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!
Here I spoke to the lovely Sebye Ntege about his music, his instrumentalism, his inspirations for his new album and playing WOMAD.
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 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.
The great and grande Bollywood Brass Band have been pumping it for years.
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.
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.
WOMAD Festival / Religious expression / Yoruba - Ifá practises / Electronic - London music scene
WOMAD 2017 Sunday, Ecotricity Stage, 5-6pm
IIII+IIII Album Out now:
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;
King Ayisoba, recognisable by an incredibly unique voice, and of course the accompaniment of the sacred kologo. King Aysioba was born in a tiny village in Ghana where he played the kologo everywhere he went. At the right time, he took his music to the neighbouring villages, and eventually to the city. Here he started to collaborate with Hi-life musicians, and produced his first tape/cd in 2006 - “Modern Ghanians” - of which ‘I want to se you my father’ became a hit, earning Ayisoba the position of popularising the kologo, and gained him the title of ‘King’ at the Ghana Music Awards Festival as part of Ghanas 50th anniversary celebrations.
Since Ayidoba, deemed King of the music in Ghana, has continued to take his traditional musics to global audiences the world over, and has collaborated with a number of legendary names, including Lee Scratch Perry on ‘1000 Must Die’.
King Ayisoba mixes his traditional styles, the use of the kologo: a two stringed lute used primarily and almost exclusively in areas of West Africa. As well as this the band uses various other traditional instruments, such as for percussion a calabash used like a football, with shakers inside, and is played by throwing rhythmically from hand to hand. A variety of native drums such as the guluku drums and the dundun drums. As well as these sounds, overall King Ayisoba often combines with electronic sounds.
I felt honoured to talk to King Asyioba as firstly a king of music, also the populariser of the sacred kologo music to a global audience, and so authentic in his music, the sounds of King Ayisoba and his band really transport you to West Africa… Ghana. His music also speaks without borders to everyone local to his village, local to Ghana and thus West Africa.
BBC3 Charlie Gillet Stage @ WOMAD
I had the opportunity to watch King Aysiobas set before talking to the band, they came out in amazing authentic batakari tunics, looking incredible in their West African garments, with their intriguing and magical instruments.
They proceeded to entice an entire audience with their melodic strumming and percussions. King Aysiboa’s unique voice echoing over the crowds as we danced with the band for a beautiful transformative hour.
As they finished playing, I made my way round the back to talk to the band a little…
Members: King Aysioba, Abaadongo Adontanga, Ayuune Sulley, Gemeka Akligilalatanda, Ayamga Francis
Sophie Darling (SD): Hello I loved the performance, I would love to know a bit more about your instruments, What is this?
King Ayisoba (KA) : It is very difficult to teach, This is the kologo..It is tuned to the voice
SD: How did you start to play the kologo, because it is after all strongly connected to your sound, as the populariser of the kologo globally?
KA: My grandfather used to play , and when he passed away, I was little, I never saw my grandfather before he passed away, but he say I need to play this kologo from my grandfather. And so when he passed, he said wheres this babies father, so they called my father to come, then they told my father that the child will play like my grandfather said, if you make a small kologo for me, so my father made a small kologo for me to play for four years, five years, six, years and I play with at parties, at the market, everywhere.
SD:You are from Northern Ghana,
KA: Yes from northern Ghana,
SD: Do you play any other instruments?
KA: I don’t want to play any instrument apart from the kologo, because if you play many instruments, you can't be professional for one, you get no where, but if you have one, you are very strong.
SD: What's the name of this drum
KA: Lumba - They call me lindisunga some people all these talking drums dumdum
SD: How long have you been playing in this set up?
KA: We started this together a long time ago, but maybe we come back together after I come out of profession with my father. After that, I knew that if you move to our own music you have to get back, so we start the band together in 2004/5
SD: 1000 can die, you wrote it with Lee Perry… What’s he like in person? Is he as crazy as a working partner?
KA: I didn’t know who he was at first, I wonder, yeah, I don’t know him well and we meet him, a year ago through our manager we meet him.
We meet him, how it is here, we had the same music, and we they told me he is a legend, they say, really important, he produced our first album. So they took my watch to give to the man, he like this, he like our record, and then they come back and say he want to work with us, we sit down and composed the song, and we also give the beat, and we have to give him the bat to listen to over there, and he also mixed the beats too we have to give the reggae man. So we give the reggae man, and he say wahh, and he tried to add some voice, and professionality. Was great.
SD: Who do you like to listen to musically?
