Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Russian Folk Singer Alyona Minulina

For about 4 years Alyona Minulina has been known as Alyona FolkBeat – a beautiful folk singer and beatbox musician from a rising star group FolkBeat. In February 2017 Russian label FireStorm production released their new album “I’m marching on my own” that was recorded and produced by Alyona but at the same time their fans were shocked by news about her leaving the project. Alyona tells us what happened and what’s next.

Q:How did the group FolkBeat get started?

Alyona Minulina: FolkBeat grew up from a student’s ensemble. It was called differently and consisted of a large number of participants. Later I began to study beatbox and electronic music, so I thought it was interesting to combine it with Russian folk songs. So FolkBeat has traditional Slavic polyphony, surrounded by electronic arrangement, which is close to the styles of EDM trap, dubstep, trance and crunk. The compositions are often performed with beatbox – imitation of drum machines and music effects using vocal apparatus and articulation organs.

 

Alyona Minulina

 

Q: How would you describe your musical journey so far?

AM: When we started we made music for ourselves and gradually our music started to be interesting to other people. We didn’t think about genres, we were passionate about making music with each other, it was really awesome. When we went on stage the audience felt our special energy.

Q: Did you perform in Europe or only in Russia?

AM: In 2016 Folkbeat took part at EuroRadio Festival and had a concert in Viljandi (Estonia). Besides this we visited Madrid, Munich, Athens and Tallinn with festival of Russian cultural FeelRussia.

Q: As I know – you love collaborating with different music genres and bands: what are the features of Russian folk music that makes it possible for you to collaborate with other musicians?

AM: The most interesting thing for me is the fact that people connect with each other, share cultures, and different genres and traditions mix too. Now I have plans to record some songs together with the master of throat singing Alexei Chichakov from Mountain Altai. This will be the connection of his own Altai traditions and Slavic melodies.

In every collaboration I’m looking for special feeling when the spark runs between musicians (chemistry in our relationship), because then, every performance becomes memorable for listeners. This is the highlight for me. Of course with Folkbeat we often had this feeling. When the head is full with ideas – I always find the way to realize them. But sometimes I get tired and I need to allow some rest for myself. This is the most difficult thing for me.

 

 

Q: What music instruments do you use?

AM: Different electronic things (loop station, keyboards), sometimes folk wind instruments like kugikly and kaliuk, khomus.

 

Alyona Minulina

 

Q: What can you tell us about the contemporary Russian folk scene?

AM: Despite the fact that the Russian folk scene is a real “folk star” and a budding young musicians, it hasn’t been formed yet. We do not have enough support and solidarity between each other. Although we have more opportunities for advancement than 10 years ago.

Q: How are your albums being received by audiences?

AM: Our first album «Joyful meeting» became favorite Russian-folk album on EBU Folk Festival in 2016. In Russia it was in the top twenty music albums of 2016. This year we released the album «Sama idu» (I’m marching on my own). We collaborated with different electronic musicians and DJs, so it can be classified as pop-folk.

Q: Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career?

AM: My teachers, who always said something like this: pull yourself and work, work hard, if you really love it.

Q: So what happened to FolkBeat?

AM: With Folkbeat we are friends, but we do not work together anymore. If the world gives us a chance to sing together again, I will take this chance.

Now I work on original songs album with the texts of famous Russian poets from XX century. And together with Jewish, Armenian, Russian musicians and composer from Canada, Ivan Popov, we have created a world music project “Under The Same Sky” which intertwined tunes and melodies of different national cultures. In March we will have a concert of Slavic-Jewish music.

 

Alyona Minulina

 

Q: Are Russian audiences, venues, labels and artists open to collaboration?

AM: It depends on various factors, but if you play interesting music, you can always find a way.

Q: Where do you see yourself 10 or 15 years from today?

AM: I see myself chewing pasta in my favorite little pizzeria in Italy, resting in a cozy wooden house on the Solovetsky Islands in Russia, and playing my set at the Burning Man.

Q: Do you also teach workshops for students and musicians?

 

Alyona Minulina

 

AM: I opened vocal beatbox and body percussion workshops named “Pulse” in Moscow recently and it’s getting popular. I have a lot of new ideas and projects in my head and I hope my music experience with FolkBeat will help me to create something really unique and internationally interesting.

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“Music is a medium for social interactions and dialogue” – interview with Ronnie Malley, multi-instrumentalist, producer and educator

Ronnie Malley is a multi-instrumentalist musician, theatrical performer, producer, and educator. He collaborates with the music groups Allos Musica, Duzan Ensemble, Lamajamal, and Surabhi, and is a faculty member at the Chicago Academy for the Arts. He performed recently at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) in India with George Lawler (percussion), Subrata Bhattacharya (tabla) and Abhisek Lahiri (sarod). See my writeup on the JLF music showcase here.

His recent credits include author and composer of the original play Ziryab, The Songbird of Andalusia (Silk Road Rising World Premiere), author and composer of the story ​The Oud, Ziryab, and Andalusia: An Enchanting Tale of Music (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Chicago Cultural Center). He has produced the albums Auraad Fathiya, Saazuk Safar, Tsikago, and Gypsy Surf.

 

Ronnie Malley – Auraad Fathiya

 

Ronnie conducts Arabic language artist residencies for Chicago Public Schools through Intercultural Music Production and is a teaching artist for music and theater with Global Voices Initiative. He joins us in this wide-ranging interview on his musical journey, the role of music in cultural identity, and his message for a better world.

Q: How did the lineup for East Meets Middle East get formed? How did the musicians know each other?

RM: East Meets Middle East (EMME) formed in early 2016 as a collaboration between two Chicago musicians; George Lawler and myself, who had been playing together for over 10 years, and two seasoned classical Indian musicians from Calcutta; Subrata Bhattacharya and Abhisek Lahiri, who were both on tour and visiting Chicago. We were introduced by a mutual musician friend.

 

Abhisek Lahiri and Ronnie Malley at Jaipur LitFest – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

EMME’s concept arose from a conversation between Subrata and myself about a hate crime on a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, which we thought displayed the ignorance that exists about different faiths and cultures from the Middle East and India, not only in America, but elsewhere. We thought about making a project that would emphasize the uniqueness of these rich, yet distinct, cultures and serve as a contrast to many ‘East Meets West’ albums that often lump South Asian and Middle Eastern music into one broad category.

Q: How was your overall experience touring through India this month?

RM: Touring India this month was an exhilarating experience! I’d say one major highlight was being able to see three distinct cities: Kolkata, Jaipur and Delhi. In Kolkata, George and I were able to get a closer look at one of India’s cultural capitals and learn more about its folk music (e.g., Jhoomur and Tusu) as well as one of my favorite literary icons Rabindranath Tagore.

 

East Meets Middle East at Jaipur LitFest – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

In Jaipur, the world just came together through music and literature. I especially enjoyed reconnecting with friends such as Nathu Lal Solanki (nagarra player from Rajasthan) and Homayun Sakhi (Afghan rubab player in Aga Khan All Stars). Delhi was also amazing because George and I got to perform with friends Raghu and Sudha Raghuraman, masters of Carnatic music, and also meet folks from Amarrass Records, Desmania Design, and One World College of Music.

 

George Lawler (percussion) and Subrata Bhattacharya (tabla) at Jaipur LitFest – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Q: How is your album ‘East Meets Middle East’ being received by the audiences and media?

RM: Folks at the JLF were very supportive. We’re a little new as a group and still building our audience and media coverage, but social media and streaming site comments have also shown appreciation for what we’re trying to do. Some have expressed that it’s refreshing to get a more in-depth look at these cultures through music. Others enjoy the instruments and how they complement each other.

The sarod and tabla are Indian counterparts to the Middle Eastern oud and darbuka (also called a tabla in the Mid East). Though, I’d say most comments have been about the improvisation. We have a structure for the compositions, but we also leave room to improvise – making each live performance a unique experience for us and the audience.

 

East Meets Middle East

 

Q: The tracks Misty Trail and Distant Star really jump out! Can you describe how they were created?

RM: All of the tracks on the album are original compositions. Misty Trail is a composition by Subrata Bhattacharya and Distant Star is an original composition of mine. Initially, Subrata went to a studio in India with Abhisek Lahiri and recorded the composition as a guide track for us to learn, and eventually re-record in Chicago.

Distant Star came about as an improvisation while rehearsing with George in Chicago, which I later arranged. Ultimately, once we had a structure for the pieces, improvisation became the focus. Indeed the whole album was conceived like that. Basically, once Subrata and Abhisek arrived in Chicago, they came to George’s and my studio for rehearsals, which we ended up recording, and that became the album. It’s a live album of original compositions and improvisations, but really it’s a musical dialogue of our encounter.

Q: What other lineups and genres have you experimented with?

RM: I grew up playing everything from rock and blues guitar to Middle Eastern and North African folk and classical music. George and I also have had the group Lamajamal for about ten years, which explores music from the Balkans, Greece, the Middle East, and North Africa. With that group, we include clarinet, bass, guitar, and various Turkish instruments. George also has a group called Byzantine Time Machine, which explores Balkan and Greek music through an electronic medium.

I also have another fusion group called Surabhi, which is a group that celebrates the connections of Indian, African, and Middle Eastern music to Spanish flamenco. The lineup for Surabhi consists of veena, oud, tabla, guitar, cajon, bass, and African percussion. Our groups are based in Chicago.

Both Abhisek and Subrata also have their own fusion projects in Calcutta as well as Europe and the US. Abhisek’s group is Ionah and Subrata’s projects are many, including Flat Earth Ensemble and Naad, to name a few. They’ve also collaborated with countless artists.

I think EMME is unique for all of us. The group explores the relationship between raga and maqam musical styles, but also delves into the improvisational components of those styles, as well as drawing on all of our collective influences in everything from Pink Floyd to Ali Akhbar Khan.

 

Ronnie Malley at Instituto Cervantes

 

Q: How would you describe your musical journey so far, in terms of phases, genres, collaborations, inner discovery?

RM: For myself, music has been all I’ve ever really known. I went from performing in the family Mid-Eastern band at weddings as a child to playing rock and in punk marching bands to performing classical Turkish and Persian repertoire with the University of Chicago Middle East Music Ensemble to collaborating with world artists and creating groups like EMME.

