the lines, so they say this is a 3/4 compas rythm, this is a 2/4 4/4 that concession in this music doesn’t have place, this a totally different way of making music, I mean you can't record this with a clap because you make the drums then  you have to make the bass… no, you have to play together of corse to make a records with this, you can add voices after that perhaps, but everyone has to be together because the rhythms is moving al the time, you can’t really touch the rhythm in the modern conception of music. 

 

SD: How did you all start learning your instruments, was it passed down from your family? I assume from what you just explained that it wasn’t a western ‘sitting down’ and reading scripture technique? 

Viguela: Mainly we learned from our families, but also from the social environment, Antonio and Carmen; their father was a professional drummer, he was in band that play for you in the villages, but their grandmothers used to sing, not professionally, but they are singing with people all the time, so they picked p this excuse they have grown, in the rural village with 2000 people, so it’s notary big, and maybe like a little not well communicated with each other, there is no train, and only one bus to the city, so they have guessed some music in their village. 

Marie she is from the same when they were younger this music was totally alive, this was a music that for 

Louis came into the music mainly because he kew his father used to play guitar, but when we was a teenager, he realised that his father didn’t play anymore because he didn’t have someone to play with, so he started to play the lute in order to accompany his father, so after this he also got some of the older people interested again to play some of this music and also to play some specific music they used to play. So it got alive again. So now he studies and teaches education for music, he knows how to communicate in both ways, int eh modern way, but also int he traditional way, and for 

Habe, he is only young, 20/21 years old. So he has all the possibilities to be interested int his music because all his grandfathers died, but his family in general they are very musical and dancing and playing. 

 

SD: Do you have a good fan bass at home? Where have your most enjoyable performances been? 

Viguela: In Spain of corse they have played a lot, they have some people that are really really encouraging them all the time, “ahh Viguela you ere going round the world”, because you know sometimes when you are doing things like this, coming here, the people are very proud of this. But we are so happy in Spain that there are a lot of prejudices against this music, because they really don't listen to it, but they feel it is rural its old fashioned lack of modernity. The contemporary people can only sometimes be interested. This is traditional music from the people in our village. There is also perhaps new folk lets say inspired, but from a modern point of view I mean, the ones who can’t record an full album of music with a clap, so we also have that in Spain. For me it is another world, it is a different world, because this is a different approach to music, totally different. But we have these two things, The traditional music we also have other kinds of gigs with bigger line ups, with choreographic with um, dress, everything is quite standardises lets say, they go they make their show always the same, or maybe they can include one more song, but its more different now. It’s another world too. But sometimes it’s very confusing everything gets old, people don't understand really how to interpret it, how to excuse they think this is like the other thing meh but this is shay we face a lot of prejudices, but this of corse is why it is very important to be here, because we are so traditional to excite the Spain, and of the other people that have prejudices, but for others too to be very proud 

 

SD: What was the small guitar you were playing? 

Viguela: Mini guitar, e’darram mancheio’ 

 

SD: any follow up gigs? 

Viguela: yes in Spain, we have gigs on Fridays and Saturday and we hope no later than the end of the year we will have recorded a new album 

 

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In a beautiful atmosphere Vigüela came out roaring a stunning Spanish tune from their homelands. The guitars and the vocals caught the attention of the audience, who gathered to listen to the traditional music. 

For me the vocals are truly the aspect that stands out in this beautiful music, almost Arabic with it’s tonality, I love how they interact singing together.