KA: For me I like a lot, I like good music I like highlife, I like reggae, I guess I love it, I like all good music and all good singers, and some music I like it.
SD: Tell me about your fan base?
KA: Ayyyy we are the number star in Ghana, *laughs* is very good, very nice, everybody listen, there are lots of different styles, they are all different, but they all listen.
SD: Genre is hiplife, is this a creation? A mixture of highlife, dancehall and hip-hop?
KA: That is wrong, those are styles of music from Ghana but what we play is kologo music, hiplife is the Ghanian equivalent of rap music, high life is older music from 60’s and 70’s, they are playing a northern genre of kologo from the north, their region. And they have collaborated and played songs with hip-hop artists but my own style forever is kologo.
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.
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
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.
WOMAD Festival / Arabic Maqam / Qanun / Syria
WOMAD FESTIVAL 2017, Friday, Ecotricity Stage 3-4pm
‘Syrian Dreams’ Album Out NOW
Album Launch: Rich Mix 20.11.17
Maya Youssef took to the WOMAD Festival 2017 Ecotricity stage on the Friday 3:00-4:00pm and there played her unique Syrian music that rightfully has earned her the title ‘The Queen of the Qanun’ of which Maya is a virtuoso plucking the 72 stringed zither with practice, passion and class.
In this interview Maya Youssef discusses how she came to graduate in both Arabic and Western classical traditions from the University of Damascus and since 2012, her journey to London, studying and later teaching at SOAS University, and what her new music means to her.
“To me, music is a healer and an antidote to what’s happening, not only in Syria but in the whole world.” - Maya Youssef.com
Transporting back in time to seeing Maya Youssef play at WOMAD Festival, on stage accompanying Maya and her qanun were her trio, a fine set of simple percussion along side a standing bass. The audience, and myself were at the set where entranced, listening intently to everything that the lovely Maya had to say, and her versatile set, with emotional slow ballads, to more upbeat happy songs.
The sound of the qanun is one of such intense beauty, and Maya Youssef plays it with such an intellectual spiritual familiarity. Having started to compose music only after the war broke out in her home country, Syria, Maya’s songs are a reflection of the all encompassing pain that she feels for her country, her people and the situation in Syria, and more so how it’s reflected around the world.
After an emotional, powerful set, I met Maya Yourself to catch up….
S.D: How did you enjoy the set?
MY: I absolutely loved my set, I think that the people received it so beautifully, they interacted with it in an amazing way, and I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude by the end of it.
SD: I noticed that a lot of the meanings behind the stories of your songs seemed to resonate with the audience, is this something you find at all your concerts?
MY: Well the WOMAD audience certainly cheers with vigour, very loudly and proudly about the messages I was giving out. Maybe in other places they don't interact quiet as warmly, however I don’t mind, my excuse is that I feel that my songs are like seeds, and my hope is that they will grow later on.
SD: You’re from Damascus I do believe; when did you come to London?
MY: Indeed I am from Damascus, so at the end of 2011, I was presented with an amazing opportunity to apply for an ‘exceptional talents scheme’ in the UK in which I was selected for 300 artists from around the world to migrate to the UK, which was a real honour. At the time I was teaching at Sultan Qaboos University so I wasn't in Syria as the university is in Muscat Oman. Although I was really thinking about going back home to Syria, but because of the war, I accepted this opportunity and I was very very grateful for it, and this is how I ended up being in the UK. So I ended up moving her in 2012, and it has been amazing ever since.
SD: So is this a busy time for you with gigging in the summer and everything?
MY: It has been really busy throughout July but then I have two weeks off. Then straight back in doing Edinburgh Festival, and then Shambala. After that I will have some time off, so I am looking forward to that, and on the 20th of November I will have my album launch for ‘Syrian Dreams’.
SD: For people that don’t know, can you tell me a little bit about you instrument the ‘quanun’? Visually, well what to say; there are so many strings!
MY: Ahh yes, there are 78 strings, very specific, individually tuned. You see every three strings is one note, so I tune each three strings to be one note. It covers about three and a half octaves, and has a wonderfully large range of sound. It also has the strings tied on both ends with metallic leavers on the sides. These play the role of black keys on the piano, and these allow me to modulate, and change the pitches. Finally the quanun translated into Arabic means ‘the law’, so it is called this way because basically the other instruments are tuned to the pitch of the quanun, and also traditionally a quanun player was the leader of the ensemble. So it is one of the main instruments of Arabic classical music.