I know Abhisek also began performing with his father, Pt. Alok Lahiri, at a young age. George, like myself, honed a lot of his background in world musics from Chicago’s diverse communities. It’s all really a continuous journey that unfolds new chapters with every project, encounter, or collaboration. It’s about trying to build experiences where music is a medium for social interactions and dialogue – not just for musicians, but also those with whom we interact.

 

Ronnie Malley with Allos Musica

 

Q: What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?

RM: As a musician and composer, the great challenge is striking a balance between performing and writing in one’s career. As a performer, sufficient practice to hone one’s craft and deliver a great performance is essential, even when the repertoire is not new. One has to discover something new in what might appear mundane. As a composer, it is important to shift practice routines for performances and allow more time to think creatively for thoughts and inspiration to translate into more writing.

Q: Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career?

RM: The family band with my father and brother is probably my first leading influence in my musical career as we were able to perform as the house band in Chicago for many visiting artists from the Middle East.

Next, I would say the musicians with whom I performed like Tony Hanna from Lebanon, Magdi El Husseini from Egypt, and Najib Bahri and Mohammed Saleh from Tunisia. A lot of credit is also due to some of Chicago’s own older established musicians who migrated to the US, like Issa Boulos and James Stoynoff.

Q: How do you blend different musical influences and genres, i.e. how do you create fusion without confusion?

RM: It is about mutual respect. For example, it is one thing to say, “Oh, I love Indian or Middle Eastern food,” and another thing to have dinner with an Indian or Middle Eastern family. In the first case, it’s like choosing something as a matter of taste simply because it’s appealing and can offer some spice to your proverbial melody. Perhaps, it’s a start to gauge interest, but confusion on what’s authentic or appropriate can arise.

In the second case, a relationship is formed. One learns the customs, language, and perspective of a culture developing a bond with the people and their tradition. The latter approach is what I appreciate about creating cross-cultural collaborations in music.

Q: What kinds of social and political messages have been conveyed in your recent albums? What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political/economical turmoil?

RM: With EMME, we’re trying to raise awareness that there are similarities and distinctions in the traditions we represent. Both Mid-Eastern and South Asian cultures have robust pluralistic societies consisting of many religions and philosophies that tend to be homogenized in the West, but also misunderstood in the East amongst the people themselves.

Our hope is that music can serve its part in an effort to bring humanity closer in dialogue and make us all more productive. While it is important to celebrate our differences, we should also get over them and realize we face similar issues that affect and should unite us all.

Q: What new album or video are you working on now?

RM: All the members of EMME have their own projects they tend to, but we are looking to begin recording a second album in Chicago around Spring and Summer of 2017.

Q: How is the creative scenario for traditional and fusion music today? Are audiences/venues/labels/artistes very open to such collaboration?

RM: It’s important not to ascribe the label ‘fusion’ to all cross-cultural collaborations. Indeed many traditional styles, such as Spanish flamenco, Indian raga, Mid Eastern maqam, and music from the Americas are organic blends of multiple styles that date back hundreds of years.

Overall, I think there’s an audience for anything one wants to focus on – and in turn, probably a record label or streaming service that’s tailored for or by that audience. There’s room for a lot styles from academic projects like Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road, to cross-genre projects like Junoon, or straight up hip-hop sung in Arabic or Punjabi by emerging artists where these languages are spoken. My hope is that people in general can transcend the labeling of a genre and rather open more to exploring and appreciating sound, whether it’s classical or contemporary, analog or digital.

Q: Where do you see yourself 10 or 15 years from today? What are some ‘˜dream projects’ or visions you are working towards?

RM: 10 to 15 years from today I plan on continuing to work in music production and performance as well as teaching and writing about it. The greater vision is to create more interdisciplinary art projects that allow others to perceive practice of art as a way of life and perceiving the world, not just as a commodity for consumption.

Q: Do you compose on the road also, while traveling?

RM: I always have a recorder and blank sheet music handy. Inspiration strikes when you least expect it sometimes. It could come from seeing something or someone in the street, while waiting for a train, or in a cab driving through the street of Calcutta or Chicago.

Q: What are some unusual reactions you have got during your live performances?

RM: It really depends on the audience and where we’ve played. In my group Lamajamal, we had people come up to us crying saying how a piece of music brought back memories of their father or mother, or of being back in their country. That was the case once with an Armenian woman who was attending a performance at a cultural center.

 

 

We’ve also been asked to conduct workshops and lectures about the music and cultures we present. This was the case when Lamajamal presented a workshop on commonalities between Jewish, Turkish, and Middle Eastern Music at Georgetown University. My other group Surabhi has given similar performances and presentations about the commonalities of Indian, Arab, and Spanish music. These presentations are often meant with informative questions and new learning.

 

Ronnie Malley – Surabhi

 

A different experience occurred when I was touring last year with a project called Caravanserai. The sponsors of the tour were showcasing arts and artists from the Muslim world to cities in America, where most people had never even met a Muslim, and were informed only by what they saw on TV. Zeshan Bagewadi, an Indian-American musician, and myself headlined the tour. Though we both had Muslim backgrounds, the music we presented was funk and rock n’ roll with elements of Sufi poetry and style.

In our first performance to some community members from the town, someone within earshot said, ‘So this is what terrorist music sounds like!’ That was definitely not a reaction I was expecting on the first day being in this town. After a week-long residency of workshops and community engagement there, we felt that our music and outreach was able to soften their hearts from the first reaction and open their minds by the time of the final performance at the end of the week.

 

Lamajamal

 

Q: As a Palestinian, how important is culture to the people’s identity, and how do you see yourself contributing to this preservation?

RM: Culture is the image and representation of any people’s identity. Yet, I also think it’s important to make sure we identify with who we are – musician, artist, poet, athlete – more than where we come from. In other words, I’d rather be considered an artist who happens to be Palestinian, than always being viewed as a Palestinian artist.

My background is in Global Music Studies and I find that by knowing and passing along music from my culture or other cultures with which I engage (e.g., Indian, Turkish, Balkan, American) I can represent them better from an artistic perspective than a nationalist one. There are many Mid Eastern and South Asian artists who know their traditional cultures very well, but who also have experience in music from outside, yet existing within, their own cultures in genres like rock n’ roll, hip hop, jazz, and classical music. In that sense, they still represent who they are and also where they come from.

Artists like Junoon, Zubin Mehta, M.I.A, and the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM are all examples of artists from specific cultures who are also global representatives. In short, if I were to represent my ethnic heritage, I would say demonstrating how I am a global citizen would be one way.

Q: Do you also teach workshops for students and musicians?

RM: All of the members of EMME are also teachers of their respective craft. George and I both work at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and also work as teaching artists conducting workshops and lectures in schools and universities. Abhisek and Subrata also have many private students and have given residency workshops at schools around the world including the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

 

 

Q: How has the music industry changed over the years, and how has it impacted you?

RM: I think acts have come to rely greatly on the do-it-yourself model with emphasis on income from live performance, self-publishing, and potential placement for licensing than record sales, which in today’s digital economy can be negligible for artists. The ability to reach a whole new audience has never been easier through the advent of social media and recording technology. As for other aspects, we learn to embrace and utilize tools responsibly, whether they be social media or instruments like electronic loops and mixers.

 


Ronnie Malley, co-composer and performer in the theater play The White Snake

 

Q: What is your message to the aspiring musicians out there?

RM: The only way you’ll get to where you’re going is if you remain in the game. All measures of success are relative. One does not have to be a superstar to have a career in music, even though that, too, is a legitimate aspiration. I’ve found it to be more rewarding to contemplate what we can contribute to the world as artists and how the relationships we build along the way truly determine our success.

Q: What is your message to your audiences?

RM: Support live music and art. Practice an art, whatever it may be, if just for the sake of appreciating expression and what art means to humanity. In a world, caught up in technology, nothing will ever replace the need for face to face time whether one is a practitioner, student, or observer.

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Interview with French Flutist and Composer Jean-Luc Thomas

Jean-Luc Thomas

 

Music is a fantastic communication medium” – French cross-cultural flutist-composer Jean-Luc Thomas

Based in Brittany, French flutist and composer Jean-Luc Thomas has traveled around the world for a series of musical collaborations. Celtic traditions blend in a creative mix with African, Arab and South American sounds in his albums. Spanning folk, classical music and jazz, Jean-Luc continues to cover a wide range of sounds and styles in his projects. His earlier albums include Ainara, Translations, The Dance of Fire, Parallel Horizon, Namou, Kej, Hastan, Dibenn, and History of Water, Tree and Stone.

I caught two performances of his fusion lineup promoting his most recent album, Magic Flutes, as part of an India tour. He performed with Indian musicians Ravichandra Kulur (flute), Giridhar Udupa (ghatam), and Muthu Kumar (tablas, cajon, djembe, darbuka). They played at Alliance Francaise and The B-Flat Bar in Bangalore. In this interview, Jean-Luc speaks on his collaboration of Celtic and Carnatic styles of music, his decades-long musical journey, and message to the world.

 

Jean-Luc Thomas in Bangalore with Indian flutist Ravichandra Kulur – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Jean-Luc Thomas in Bangalore with Indian flutist Ravichandra Kulur – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Jean-Luc Thomas with Kej

 

Q: How would you describe your musical journey so far, in terms of phases, genres, collaborations, inner discovery, and so on?

JL: I learned to play the flute alone, then I learned to play music thanks to others. I started with no teachers because flute, at that time, was very new in Brittany. So I had to find the basic technical things by myself. Then I met old singers of Breton traditional musics who gave me times and songs, then I went to Ireland to play during the sessions they have in pubs.

Here I learned many technical things and lots of tunes. I was a traditional musician for 15 years (quite successful), but I felt I had to listen to others sounds. So I went to Mali, Poland, Brazil, Kurdistan, Tunisia, Niger, and so on. I played each time with local musicians. I also started to meet jazz musicians, story-tellers, electronic musicians – and little by little I discovered new sounds, new territory. I improved my availability and capacity to listen and then play with other people.

So, I always keep one feet in my local music and the other foot in encounters of other artists with improvisation as a key to communicate.