SD: It sounds fabulously gorgeous. As it’s an Arabic instrument can we assume that is uses the ‘maqam’ scales?
MY: Oh yes, correct.
SD: In which case, when did you start to learn the maqam scales, and how long did it take you to learn them?
MY: Firstly, the maqam scales are what the majority of Arabic music is based upon, and it has eight notes for every one western note. I learned from my teacher firstly aurally, and also had to learn on my own too, but when I had to start to teach it, I really felt the need to delve very deeply back into the scales and the hole maqam system of scales.
So that was in Demascus when I was about eight and half/ nine, and I was heading to the city with my mother and the taxi driver was playpen a recording of the quanun. I was amazed, I needed to know what it was I said “wow, what is it, I want to play it”, to which the taxi driver laughed at me and said “no, this is an instrument played by men, you are a girl, just forget about it”, he was so harsh. I really should thank him, for he re-kindled the fire within me and I told him “yes” I will play the quanun. Then it became really crazy, because the very same night, in my site reading class, the head of the institute walks in and says “qanun class is open for registration, anybody?”. So without hesitation of corse, I went along to the class. My mother asked what she was to do with the violin they had brought me, and I said I didn’t care about the violin, and said they could send it away. Which they did, then within three days they had brought me a second hand qanun.
SD: Wonderful, so it sounds as though you had really encouraging parents? Are they musical?
MY: They are so supportive, really amazing. My father has a huge collection of music, but neither of them play any musical instruments.
SD: I am aware that with other zithers of a similar family to your quanun the skill is taught in a master to student way only. Is this how you were taught?
MY: Yes, absolutely, I studied with many masters, and had many ideas from them. Such as the idea of cosmologies; which is connecting scales to a certain time of the day, or too a certain colour. Then there are also two Turkish players I learned with, and I have been taught amazing techniques of Turkish quanun playing from them, I used all their knowledge and used elements of each to create something of my own.
SD: How long had you been playing before you thought that you had managed to put your own spin on the instrument and had created your own music?
MY: I started writing my own music after the war. You see before the war, they hadn’t come to me, I was happy to perform different repertoires, classical, western, therefore the need to compose had never come to me to. However after the war started, I felt I could either write music, or explode.
SD:Would you go back to Syria?
MY: Obviously its very dangerous to go there now so I can’t, but I do have family there. So I’m going to have to hope that this war will end very soon, so that I can go and visit my family.
SD: I noticed that your personal politics and beliefs are in your compositions, is this something that you think is helping? Are you trying to spread a message?
MY: I think I live in alignment with my beliefs, so when I say that I am hoping to spread a message of love and peace, I live it. I think that’s what the worlds needs really, and its’s very simple. By focusing your attention you can just change things. It’s really amazing, because we are so used to giving away our power, thinking, oh no, the news is awful, we can’t do anything, the world is collapsing. Actually you are way more powerful than that, we must focus our energy on peace. We just created some unseen ripple of energy that no-one can see.
SD:Now tell me, can we expect an album soon?
MY: Yes! We will be launching in November, in London and Paris. Very exciting.
SD: Wonderful I look forward to it! Now my last question for you is this; Do you have any pre/post gig rituals?
MY: I pray. Simply pray with my eyes closed connecting with my breath.
Maya Youssef is launching her album 20th of November, at the Rich Mix ‘Syrian Dreams’
Maya Youssef set at WOMAD 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gl3_tU_yuuE
Maya Youssef website: https://mayayoussef.com/
WOMAD Festival Website: http://womad.co.uk/
Tickets for Maya Album Launch: https://www.ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/maya-youssef
SOAS University (Islington)
On the second of February, I went to the Rich Mix to see the band Namlo, fronted by Ganga Thapa, perform at their album launch. Namlo is the only Nepalese touring band in England. I was taken aback by the versatility of their tunes, spanning from their opening bass driven funky song, totheir more serious emotive slower songs. Knowing very little about Nepalese music, I decided to ask Ganga if he would mind meeting with me to have a one on one chat about his music, Nepals music, and his journey to the Rich Mix. Sure enough, an efficient week later, we met at SOAS University for a one on one conversation. Here’s what happened that day…..
A Sunny (but windy) Thursday….
I was working in the SOAS radio station when everyone abruptly dropped what they were doing to rush downstairs to the SOAS steps. I was alerted that the King of the Yoruba people (Southwest and North Central Nigeria) was to be arriving at SOAS within half an hour with twenty of his court musicians. The reason for this was apparently to make stronger alliances with the SOAS research department. I happily left what I was doing, grabbed my notebook and camera and ran with the crowds to see what all the fuss was about.