 

Jean-Luc Thomas in Bangalore with Indian flutist Ravichandra Kulur – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Q: How did the lineup for Magic Flutes get formed in France, and then in India?

JL: In France, Ravi and I decided to invite Camilo Menjura on guitar for the recording (we had met him earlier in Rudolstadt (Germany) in 2013). When we started recording Ravi and I immediately thought about Camilo. Camilo is a Colombian guitar player living in London. When we performed last June, he couldn’t leave England for administrative reasons, so we had Philippe Bayle at the guitar. In June, we also performed with tabla player Prabhu Edouard, who plays kanjira and some other percussion as well. It was a great moment!

In India, Ravi wanted to try several combinations, I think it was a very good idea. We could change the colors of each concert, so we had Giridhar Udupa (ghatam), Muthu Kumar (tablas, cajon, darbuka), Swam Selvanganesh (kanjira), and Rafiq Langa (khartal). We played sometimes in trio, sometimes in quartet. I completely trusted Ravi on his musical propositions. So, every concert was a different party.

Q: What are the features of Carnatic music that makes it possible for you to collaborate so well with South Indian musicians?

JL: As a Breton traditional musician, I come from a modal music, not tonal. This is the specificity of Carnatic ragas. We play modes or ragas and not tonality.  I’m fascinated with modes, music with drones, which is very meditative and very inspiring for improvisation. The time stops, you are in a meditative atmosphere and then you let the ideas become organized, the improvisation emerges, and you let music go through you!

Q: How was your overall experience touring through India this month? What were some highlights for you?

JL: We had very good concerts in Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Delhi. Every concert was different because we changed the line up for each concert. It was a really good experience to travel through India with Ravichandra as a guide. I saw so many different things, met so many people, listen to so many amazing musics, eaten so many different meals, that I need a little bit of time for a good digestion of all that!

 

Jean-Luc Thomas in Bangalore – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Q: How did the musicians know each other?

JL: I met Ravi in Rudolstadt in July 2014, Camilo Menjura was also a part of Magic Flute’s first creation in Rudolstadt. Then sometimes I introduced Ravi to Western musicians, sometimes Ravi introduced me to Indian musician. Music is a fantastic communication medium!

During the Indian tour, many musicians met just before the concert. The musical quality of each of them allows lot of precision and freedom for us. Music allows that situation, especially if you are ready to improvise, which is obvious in India, but not so obvious sometimes in Europe.

Q: How is your album being received by audiences and media?

JL: We had very good feedbacks of this album, internationally (Canada, South America, USA Belgium) and in France (including Brittany, where I live). Endorsements and praise have come from Cloudcast (Canada), RTBF (Belgium), Le Tregor, Global Village, Trad Magazine, and Ethnotempos.

Q: The tracks ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Carnaak Nagin’ really jump out! Can you describe how they were created?

JL: I composed the fast melody of Crossroads for Ravi in 2014 when I came to Bangalore. I was thinking about his flute and this tune arrived. Then we practiced together and Ravi wanted to have an aalap. When he played it, I was thinking of the ancient Pibroch (Piobaireachd or Celmar) of the old tradition of bagpipes from Scotland. Then Ravi composed the last tunes, and one after the other, each of us brought an idea; we tried, we kept, we changed, we threw, we kept some elements. It is the way we work together. On the album, the presence and colors of Camilo Menjura are awesome, and he contributes a lot to the sound of this album.

Carnaak Nagin is another story. We were talking about common groove and scales. I played a very old tune from South Brittany on a very old scale (microtonality, ¼ tone) and Ravi immediately enjoyed it, so we played it again. The tempo arrived and the dances from South-Brittany could communicate with Indian snake’s dances. For the recording, Ravi also wanted to have additional percussion and they also bring their own colors in this album, on tunes like Carnaak Nagin. (Carnac is a place in south Brittany famous for menhirs and dolmens of the old Celts tradition.)

Q: What other lineups have you played with?

JL: The album original ‘Magic Flutes’ features Camilo Menjura (guitar), Jerome Kerihuel (percussion), and additional percussionists K.U Jayachandra Rao (mridangam), G. Guruprasanna (kanjira) and Muthu Kumar (table, darbuka). For my Bangalore tour in 2014, I collaborated with Arun Kumar (drums), Prakash Kn (bass), and Aman Mahajan (keyboards).

In France, I have teamed up with Philippe Bayle (guitar) and Prabhu Edouard (tablas, kanjir). Other musicians on my India tour this year have been Swami Selvanganesh (kanjira) and Rafiq Langa (karthals).

 

Jean-Luc Thomas

 

Q: What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?

JL: As a flute player, you need to work every day on the instrument, so, it’s a lot of time just to keep connected to the instrument. You need to work on technical things, daily exercises on improvisation and traditional music. Then you need to feed your art by listening, reading, observing nature, to find inspiration for compositions, new roads to explore as an artist and, of course, meet other musicians.

And then, you need to work, record albums, perform live. I created a label with Gaby Kerdoncuff, another musician from Brittany, called Hirustica, which is 10 years in 2017. It allows us to record and produce our music with 100% liberty. So you need to be always connected to the instrument, find ideas and be creative, try to perform to make your compositions live on stage or on albums.

Q: Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career?

JL: So many influencers, from local musicians and singers from Brittany and Ireland to others like Hariprasad Chaurasia, Hermeto Pascoal, Alim Kasimov, Steve Reich, Egberto Gismonti, Eric Dolphy, and Rolland Kirk – without forgetting the amazing nature from Brittany with sea, birds, forests and rivers and all the wonderful musicians I met on my musical journey!

Q: How do you blend different musical influences and genres, i.e. how do you create fusion without confusion?

JL: In all the collaborations I had, I wanted everybody to keep his accent. I think of music as a discussion, sometimes you have to talk, sometimes you have to listen and be silent when the other is speaking. When everybody speaks, that’s confusion for me in music as in life. So, the human quality of the others musicians is also fundamental.

Q: What kinds of social and political messages have been conveyed in your recent albums? What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political and economical turmoil?

JL: We can be Indian, Breton, Nigerian, and so on – but before all we are terrans, we live on this earth, we have our qualities and limit. There are so many things we can’t do alone so we need to work and learn from the other. Anyone else can teach us some important things in music, in life. We need to move the borders, keep our accent, our spices, but cook together something new with humility and sincerity because each is a new school.

1+1 is more than 2. Over religions, politics, and opinions, you have music and the quality of a relationship on stage. I played with so many different musicians. But I felt always the desire to share music above all with all of them. Through music or arts, you can meet so many different people. Learn to accept and enjoy the difference because it helps to learn and grow.

Q: What new album or video are you working on now?

JL: The next album, ‘Serendou.’ will be released in February. It’s a collaboration with the amazing flautist and singer Yacouba Moumouni and Boubacar Souleymane from Niger, we have worked together for 10 years now. We played in Niger, France, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, and now it’s time for the second album. We have guests Carlos Malta (Pifano-Japurutu) and Bernardo Aguiar (pandeiro) from Rio de Janeiro, and the amazing Michel Godard on tuba. We’ll be on tour in France and Scandinavia in March 2017.

 

Jean-Luc Thomas with Serendou

 

Jean-Luc Thomas with Serendou

 

 

Jean-Luc Thomas with Carlos Malta and Bernardo Aguiar (Brazil)

 

Jean-Luc Thomas with Carlos Malta and Bernardo Aguiar (Brazil)

 

I will also finish a new solo creation ‘Oficina Digital,’ which is a concert where I wrote 100% of the music. I worked with a looper who sent soundtakes I made in Brazil during different stays and my own flute that I loop in real time for diffusion via five speakers around the audience. There is also a video I made in Brazil. It’s a creation with video mappings and spatialized sounds, and takes me a lot of time.

Q: How is the creative scenario for jazz and fusion music in France today?

JL: My humble perception is that it’s still possible to find some places opened to experimentations, creations, far from the big music business. But it’s a fragile network supported by people of an amazing faith in new sounds, radicalities and explorations. I’m surrounded by fine musicians who try to explore new musical horizons, sometimes they can have support from festivals, venues, producers, radios – and sometimes not, but most of them don’t give up and never will.

In the 70s it seemed that everything was possible, now some producers have managed to format music as entertainment and not for art or culture, so it’s not so easy for creative and original artists to be regularly programmed. But there still remain some places and festivals who keep providing spaces for undiscovered sounds.

Q: Are French audiences, venues, labels and artistes very open to collaboration?

JL: Some are, others are not. Most of them are in search of rentability or easy profit. It means mainstream success. As in any city, you can find fast food and cheap bad food restaurants, you’ll find in the world (and France is a part of that), fast listening, quick consuming, big musical gatherings who can survive because they sell lots of beers surrounded by a bad loud sound. But it’s also always possible to find real restaurants with people who prepare good food with originality, ethics and creativity.

Q: Where do you see yourself 10 or 15 years from today? What are some ‘dream projects’ or visions you are working towards?

JL: I have no vision, life has taught me that everything I have is more than any of the dreams I could have. I play with fantastic musicians: Michel Godard, Yacouba Moumouni, Carlos Malta, Ravichandra Kulur, and so on. I never dreamed of that and it’s really deeper and more beautiful that any dreams I could have.

So, no projection, I keep working on my Breton garden, open to Indian spices, African ginger, Brazilian coconut – trying to be honest with me, musicians I play with and audiences who may come to my concerts.

Q: How does your composition process work? When do collaboration and jams come in?

JL: Each composition is different. You can compose thinking about a place, a person, you can compose during an exercise, during a walk in the forest, looking at the sea, or inspired by a book.  I always start with a melody. I sing it, then I record it in a non definitive version. I let it sleep for a while and come back to it a few days later to listen with fresh ears – I change some things or maybe not, and then think about the pulse, a bass line, some harmonies.

Then I may continue alone or submit to other musicians who will add their own creativity for the structure, introduction and so on. Sometimes I can do everything at home, sometimes I wait for a rehearsal to fix more some elements. Each composition has its own story!

Q: Do you compose on the road also, while traveling?

JL: It happens, I need calm, time, good vibes, feeling quiet to be able to compose. Very often, I compose after traveling, back home, quiet.

 

Jean-Luc Thomas

 

Q: What are some unusual reactions you have got during your live performances?

JL: With Magic Flutes, during our last concert in France in June 2016, many people cried. They had too much emotion relating to the dialogue, respect, love between myself and Ravichandra Kulur. That was very intense for Ravi and me.

 

 

Q: Do you also teach workshops for students and musicians?

JL: Yes, very often, it can be traditional music from Brittany or Ireland, or improvisation. I give three or four workshops (from two days to one week) each year.

 

Jean-Luc Thomas

 

Q: How has the music industry changed over the years, and what are the effects? For example, downloads, social media, loops/mixers.

JL: Everything changes around us, everyday. So, you have to learn and adapt. I don’t want to be sad about old times. What is happening, happens. I knew vinyl, tapes, CDs, and now digital technology. But in Brittany vinyl is back with lots of interest. So it’s good to be connected to the world, we can listen today to all the music of the world, but do we listen? One thing will never change, it’s the quality of time you spend practicing, rehearsing, listening.

Q: What is your message to the musicians and audiences out there?

JL: Keep faith, work on your personality, open your ears and your heart. Never forget curiosity and alterity!

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Interview with Uliana Shulepina of Russian Group Ochelie Soroki

Ochelie Soroki

 

Russian group Ochelie Soroki is deeply inspired by ancient traditional Russian songs along with Norse mythology. We interviewed vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Uliana Shulepina to learn more about Ochelie Soroki.

How did the group get started?

Uliana: When I met Pavel Boev in 2005, he worked in Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra as a double bass player. He has travelled a lot with his orchestra and collected ethno musical instruments, which he brought from every country where he has been visited. At that moment I was already interested in traditional Russian singing, so we decided to combine all these things, and start the greatest ethno folk band ever existed.

In the next 6 years, we worked on the creation of relevant arrangements, and the repertoire for the first album. And, of course, searched for musicians. Also studied traditional Russian musical heritage, researched the ancient culture of the Baltic countries and peoples of the Siberian region. Since 2011, the group got its name Ochelie Soroki and began performing numerous concerts, and participating in festivals across Russia.

 

Ochelie Soroki

 

You describe your music as pagan dark folk, based on Russian old traditional songs as well as Norse mythology. Can you elaborate a little more, especially about the Russian traditions?

Uliana: When we say ‘pagan dark folk’ we mean that some of the songs we perform are really very old, at least 1000 years old, which is meaning they were created probably before Christianity came into Russia. Many old Russian folk song were part of rituals, connected with the most important events of human existence, like birth, life and death, as well as astronomical phases of the sun like solstice and equinox, in accordance which all ancient celebrations were established on.

The old traditional Russian songs were not originally performed for the audience; there was no audience at all, but only participants. The rituals included singing or playing, as well special dances (round dancing), games, incantations, lamentations, some magical acts in certain locations, such as sacred forests, lakes, rivers, tops of hills and mountains, etc. However, this subject is too vast to talk briefly, so we focus on the musical aspects.

The most archaic Old Russian polyphonic chanting complexes which survived till nowadays as calendar, epic, ritual or warriors songs have complicated microtonal improvisation structures, intuitively recognizable by all participants. This ancient singing tradition has been passed down from generation to generation orally, from age to age.

Currently, homophonic-harmonic system of the musical texture is completely different from the early sacred fractal scales and heterophony, characteristic of folk music. By the way, there are many musicians interpreting old music material greatly simplifying it, to make it easily digestible and well-selling product. We are characterized by a very attentive and careful attitude to the ancient musical artifacts which in our opinion is just necessary.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Uliana: Researching ancient Russian musical heritage, I think, is the most important part of our music. Even just retransmission of these old songs is connecting us and our audience with a powerful source of the archetypal images. Some of our sounds determine this effect, like trance state and slowing down the time motion. So, second important element is a special atmosphere of our performance, which is achieved by using bourdon type of the ethnic string instruments, ornamented with low-frequency bass pads and drums as well as playback of some special selected background video.

 

Ochelie Soroki

 

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

Uliana: As the main music source, we believe it is an ancient Russian musical tradition and some of its local keepers and researchers since the late 18th century to nowadays. As interpreters of folk music, some Nordic bands, such as Garmarna (Sweden), Wardruna (Norway), and Hedningarna (Sweden\Finland).

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

Uliana: We spent about 4 years to prepare and record our debut CD album called “Northern Kingdom” which was recorded on “Pro live recording® Studio” and released in May 2015. The album received very good reviews and the band got many fans around the world. Currently, Ochelie Soroki started to record its second album, which is scheduled for spring 2017.

What musical instruments do you use?

Uliana Shulepina: bass jouhikko (bowed lyre), khomus, overtone flutes
Pavel Boev: alto jouhikko (bowed lyre), citras (langeleik), bouzouki, programming
Alex Bragin: davul, percussion

 

 

Many of your musical instruments are made by luthier Pavel Boev, founder and musician of the group. How did he become interested in making musical instruments?

Uliana: Well, I think, he made his first instrument in the early 2010. That was a jouhikko (bowed lyre); it is a string bowed instrument of the Baltic countries. We call it in Finnish, jouhikko. Pavel had not so much experience in making musical instruments at that moment, but in the meantime, he was very inspired by the jouhikko sound. And also, it was very complicated to buy it, because jouhikko or talharpa (Sweden) is a quite rare instrument. So, it was easier to create it, than to order it.

What instruments does he make? And what materials does he use?

Uliana: For now, he is making tenor and alto Jouhikkos, also an extremely rare bass jouhikko (bass bowed lyre); the citras, Norwegian langeleik, a sort of archaic dulcimer; traditional overtone flutes and reed flute.

 

Uliana Shulepina (Ochelie Soroki)

 

In general Pavel prefers to work with natural materials and components. Some plants and reeds are very suitable to make overtone flutes, as well as some fish bones are useful to produce authentic fishbone glue. As I know, Pavel is using pine wood, maple and special resonant spruce wood to construct his jouhikkos and citras. Also, he sets Mongolian horse hair in his bows.

Is Pavel Boev teaching new generations how to make instruments?

Uliana: Yes he is, during the years he organizes training courses on the history and manufacture of ancient folk musical instruments for everyone.

If someone is interested in purchasing one of the instruments, how can they do it?

Uliana: Probably they could be to contact with us by the internet, so we can discuss it. Here you are /www.facebook.com/OchelieSoroki

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

Uliana: Honestly, we’ve already performed with numerous Russian bands and surely would love to collaborate with many amazing musicians around the world. Currently, we are especially addicted to some Scandinavian neo folk bands such as Garmarna (Sweden), Wardruna (Norway), and Hedningarna (Sweden\Finland), so we would be happy to perform on the same stage with them. And of course, we hope we will be honored to have an opportunity to make ‘Ochelie Soroki debut performance with LSO (London Symphony Orchestra) at the Barbican Hall, or at the Royal Albert Hall.

 

Ochelie Soroki

 

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

Uliana: Of course we do, the most exciting is release of our second greatest CD album which is scheduled for the next spring. As well as the upcoming Ochelie Soroki European tour next summer 2017.

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Les Moncada Chats with “Timbalero Monster” Nicky Marrero

There are timbaleros (timbales players) in Latin music and then there are timbaleros. Nicky Marrero is the master at his work! Nicky Marrero has performed on hundreds of recordings, especially for Fania Records in New York City. Nicky Marrero is “El Monstruo del Timbal”, the Monster of the Timbales.

Nicky, has the ability of getting many tones out his drumheads, playing with preciseness and action. Nicky Marrero is always exciting on stage and bringing light to the show. You know that when he plays, it is Nicky Marrero up there on stage soloing, A-1 plus, like a Monster Timbalero should.

With years of playing, practice and patience with the drums, whether it is timbales or congas, Nicky Marrero brings a solo swing to the orchestra, to compliment the musicians and the coro (chorus) in the orchestra. This is what Nicky Marrero does on stage if you observe him.

 

 

Nicky is always getting better, as he ages, like a fine wine!

Nicky has performed with all the legends; too many to name, also a member of the legendary Fania All Stars and is a very humble musician.

Let’s hear what Nicky has to say about himself, and his love for the timbales, and what he has to say to the new young and upcoming timbaleros!

Nicky where were you born, your birth name and where were you raised?

I was born in St. Francis Hospital in the Bronx on June 17th 1950 and raised in the Bronx. My Name is Nicholas Marrero Jr.

Was your family musical in any way?

My uncle Chuito Velez played guitar, piano and the accordion. He had his own Orchestra and would sometimes join the family on weekend parties. Like in most Puerto Rican families there was always something to celebrate or just get together to dance and party. My Brother Luis Sánchez played guitar and bass for many years with my uncle as well as with Belisario López y su charanga, the Plata Sextet, and Orlando Marin and his Orchestra.

 

Nicky Marrero’s musical family

 

Another shot of Nicky Marrero’s musical family

 

Young Nicky Marrero in 1964

 

When was the first time you heard a cowbell and when was the first time you listened to a mambo-ish or salsa type music or Latin music?

Quiet simply, at home! Plus, by parental composition, Puerto Ricans love their Spanish radio stations to keep up the latest cleaning products, soap operas, what movies are showing, what theaters are having live vaudeville acts, then If there is time left in the day—–The News!! There was Spanish music in all of them, from different Latin countries. Diversity!

What was the first band you were a member of professionally?

Orchestra Caribe, meaning I got paid. The going rate at that time for a 14 year old, was 10 to fifteen dollars, if the promoter didn’t high settled it out of town. And there were 12 of us plus the band boy, who just wanted to be part of the group, the guys just looked the other way, except maybe sometimes?

Who are past or present your favorite timbal players, conga players and bongo players?

Me, Me, and Me! Seriously, on timbales, Orestes Vilató and Orlando Marin. On conga, Orlando Vega and Johnny Rodriguez. On bongo, Johnny Rodriguez, Bobby Allende, and Orlando Vega.

 

Nicky Marrero with the late Charlie Palmieri

 

Nicky, what was you favorite band to play with, or you can mention a few?

Eddie Palmieri, Machito, Tito Puente, Fajardo, Tipica 73, Dizzie Gillespie, Jorge Dalto, but then I was part of at least forty other bands, and for different extended times. There’s not enough paper to explain it all but in a book.