I was here to be meeting Ganga Thapa, leader and front man of all-Nepalese band; Namlo. I asked him if he would mind taking our meeting outside into the sunshine and explained the added drama of the supposed royal visitor. Also rather excited by the prospect of seeing a King, we agreed to set up outside in the beautiful sunshine. We each first grabbed hot drinks; a coffee for me, and hot chocolate for Ganga.
We firstly exchanged pleasantries, and I told Ganga how I had been at his album launch in the Rich Mix, how enjoyable I found the evening and how I found the versatility of the music amazing. It was immediately apparent how easy it was going to be having conversations with Ganga, friendly and chuckling, Ganga was open to sharing and also open to laughing.
Together we sat outside for over an hour awaiting the royal arrival and chatting about all manner of things.
S.D: Let’s talk firstly about your time before moving to London and before Namlo…
Ganga Thapa (G.P): Growing up in Nepal you’re surrounded by the beautiful Himalayan mountains, and so, that’s what everyone automatically thinks about. I found no-one thinks about the music there.
I studied Ethnomusicology in our capital city Kathmandu. I enjoyed it, but decided to carry on my studies elsewhere, somewhere a little more versatile. That’s why when I was twenty two I moved alone to London, England. Here I continued my studies in Ethnomusicology at degree level at the University of SOAS (otherwise known as, the School of Oriental and African Studies). Ethnomusicology is the study of music and cultures. I realised that there was very little focus on the musics of Nepal.
I was very lonely at first. The cultural change was crazy, London is such a big busy city, it made me feel very lonely. The adjustment period for me never quite seems over. I dearly missed the open spaces of Nepal, and found it hard in London with the lack of sunshine. Sunshine energises you and there is very little of this in London. I think perhaps how much I missed Nepal effected a little of my studies. I would sometimes miss class’s, and had the teachers emailing me to ask where I was.
When I was studying in Nepal, I had picked up playing the Sarod, which second to the sitar, is the most played instrument in traditional Indian music and classical Hindustani music. I also learned to play classical guitar, something I continued in England, and now offer classical guitar lessons also.
A great deal of the musical focus in Nepal is on Indian music. I therefore started off learning Indian Ragas’s (Indian melodic modes). I found myself more interested in the folk melodies coming from the classical Nepalese musicians. This became important to me. The radio will always be playing new ‘pop’ music. Indian pop is most prominent on the radio’s in Nepal, other forms of music are somewhat discouraged and less important. This fed me further into the desire to play the traditional folk musics from all over Nepal. I have childhood memories of the folk musics played, and it is these memories that I wanted to remember in my music.
S.D Have you faced any difficulties?
G.T: It has not always been easy in England, being from Nepal, it is sometimes hard to travel around, and consequently I have had a lot of distressing issues with living in England. I am sure these are not unique to me, but they are not easy. It is when facing these difficulties that music really becomes the driving force behind not just my creativity, but everything. It’s music that keeps me happy, healthy and able to continue through the tuff times. Sometimes these unfair things that get thrown at us, sometimes maybe they help. Maybe sometimes we need a little pain.
S.D Can you tell me about your musical inspirations?
G.T: My primary inspirations came from the folk melodies in Nepalese music. This is something that I wanted to present in my music; all the Nepalese folk areas of music. In England, the Nepalese music is very bad, terrible, I wanted to make sure that the subconscious cultures from all over Nepal are being played and represented.
However saying that, in Nepalese music, the vocals are technically very very good, this is something I wanted to harness, however the vocals can also be very boring, there is too much happening in their music, and they stay within the melody all the time. Very boring. Also Nepalese songs tend to have very long lyrics, in my songs, the overall structure of the lyrics aren’t as long.Itake the technicality of the vocals and make it my own, make it interesting.
I also very much like African tonality. That’s why I take some inspiration from West Africa as well, such as from Mali.
Many Malian artists inspire me, I particularly love mystros Bassekou Kouyate and Toumani Diabate, as well asAli Farke Toure and Habib Kouyate. Habib Kouyate actually has the guitar that I had always wanted, and finally got for myself. The guitar is a Godin guitar and has a midi output built in, very cool indeed.
S.D What is your song writing process?