 

 

Who would be your all-time favorite Latin orchestra leader?

Eddie Palmieri.

What is some advice that you would tell young timbaleros or percussionist who study the art of drumming?

To listen to the past records, and learn about each orchestra and its members and their backgrounds and where they came from and to follow their carriers. Learn to listen, and listen to learn!!! Practice the art of imitation to the exact with discipline. Learn that you are your greatest competition!! Broaden the many options of how to practice, they become limitless, as are your abilities.
Practice!!!

 

Nicky Marrero with Tito Puente – Photo by Allen Spatz

 

The Big 3, Machito, Tito Puente Sr. and Tito Rodriguez Sr., what is your opinion of them?

They were my heroes, and still are. I wouldn’t know whether to dance or play! There were many excellent dancers in my family, and I picked up on it very quickly, and became a very good dancer myself. It sometimes boggles me how some percussion players play and don’t know how to dance—really! That’s like a dentist pulling out teeth without first taking x-rays! Huh!

What is your all time favorite record or records?

Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Machito, Cal Tjader, Cortijo y su Combo, the charangas of Aragon, Fajardo, Arcano, Estrellas Cubanas, La Sensacion,Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barreto, Charlie Palmieri, extra, many more. Conjuntos—Arsenio, Chapottin, Modelo, Roberto Fas, Rumbavana, Kuvavana, Estrellas de Chocolate, etc.

 

 

What is one or two of the favorite recording you performed on?

Unfinished Masterpiece by Eddie Palmieri; The Sun of Latin Music by Eddie Palmieri, the first to ever receive a Latin Grammy and the other 298 of them.

 

Eddie Palmieri – Unfinished Masterpiece

 

Eddie Palmieri – The Sun of Latin Music

 

Well, Nicky do you remember when you went to get your cha cha bell repaired by craftsman Pete Lugo. Let me ask why did you insist in getting that particular bell fixed and not just buy another new bell?

This bell was made with a special gage of a certain type of metal, and it had to be treated just the right way or it would ruin the bell forever. The sound of the bell became part of who I am, the study I put into investigating and analyzing their sounds and the types of material they are made of.

So tell us about your great current projects that you’re on.

Harlem River Drive” with Eddie Palmieri and “Indestructible” CD and documentary with Diego El Cigala.

Well, what are the future plans for Nicky Marrero musically and otherwise?

I am working on to fulfil my dream of starting my own project (orchestra) and record.

Have you seen the music scene changing somewhat and what do you think of that?

To bring it back to the dancers, with quality entertainment. We need more clubs of quality!!

 

 

Who are or were your favorite musicians to play with. Give us some names?

Nelson Gonzalez, Jimmy Bosch, Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Rodriguez, Willie Rodriguez and many more.

 

Nicky Marrero – Photo by Angel Morales

 

Now you tell us something Nicky

We need more in depth professional interviews such as yours. Also more radio stations with quality Latin cultural music past and present, with knowledgeable radio personalities!!

I would like to thank Nicky Marrero for his precious time, when I approached Nicky to this interview he was flying out to Lima, Peru with the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra! Thanks Nicky! El Monstruo del Timbal!

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Interview with Filmmaker Reed Rickert

Reed Rickert has directed several documentary films related to music. We talked to him to find out more about his projects.

Walila: The Modern Sound of North African Sacred Music features music producer Daniel Masson. How did you connect with him?

I met Daniel a few years ago through my brother. At the time my brother was producing music in the San Francisco Bay Area and he had reached out to Daniel to have the final mix and mastering done of his latest album. After the album was complete Daniel made a trip to the Bay Area for a series of live performances and we got to meet. Since then Daniel and I have kept in touch with the idea that it would be great to do a project together some day.

At the time when we met I was working on my first feature documentary project on a different musical topic – the link between the traditional Mexican music style son jarocho and the music of Southern Spain and North Africa (The Third Root). While working on this film I lived in Morocco for about a year. So when the opportunity came along to do Walila, Daniel thought it would be a great opportunity to have me along with him in Morocco since it was a familiar culture to me.

How did the film evolve from concept to final product?

The French Institute of Fes contacted Daniel to create a electronic music album with traditional musicians of Fes, and they wanted him to later perform that album live at The Festival of Sacred Music in Fes. Daniel thought it would be a good project in which to do a documentary about the process. He knew that I spent a lot of time in Fes filming with musicians so he knew that I would feel at home filming there. At that time the Paris attacks had just happened and he wanted this project to be about more than just the process of making music, but a message of unity. I thought it was a great idea.

From the beginning I knew I wanted to hang the story off of the final performance, it was a good way to give the film structure, but figuring out the body of the film was more fluid. It wasn’t until I spent a few days with Daniel in France and later in Morocco that it took shape in my mind, where each song of the EP album would have a separate visual theme based off of the title of the song, and at the same time represent a different step of Daniel’s music making process and later the final performance.

Reed Rickert

You’re an independent film maker. How did you fund this project?

Over the years I’ve become pretty accustomed to being a one-man-band type of production. I like the intimacy, accessibility and agility that allows me on a shoot like this. Also, the technology now for production has reached a level which permits for pretty great quality without a big crew. For Walila, it was just me on the production, giving me the opportunity to spend more time with Daniel and his family, creating more of a bond of trust between all of us.

What camera and sound equipment did you use?

I used the Sony a7sII camera which is a great little camera for light production work and it is excellent in low light. With the metabones adapter I can use my Canon lenses, I have the 16-35mm f/2.8 L, 24-105mm f/4 L and a 50mm f/1.4 USm lens. I also brought along some macro adapters that gave my the nice close shots on all of the equipment and knobs that Daniel uses in his studio. For sound, I had a Rode Videomic Pro camera mic for all ambient sound and I used a wireless Sennheiser lav system for my interviews. Since most of the film audio would be Daniel’s music I didn’t want to complicate things too much with my audio.

Due to budgetary and time constraints I wasn’t able to accompany Daniel in March of 2016 when he did all of his recording of the musicians. This was a “no-budget” situation so between Daniel and I we made sure I could be there in May of 2016 for the final performance at the festival. With a trip to where Daniel lives in France, and another to Morocco, we filmed the whole story around the time of the live performance in Fes.

Reed Rickert

What editing equipment do you use?

Since I began using the Sony a7sII this year, I made the switch from Final Cut 7 to Adobe Premiere. Premiere gives me a streamlined workflow working with the video files that come out of the camera.

Are there specific countries or musical cultures that you’d like to explore in future films?

In general, I am fascinated by different cultural modes and music is a passion. So with that combination there is so much to experience. In South America there is a lot I’m drawn to and would like to explore.

What’s your next project?

Right now I am developing a few projects. I am working on a series concept centered around music. With Daniel, I hope to get him to Mexico very soon (where I currently reside) to perform, and where he would like to record musicians for his next album. Also, I am working on a feature documentary, Pacha Kuti, that is in the crowd-funding stage. It is a film that gives voice to the Machiguenga, one of various indigenous groups considered to be guardians of one of the most biodiverse regions of the world that is currently at great risk, the Manu area of Peru.

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Interview with Yang Guanglei, President and Artistic Director of World Music Shanghai

As part of our interview focusing on the world music scene in East Asia, we interviewed Yang Guanglei, President and Artistic Director of World Music Shanghai. The Chinese music festival has a partnership with World Culture Open that led to a collaborating with Jeju World Music Oreum Festival in South Korea.

What is the World Music Shanghai festival?

World Music Shanghai’s beginnings stem from the 2008 “Songs for World Expo— Shanghai World Music Week”, which was sponsored by the Shanghai World Expo Bureau. After producing numerous world music performances for World Expos and for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, “Shanghai World Music Week” was officially brought into the National China Music Industry Park’s platform collaboration project in 2012 and we became “World Music Shanghai”, with our main purpose focused on promoting multiculturalism, on demonstrating to cities that life is better and more enriched with the preservation of diversity in our cultural and natural ecosystems, and on listening to different and harmonious voices of our world.

To date, World Music Shanghai has welcomed its 9th edition and has invited nearly 130 artists from more than 100 countries over all these years. We have become China’s largest, longest-running and most renowned world music themed music festival.

Yang Guanglei, President and Artistic Director of World Music Shanghai

 

It looks like the World Music Shanghai festival takes place in various cities, in addition to Shanghai. Which are the other locations?

This year, due to our partnership with China Xintiandi, we brought the festival to Xintiandi’s urban venues not only in Shanghai, but also in other cities in China for the first time, which were Wuhan, Chongqing and Foshan. For the first time, from 24 September to 9 October this year, an unprecedented scale of a world music carnival was created across multiple cities simultaneously: 64 world music performances of different styles featuring artists and bands from 21 countries and regions were brought to audiences.

Our partnership with World Culture Open also led to World Music Shanghai pairing with Jeju World Music Oreum Festival in Jeju, South Korea, thus giving birth to an international initiative of bringing world music across Asia.

2016 World Music Shanghai brings world music to members of the public at New Hongqiao Central Park

 

You must be approached by numerous booking agents and artists. How do you choose the artists? What elements do you take into account aside from music quality?

World Music Shanghai has always adhered to selecting musicians of excellent quality, for this is our core competency. In addition, we give consideration to the cultural values and stories behind the music, and we take into account whether Chinese audiences are familiar with the cultures represented by the musicians or find them fresh and new. We hope that through the dimension of music, music lovers in China can come to understand the multiculturalism of every nation, and understand and empathize with the love and pain of others through our common language of music. We believe that this is extremely valuable in a globalizing China. At the same time, we also wish to create an international exchange platform for native musicians in China, ultimately placing our own native musical culture in a global context.

Is the festival programming different in the various cities?

As Shanghai is our home ground, the programming for Shanghai venues is busier and artists will give Shanghai primary consideration when faced with scheduling issues. Regardless, we still did our best to arrange for international and heavyweight bands to perform in other cities beyond Shanghai, and also purposefully arranged for local bands that resonated greatly with the native cultures in those cities.

Raga Ragini from India enthralls audiences at 2016 World Music Shanghai Shanghai Xintiandi

 

Are there are artists you tried to book for this year’s festival that you were not able to bring to China?

We really wanted to invite DakhaBrakha from Ukraine this year, but were not able to have them with us due to various reasons.

What concerts were the most popular this year?

The most popular concerts seemed to be by Tuvan ensemble Alash who brought us an astounding throat-singing performance, as well as by China’s very own Prince of Kun Qu Opera Zhang Jun who brought us “kun plug” – a perfect blend of traditional KunQu and modern music.

Tuvan-ensemble-Alash-performs-at-2016-World-Music-Shanghai,-Shanghai-Grand-Theatre

 

What would you like music fans to come away with from World Music Shanghai festival?

We hope to let more and more people understand and experience the world through music. Living with an increasingly restless city rhythm, we need pure music to nourish our hearts. World music is a record of thousands of years of musical notes that mark the unique beauty in the depths of every human soul; that mark the beautiful landscapes of the countries and cultures featured at our festival.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

We are passionate about world music, and hope that more and more people will come to understand world music and feel the strength and happiness it brings, ultimately leaving their familiar spaces to explore our large world through the door of world music, understand the cultures of others, and know that we are never alone.

Do the artists who perform at Shanghai also participate in workshops and other events for the community?

Yes they do. World Music Shanghai is also unique in the sense that in addition to on-stage world music performances, we also bring interactive experiential activities that are open to the public.

During the festival, artists also participate in a series of free world music workshops that are held in a variety of urban spaces including an office building, a museum, public cultural spaces, and cafes. Through activities such as intimate music-listening gatherings and educational, family-oriented world music workshops, audience members were able to immerse themselves in world music experiences from all over the globe in between performances. The distance between performers and audience was closed, and all participants were able to experience the joy of world music together as one.

Did you notice a change in the audiences’ interest in world music?

Over the years, the audience’s attitude towards world music has been gradually evolving from one of cultural curiosity, to one of appreciation with expertise and selectivity. This is both a challenge and an inspiration for us.

Are there any artists that you enjoyed working with the most?

We have deep respect for all the artists we have worked with, and remember them all fondly. The artists leaving at the end of every festival season is the most painful time of the festival for us. They are so lovable, modest, pure and noble in character, and are the driving force behind our perseverance for so many years.

How has the festival evolved throughout the years?

We are working hard to grow the festival continuously, not just in terms of scale, but also in terms of quality. By quality, we don’t just mean artist selection, but also in injecting more vigor than before into pre-festival promotion, into the aesthetics of the live festival settings, and into our festival acoustics. In addition, we have also evolved from broadcasting large-scale music festivals live once or twice a year, to also broadcasting small-scale workshops that are free and open to public throughout the year, thus allowing us to make world music more popular and accessible by frequently bringing small-scale live experiences to a wider audience.

Where do you see your festival in 5 years?

We can only say that our team will continue to work hard at bringing our world music festival to more cities and more countries, and with rich and varied high quality content, build Asia’s best and most human-centered world music themed music festival.

In addition to the festival, your organization also runs a word music label. Tell us a little about the releases and artists featured.

Our world music label has just started, and I feel that we have two releases worth mentioning.

The first is the album “Kalavinka” which has beautiful origins stemming from the prayers of Tibetan lama Gong-qiao Tsering Rinpoche from the Golog prefecture, Qinghai province, spreading thousands of years of Tibetan culture to the world through the form of contemporary world music. With the large support of Bruce Jiao, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Banma Creative Media, we collected Tibetan folk songs, documented large volumes of original material, and worked closely with renowned Chinese musicians Wu Jie and Peng Cheng (music arrangement), Li Dai Guo and Wu Huan Qing and Shen Er Ning (performance recording) etc. After two years, we finally completed our production of “Kalavinka”. This album incorporates a variety of Tibetan musical elements, including Tibetan folk songs, monks’ chants, Tibetan musical instruments, and other natural sounds – even Tibetan yak bells. All these elements formed the source of creative inspiration, which were integrated with electronic music, resulting in ten works of world music. Much of the music on this album was also chosen as the background music for China Central Television’s 2015 documentary “Roof of The World” which featured the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau.

 

 

The second album “Tides” is the first album in the “Sounds of Shanghai” album series, a series that we wish to create. We selected 9 most representative songs from Shanghai’s local Chongming Island folksongs – both traditional and contemporary – and collected and documented these folk songs live, before working with renowned music producers Peng Cheng, Wan Li and Wu Jie on music arrangement and production, ultimately reviving Chongming folksongs through a musical style that the modern audience can embrace.

How is the music scene in your city?

The Shanghai music scene is quite diverse. Western classical music concerts are held every week in major theaters, which do not lack in featuring world famous troupes and performers; almost every night in every “live house”, rock and jazz bands from all over the world take turns to perform; traditional theatres and Pingtan (a musical/oral performance art form) houses are also still active in maintaining traditional and innovative performances.
In addition, various types of music festivals are becoming more and more concentrated.

If anyone visited Shanghai for the first time, what stores, music venues and sightseeing places would you recommend?

The Bund is a must for all first-time visitors to Shanghai, where one can see how the architecture reflects the historical changes between the old Shanghai and the new Shanghai. In terms of music venues, I recommend catching a music concert at the Shanghai Concert Hall, and then an authentic Pingtan performance by the Shanghai Pingtan troupe.

Can you give us an advance of what to expect for the 2017 Festival?

For our 2017 season, we will continue to have the Silk Road as our main theme, and will have subthemed stages and special performances. Beyond the stage, we will also be increasing the frequency of our workshops. Please stay tuned!

Yang Guanglei & Kseniya Tsoy at the official launch of the partnership between World Music Shanghai and World Culture Open in Shanghai 2016

 

How do you see the future of world music in East Asia?

I think the developmental momentum of world music in East Asia will keep getting better. East Asia has a lot of ancient civilizations and rich folk music resources, and as globalization continues, East Asia will also look forward to their own folk music with the world music scene. In addition, music lovers here are having a growing appetite for musical styles beyond Western classical music and pop music, and they wish to understand more diverse musical cultures. I think this is the reason why we spare no effort in spreading the culture of world music.

Related websites:

worldmusicshanghai.com/en/

www.worldcultureopen.org

Headline photo: 2016 World Music Shanghai festival crowd at Shanghai Xintiandi

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Interview with Kseniya Tsoy of World Culture Open and Jeju World Music Oreum Festival

This autumn, a colorful world music caravan swept through China and Korea in the form of world music festivals that mark the start of a growing pan-Asia world music initiative powered by World Culture Open and World Music Shanghai. Kseniya Tsoy is part of the External Relations of World Culture Open – the creative planning team of Jeju World Music Oreum Festival. We interviewed her to find out more about the world music scene and cross-cultural collaboration in Asia.

Tell us a little about your organization World Culture Open.

Kseniya Tsoy – World Culture Open is an international network cultivating sustainable platforms for interactive cultural exchange through creative collaboration. In other words, we believe that culture is our common humanity and what unites us all beyond our differences, and we are dedicated to facilitating creative programs – the common ground for different cultures, ideas and dreams to meet and learn about each other, and experience the beauty of diversity through creative expressions.

What motivates you and your team to do the Jeju World Music Oreum Festival?

A music festival is a great example of such a platform. Music is our common language that we all understand beyond the verbal and the written, and so for us a world music festival is an occasion that is more than just a festival, but a great chance to introduce different cultures in a most attractive and beautiful way, easily understood by all. That’s why we were very excited to develop this new world music festival in Asia.

 

 Hana Art (South Korea) performing infectious rhythms at the Jeju stage at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival

Hana Art (South Korea) performing infectious rhythms at the Jeju stage at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival

 

What is the Jeju World Music Oreum Festival?

Jeju World Music Oreum Festival 2016 is the first of its kind world music festival in Jeju Island. In a way the festival is an introduction of world music to the inhabitants of the island, and it is about sharing the beautiful island and its unique culture with the world.

Many would probably wonder what is “oreum” in the festival’s name! A signature feature of Jeju Island is its 368 oreums or parallel volcanoes, dotting the island’s landscape. Each oreum has its own flora and fauna, and there are not even two oreums that are exactly alike. Oreums are the lungs of the island’s ecosystem and are an important element of Jeju culture. An oreum is a special place for recreation and healing. Bringing world music to the island, we wanted to pay tribute to the island’s unique nature: the crater of an oreum, resembling an amphitheater, boasts perfect natural acoustics, and so is a perfect music venue. We envisioned the festival as a musical retreat in the heart of nature.

 

Shanren (China) at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival
Shanren (China) at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival

 

You must be approached by numerous booking agents and artists. How do you choose the artists? What elements do you take into account aside from music quality?

For us, the cultural aspect of the world music plays a very important role. Aside from “quality” and popularity of the musicians, we also care for the artists’ dedication to the unique cultures that shape their style and music, and their passion to introduce and share their cultures with the world.

Are there are artists you tried to book for this year’s festival that you were not able to bring to South Korea?

One of the main reasons for bonding the world music festivals across countries is to make it easier and more attractive for bands to come to Asia, giving them a chance to take a journey through cities and countries of the region and play at multiple festivals. So this year we had a very good response from the artists who were glad to join the Jeju Festival after their tours in China.

 

Trio Kazanchis (Switzerland) at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival
Trio Kazanchis+1 (Ethiopia/Netherlands/France) at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival

 

What concerts were the most popular this year? Did you notice a change in the audiences’ interest in world music?

Since the audience was mostly local, it was natural that there were more people at the performances of the renowned Korean bands. But that is exactly the reason for creating an initiative such as a world music festival – to introduce new treasures along with old favorites.

It was absolutely lovely to see how the audience, for a band new to the island, would keep growing from the band’s first song to the last, and how people would not want the music to stop when they had started the journey to the world they didn’t know before. It is a beautiful effect of a discovery – coming with no knowledge and expectations and having discovered something that opens your mind and broadens your horizons.

We hope the festival has kindled the locals’ interest in the “other” music, and that this interest will only grow.

What would you like music fans to come away with from Jeju World Music Oreum Festival?

Music has the beautiful power of transcending our judgmental thinking and reaching right into our hearts. We are all so unique and we play music in so many different styles and ways, and yet they are all just different expressions of one music, and that’s why it has this huge universal bonding power.