G.T: Inspirations for me songs come in all places. When I write my songs, the melody will come to me first, perhaps I will play something on the guitar, then the lyrics will come second. This is how I write my music. Very often inspirations will come randomly when I am travelling, and I will need to write a song there and then, but always I will mainly be inspired by the folk traditions, the rhythms and melodies of Nepal. From the North and the South, all over, I want to take the little differences in their cultures, and play them all.
S.D Can you tell me about your music and Namlo?
G.T: I was originally in a band in England called the Yak Attack when I first moved, but now I am playing with Namlo. I am also a teacher in classical guitar. However Namlo is what I am doing full-time.
Together in Namlo we represent all of Nepal, with four of us directly from Nepal, our double bass player is from Wales, and our clarinet player is Australian. We recorded the percussion on our debut album in Nepal. Another of my inspirations if of corse Bisso Shahi whose produced our album. He has been a constant influence to me and Namlo as a band. I feel our sound would be rather different without his inspirations. He has guided me very much so.
Namlo in Nepal is actually the name we call to the strap. A strap that holds our ‘Doko’ baskets. It is a very strong strap that is used in everyday life, it is an integral part of out lives, and everyone from Nepal knows exactly what a Namlo is. It helps us to carry things easily. I like it because it represents what we are doing with our band. The basket you see is weaved together for strength. Just as we are weaving our cultural bonding together in support of the Nepalese community worldwide.
We want to create cross cultural global music. From all the different folk scenes and melodies from different parts of Nepal, to London UK. I want to fuse these Indian and Nepalese and Western influences in order to raise the profile of Nepalese music in a global context. I want to represent our diverse community.
When there was the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, we knew we had to show our solidarity and try and help our people. Therefore we arranged 10 gigs all around England, and all the money we made went straight to those effected by the earthquake. It was very difficult for us to see the suffering, so we had to do something to help.
S.D: Do you have help organising your schedule?
G.T: To help us tour and play gigs everywhere, we managed to get some Arts Council funding. This helped us dearly, as we have no band manager. I book all the concerts myself, which can be very challenging. Also keeping our social media up to date is also a task I find sometimes difficult asI feel my English is not always the best. Never the less, we find venues, promoters who want cross cultural performances, and we travel around the country playing these gigs.
S.D: Where can we listen to your music?
G.T: Our Debut album self titled Namlo is now available after our album launch in the Rich Mix on the second of March (2017). It has been produced by my good friend and guide Bisso Shahi. The launch at the Rich Mix was one of my favourite concerts. The sound in the venue was really good, same as when we played in Union Chapel. As our music has a story, it is nice to have venues that have good quality sound as we can really feel as though we are portraying our message and our story to the audience. You can also listen to my catalogue of music on my website: gangathapa.com
After a good couple of hours of chatting, we decided to call it day. For those wondering, we did manage to see the King of the Yoruba people during our conversation. He arrived with all the gusto and grandeur expected of Royalty. with twenty musicians playing and singing for his as he walked fro his limo to the SOAS steps under a large umbrella propelled by two of his men. After witnessing this arrival, we made our way inside to warm up from the bitter London ‘summer’ weather.
Having listened to the Namlo album, I found it hopelessly catchy and infectious. I listened to the album for the first time back to back. It is certainly a product of fusion. The beautiful sounds such as the flutes playing Nepalese melodies, and the voices being used sometimes as just harmonium drones. With up-beat feel good songs such as ‘Kauda' with more obvious Indian influences and the stunning voice of Shreya Rai, to the more emotive ‘Pida’ (translated Grief) taking us on a journey, and using near to no lyrics in doing so. The whole album from beginning to end captures the fusion Ganga speaks of so desperately of wanting to portray.
When times are tuff I listen to the Namlo album, it’s soft and pulsing groove allows me to travel to a happy musical space. I can listen to the album from start to finish with ease and pleasure. It’s lovely to hear and recognise the wonderful Nepalese rhythms and melodies spoken so highly off. I would buy this album for my nan and also for my best friend. Truly a beautiful piece of work, it has an appeal to the great majority.
Conducting this ‘one on one’ with Ganga was an absolute pleasure, we laughed and smiled and talked of all things good and bad. His honesty and openness was an absolute pleasure to work with. I like to think I found a friend in Ganga that sunny Thursday afternoon.
You can catch Namlo play on: May 26th at the Southbank Centre (London), July 6th at the Folkestone Festival and July 9th at SOAS for the South Asian Festival. You can also buy the album ‘Namlo’ on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. Be sure to follow them on all media platforms to follow Ganga and Namlo on their journey to spreading Nepalese music globally.