It feels so natural amidst the music playing to take a stranger’s hand and dance together. It is only a moment shared together, but after that you are not strangers anymore. We had an example of two fans, Eugene and Natalia, who stayed together with us throughout the whole festival, and by the end of it they didn’t want to say goodbye to the musicians who had touched their hearts, so they took the artists who stayed after the festival around the island – the artist-audience relationship blossomed into a beautiful friendship. In their very own words, “Being surrounded by the nature of Jeju and music from all over the world, it felt like a pleasant and intense trip through different countries and cultures. It was an amazing place to discover original music and make new great friends.” We hope this is what everybody would take away from the festival. They would leave with new knowledge of different cultures and friendships beyond borders.

 

DAGADANA (Poland Ukraine) at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival
DAGADANA (Poland Ukraine) at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival

 

Are there any artists that you enjoyed working with the most?

We genuinely love working with all the different artists. Everyone has different styles and approaches, and each connection is a great opportunity to learn about “another way”, see our own reflections in that, and grow together.

Do the artists who perform at Jeju World Music Oreum Festival also participate in workshops and other events for the community?

Yes, this is an important part of the festival and all of our other programs: to provide more opportunities for audience-artist interaction beyond the stage.

For the Jeju festival this year, we had a conference in the program which featured local artists, and international participants were welcome to learn about the Jeju culture. Our Chinese partners also have kept the beautiful tradition of artists participating in workshops and events for the community through all the years.

 

 Folksong Troupe Soriwat (Jeju) at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival

Folksong Troupe Soriwat (Jeju) at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival

 

If anyone visited the island of Jeju for the first time, what stores, music venues and sightseeing places would you recommend?

The island of thousands of myths and legends, Jeju is a designated UNESCO natural heritage site, and has recently been proclaimed as one of the eight natural wonders of the world for its distinct picturesque landscapes and stunning ocean sunrises. The eco-friendly island has become the “it” place in Korea and neighboring countries, resulting in more and more visitors over the past few years.

The island is a vibrant and creative place, and one will find many local cafes and bars featuring local artists, often collaborating with friends from mainland Korea and beyond. We would recommend visitors to check out a gig by the local band “Jeju Dialect” when you are in town.

Stroll along the streets of Jeju Old Town – which are being revitalized with arts and culture these days – to catch some local street art and music performances. In the center of Jeju city “Qoomza Salon” is a must for checking out occasional special performances and events. In another city of the island, Seogwipo, one will be delighted to discover the “Jeju Art Station” and its eclectic treasures.

What’s your relationship with World Music Shanghai?

Though music is not World Culture Open’s only sphere of work, we definitely see it as a very important aspect for it is a common thread running across every culture, as mentioned earlier. For this, we are happy to be in partnership with World Music Shanghai, whose team is very passionate about and highly appreciative of music, and in particular world music. World Music Shanghai has demonstrated unwavering dedication over the years, with their best efforts to preserve authentic music of diverse Chinese ethnic groups, and introduce the world’s vibrant cultural diversity to Chinese audiences through music. Recognizing the importance of music and its lasting and sustainable influence, we value our collaboration and plan exciting large-scale and small-scale projects together besides the festival.

 

Yang Guanglei and Kseniya Tsoy at the official launch of the partnership between World Music Shanghai and World Culture Open in Shanghai, China 2016
Yang Guanglei and Kseniya Tsoy at the official launch of the partnership between World Music Shanghai and World Culture Open in Shanghai, China 2016

 

In addition to South Korea and China, what other Asian countries do you collaborate with?

Since World Culture Open is first and foremost a network, we are always open to new collaborations, and different projects have been created naturally with/in different countries.

In general, being based and active in Asia right now, we envision building a strong collaborative network in the region, to bring different parts of Asia together through cultural exchange and creative collaboration.

Can you give us an advance of what to expect for the 2017 Festival?

Having completed the first edition of the festival, we have lessons and feedback to learn from, and also have many new fresh ideas that came up during and after the festival. We are currently in the process of incorporating both while being open to new partnerships and collaborations, and are excited to see where it takes us from here.

 

The crowd goes wild at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival
The crowd goes wild at 2016 Jeju World Music Oreum Festival

 

How do you see the future of world music in East Asia?

The World Music scene in Asia may not be as busy as the scene in the west, but the rise of people’s interest in World Music is evident over time. Asia itself has abundant amazing talents shaped by different unique cultures, some of which are still yet to be discovered and appreciated on the world scene. Likewise, with increasing collaboration between regions across our world, East-West and North-South, more exciting music treasures will be introduced to Asia, and ultimately, we hope it will give birth to special intercultural collaborative projects. This time, we have seen a beautiful example of Dagadana (Poland-Ukraine) performing together with the North Lab (Inner Mongolia, China) on one stage, and this combination of original Slavic melodies with the sounds of steppes and throat singing was … amazing, fascinating, dramatic! Such fusion uncovers culture as a whole – showing through the sounds of music the amazing array of humanity’s creative expressions cultivated over thousands years. It breaks your mind and heart open.

We believe that in Asia we are coming to the point at which we fully recognize the beautiful roots and originality of our own music and welcome new cultures into collaboration, which will push the boundaries of our own potential, and take us and our cultures into a new phase of evolution.

We hope to see new influences coming to Asia and more cultural fusion projects emerge.

As an inter-cultural organization, we can only say that we will continue to work on facilitating more “made in Asia” cross-cultural collaborations, as well as developing new platforms for such creative cultural exchange, which includes initiatives such as music festivals and beyond.

Websites:

World Culture Open

More about Jeju

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‘Music is pure energy’ – interview with guitarist-composer Amit Heri

Guitarist Amit Heri composes and performs a creative blend of Indian classical music and jazz. He cites John Coltrane, John McLaughlin, U Srinivas, and Ravi Shankar as influences. Amit has collaborated with a range of artistes including Zakir Hussain, Salif Keita, Trilok Gurtu, Angelique Kidjo and others.

He has performed at festivals around the world including Montreux Jazz Festival, Berlin Jazz Festival, WOMAD, London Jazz Festival, Rome World Music Festival and the Paris Jazz Festival. Amit’s earlier albums are Jhoola and Elephant Walk; he has just released his new album, I ♥ India.

Amit joins us in this interview on his spiritual journey, arrangements on his new album, artistic collaborations, and the messages conveyed through his new album.

 

Amit Heri - I ♥ India
Amit Heri – I ♥ India

 

How would you describe your musical journey thus far?

My music is a reflection of my life and is a continuously evolving entity. Earlier on, I was more focused on the technical aspects of music, then the mental and nowadays more on the soulful. It really is a coming together of the body, mind and soul. Also, earlier my music was more centered around the art itself and now it really has become a vehicle for connection (with others and the divine) and service – to spread joy and bring meaningful experiences to myself and others. The actual technique, vocabulary and style are just incidental and a result of my past experiences.

Just as I strive to move beyond judgment, the music I offer is intended to transcend judgment and invoke a response from the heart.

How does this album differ or continue from your earlier ones?

One of India’s major contributions to the world (if not the biggest one) is in the spiritual realm. This album is a result of my delving into Yoga and Mantra as part of my spiritual practice.  Music has always been (especially in India) a divine form and IIndia is my way of reaching for the divine thru music.

John Coltrane has always been my greatest influence in jazz and how his music became a vehicle for divine connection during the later part of his life. It’s common knowledge that Indian spirituality greatly influenced his life and his path greatly influenced my own. Being Indian, I’m fortunate to naturally have access to the world of Indian spirituality and music to fuel my music.

Even my instrumental jazz albums (I recorded one in New York this January, and will release it next year) is a reflection of this evolution.

 

Amit Heri
Amit Heri

 

How did you form the band in the lineup for your album?

For me, the rhythm section is the most important aspect of the music. A great rhythm section makes for great music. Because of the stylistic range of the album (from pop to hardcore jazz fusion), I wanted to have a grooving rhythm section with musicians who had extensive experience playing different styles – funk, progressive rock, jazz, odd-time meters and pop.

Since I was recording in Los Angeles, my research led me to choose Joel Taylor – one of LA’s top drummers. Joel plays with a lot of heart and has an incredible command over the musicality of the drum set, having worked with legends such as Allan Holdsworth, Al DiMeola and Yanni. Ernest Tibbs is one of LA’s top bass players and is one of the well known modern voices in Funk, jazz and fusion bass playing, and has worked with such luminaries as Allan Holdsworth, Andy Summers and Lee Ritenour. Since Joel and Ernest have worked on many projects together as a rhythm section, I decided to get them to record on IIndia as the backbone of the music.

And of course, I like to stretch my guitar solos and Joel and Ernest were right there with me.

Since this is an album with Sanskrit chants, I also needed a backing vocalist who could sing in Sanskrit, but had a background in Funk, Jazz and pop as well because of the global style of IIndia! I was lucky to find Tulasi Devi – a wonderful singer and violinist who was perfect for the project.

The tracks ‘Purity’ and ‘Clearing the Path’ really jump out – tell us how you composed them.

‘Purity’ is a funk-fusion track essentially with a Ganesha Mantra on top and an Indian guitar solo followed by a jazz guitar solo. It’s always good to start with a Ganesh mantra so this is the first song on the album and it features my guitar playing.

‘Clearing the Path’ is also a Ganesha shloka and mantra. In this one, I have more ambient textures in the first part and it moves towards become a groovy, energetic song under the final chant. Melodically, there are elements from Indian music and jazz. This track is intended to connect listeners on a body/dance level. What better way to remove obstacles than by singing and dancing!

 

 

The track ‘Transformation’ seems very different from the others – what’s going on behind the scenes here?

On a musical level, the intro of ‘Transformation’ is kind of like a Indian music meets (guitarist) Bill Frisell thing. The next part is groove and rhythm heavy (African influences) to bring out the dancing Shiva energy of the chant. And then it moves into a Indian melodic segue arranged with a string section and ends with a climax of the chant and a konnakol.

Stylistically, I tried to make this more of a world/dance track to bring out the energy of the chant and also dynamically flow thru different sections to reflect the process of transformation from negative to positive – the meaning of the chant.

 

Amit Heri
Amit Heri

 

What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?

I strive for my music to speak my truth – it’s an authentic expression of my experiences and my life. In life, society runs on conformity to expectations of others. In context to expressing who you are through music, the reality largely is that people like you when their expectations are met – or they can judge you, and sometimes very harshly.

On its own, music is pure energy – when we listen to it, we superimpose our likes and dislikes on it. Some of my biggest challenges as a musician and composer are to remain true to myself, neutral in how my music is received by listeners (whether they like it or don’t!) and to keep trying to get people to resonate with it regardless! Of course, everything takes time and doing what is needed with patience, regardless of the fruits, is the greatest challenge.

Who would you say are the leading influences in your career?

John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Charlie Mariano, John McLaughlin, George Benson, U Srinivas, R A Ramamani, Ravi Shankar, Prince, James Brown, James Taylor……  it’s a never ending list!!!

How are you able to blend Indian and jazz music so effectively, i.e. create fusion without confusion?

I grew up with Indian and Western influences in equal part – my thinking, attitudes and lifestyle reflects that as does my music. It’s effective because it is based on authentic experiences.

What is your vision of what music can do in this age of turmoil?

Music is a very powerful medium in helping people experience uplifting and positive states of being, regardless of physical realities and/or what they may be going thru. It has great healing power and is a unifying force to humankind, connecting us with the essence of our being – one that is peaceful, calm and joyous. The world today needs a great deal of healing, oneness and a reality check. My vision for music is to do just that – heal wounds, and bring more peace and joy to the world.

What have been your previous highlights in playing across India? Overseas?

Some performances that remain special to me:

Berlin Jazz festival with Charlie Mariano, Ramamani and the KCP

Performances with Louiz Banks, Ranjit Barot, Karl & Keith Peters, Sanjay Divecha, Shankar Mahadevan, U. Srinivas, Selva Ganesh in India

Performance with Zakir Hussain in Chicago

Performances with Trilok Gurtu – Montreal Jazz Festival, Paris Jazz Festival, Rome World Music Festival, and many more

Performances with Salif Keita, Angelique Kidjo, Robert Miles, Jabu Kanyile

Performances with my original jazz group with Matthew Garrison, Marko Djordjevic, Matt Renzi, Lester Menezes, Rudresh Mahanthappa in India and the US

Performance with my group at the World Social Forum in Brazil with a 100,000 + audience and sharing the stage with Gilberto Gil.

Do you compose on the road as well while traveling, or only in a studio?

I compose mostly at home or in nature.

Do you also teach workshops?

Yes.

 

 

How has the music industry changed over the years, and how has that affected your work?

The biggest change is that the music industry has moved online to a great extent. As an artist, this means that there are more options to reach your listener directly and more potential for sales all over the world. The flip side is that it requires a lot of time and energy and some ingenuity to be noticed (if you don’t already have a following) in the clutter of the internet. It’s mainly the marketing and distribution aspects of the industry that have changed and it’s fairly new – I’m learning on the fly, so to speak.

What can we expect to hear at your next performances?

It depends on the setup I’m playing in. It could be songs from IIndia or my Indian jazz set. I will be doing some gigs in December with flautist Ravi Kullur, Ranjit Barot and Turkish American pianist Osam Ezzeldin – the tour is still being put together.

What message do you convey through your music?

My message through music is one of oneness, bridging humankind and celebrating existence.

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Interview with Captivating Ethiopian American Artist Meklit

Ethiopian American singer-songwriter and composer Meklit Hadero, beter known as Meklit, will be performing on October 5th in Los Angeles, California. She will be presenting her new musical project “This Was Made Here” (TWMH) at the Skirball Cultural Center. TWMH is described as a danceable celebration of Ethiopian beats and pentatonic melodies, with striking horn lines and inspirational lyrics.

Meklit has released two solo albums and three collaborative albums. She was born in Ethiopia and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Meklit is currently based in San Francisco. In addition to her musical activities, Meklit is also a cultural activist, TED Senior Fellow, and Co-Founder of the Nile Project.

 

Meklit - TED Talk Photo by Ryan Lash.jpg
Meklit – TED Talk Photo by Ryan Lash.jpg

 

Meklit talks to World Music Central about her musical background and upcoming concert:

Angel Romero – You’ll be performing “This Was Made Here” at the Skirball Cultural Center. How would you define this new project?

Meklit – This is Ethio-Jazz infused music, with groove and pentatonic melodies at the core. In 2011, I met Dr. Mulatu Astatke, the Godfather of Ethio-Jazz, and he pushed me to add my own vision to the continuum of this music. I’m inspired by him musically, but also in terms of what he did, experimenting with bringing his sonic lineage into contemporary expression. He lived for years in the 1950s and 60s New York, when American Jazz was moving and shaking. He brought that spirit back to Addis, and that’s how the bloom happened. So, he’s deeply in this music not only in the sound, but in the approach.

What band will you be taking to Skirball Cultural Center?

My band is myself on guitar, and even playing a little bit of krar (the traditional Ethiopian harp); Colin Douglas on drum kit; Marco Peris on percussion; Howard Wiley on tenor and bari sax; Michael “Tiny” Linsdey on bass; and LA’s own Todd Simon of Ethio-Cali on trumpet. The fabulous Dexter Story will be sitting in with us on electric guitar for a few tunes as well. It’s gonna be hot!

How did the band come together?

We’ve been working intensely on this music for the past year, when we had the debut at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco back in May. Tiny is a new addition. This was also a chance to collab with Todd Simon, who has been doing so much cool work with Ethio-Jazz down in LA. It’s exciting to have him on board.

What do you consider as the musical essentials, those songs or performers that you draw on as a group?

We are definitely very inspired by the music that came out of Addis Ababa in the late 1960s and early 70s. But I also listen to a lot of traditional music, and I’ve had the whole band listen to a lot of that as well. That’s where the swing comes from. One of my favorite bands is Ethio-Color Fendika, who makes a home at the Fendika Asmari Beit (traditional music house) in the Kasanchis neighborhood of Addis. They are my dear friends and deep inspirations.

 

 

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

My first EP was called 8 Songs, and it was just me singing and playing simple guitar, with a few songs also featuring Yair Evnine on cello. We almost called it Songs from a Hallway, ‘cause most of it was recorded in a hallway with great acoustics. Those were my first tunes, but it was a big musical moment. We released it in the last days of 2007. I had 17 Bay Area artists hand paint the first 300 covers, and the release party was an art show. You could pick your cover off the wall itself and then go get it filled with a disc at the counter. I’d love to do something like that again.

My musical evolution came later. I always sang but didn’t really go for it professionally till I moved to San Francisco, and found a community of artists from all disciplines and all walks of life. They were deeply involved in creative work, and also in the ways that art helps us explore community and the world around you. It was a heady time, and I dove right in.

Every step I took towards music, music took ten steps towards me. It was a magnetic relationship. I got an audience through the Mission Arts and Performance Project (MAPP), a free street level arts festival that I also co-organized. I played every MAPP for three years, and suddenly folks were coming to my other shows too. Those folks became my audience. It was very organic.

 

Meklit - Photo by Ibra Acke.jpg
Meklit – Photo by Ibra Acke.jpg

 

What musical instruments do you use?

I play guitar. I have started playing krar, but I am really at the beginning of that journey. I am constantly writing basslines, so I want to be a bass player, but I haven’t done it yet. This new music is very dance oriented, which makes both drums and percussion a natural fit. And finally, I am eternally in love with horn sections. They just feel so good.

Most of the music we currently receive from Ethiopia is Ethiojazz, rap and a great pianist named Samuel Yirga. How’s the current musical scene in Ethiopia? What artists would you recommend?

I love Sammy, by the way. He’s not only an amazing musician – we featured him in the tune Kemekem that came out on my last record – but he’s also a beautiful human being, deeply dedicated to art. I can’t say enough about him.

Other folks I love are Fendika, as I mentioned above, the saxophonist Jorga Mesfin, the traditional flute player Tasew Wendem, the masenko player Endris Hassen, and the krar player Messele Asmamaw. These are all geniuses. Also the singer Selamnesh Zemene is seriously one of the most powerful voices I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Also – my dear friend Munit Mesfin is a wonderful singer-songwriter really doing her thing out there. The talent is huge. Too many folks to name.

Music video for “Kemekem” (I Like Your Afro) featuring Samuel Yirga:

 

Which are your favorite musical festivals, and what makes them so special?

I love the Lotus Festival in Bloomington Indiana. It’s amazing. It’s like the whole town comes out to welcome you. I love Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park, I used to go there and listen to music as a kid. When I was 6 or 7, I got lost there with my best friend, and we wandered backstage. It was my first time ever hanging out in a green room. They gave us ice cream cones and announced our names from the stage. I’ll never forget that!

I love Stern Grove in San Francisco. Dragonflies enjoy themselves while the music is rocking, and it’s incredibly diverse with folks from every corner of the Bay. Also – I’ve never been to Afropunk but I sure do love what it stands for.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with who would that be?

Well a few of the folks that I really would have loved to play with died this year – David Bowie, Prince, Getachew Mekuria. Sad losses, all of them. Others include, Dr. Mulatu Astatke, Girma Beyene, The Roots, Leonard Cohen, Bjork, Nona Hendryx, Cindy Blackman, Caetano Veloso.

 

 

What music are you currently listening to?

Somi, Alsarah and the Nubatones, Esperanza Spalding, A Tribe Called Red, Quetzal, Noura Mint Seymali, Gregory Porter, Bezunesh Bekele, that Duke Ellington & John Coltrane record, Shabazz Palaces.

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with our readers?

I was recently commissioned by Lincoln Center to create a body of music called There Is No Sound Barrier, based on the concepts of a musically alive world that I explore in my TED talk. But that won’t be out till 2019 or so. For now, it’s all about Ethio-Jazz.

Meklit’s TED talk, The Unexpected Beauty Of Everyday Sounds:

Discography:

8 Songs, EP (self-released, 2007)
On a Day Like This… (Porto Franco Records, 2010)
Earthbound, with CopperWire (Porto Franco Records, 2012)
Meklit & Quinn, with Quinn DeVeaux (Porto Franco Records, 2012)
We Are Alive (Six Degrees Records, 2014)

[headline photo: Meklit – Photo by Ibra Acke. Artistic Direction by Wangechi Mutu

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