Category Archives: Interviews

Granddaughter’s Notes

Zuzanna Malisz

 

One of the WOMEX highlights in Poland this year was for sure the opening performance of Kapela Maliszów, a family band from Poland, including the multi-instrumentalist Jan Malisz and his children, Kasper and Zuzanna. As said on the band’s official site, Jan Malisz got most of the instruments from his father, Jozef so the band called their music “Father’s notes.” I so rarely meet female drummers in Eastern Europe, especially in folk music, so from the first second I decided to talk with Zuzanna.

 

Kapela Maliszów

 

Daryana: Ok, first of all of course I would love to know your personal story of becoming a musician — how and why did you start playing, singing, which instruments and so on?

Zuzanna: I think my story has begun when I came up to this world. It’s a generational thing, my grandparents were musicians, and lots of my family members still are. They aren’t educated musicians, they are just people who love music. So, with so much genes and family I think I couldn’t have a choice… could I? I mean, of course I did but music is something that grew up with me, has been with me since I was born, and I didn’t even realize how much I was soaked by it, how much it affects my life.

 

 

My first serious instrument was piano. I went to a music school as an 8 years old child, and, it would be worth mentioning, that a music school had a huge influence on my adventure with music (and it still has). I’ve met teachers that taught me a lot, made me love classical music.

I’m not sure about singing, I believe that I started singing right after I learned how to speak. But 2-3 years ago, I started being interested how to sing properly, and, again, music school, and choir that I have been going to, has helped me to learn technical stuff.

 

 

What kind of percussion do you play? Is it a totally traditional way of playing? Does this drumming and percussion tradition exist in old folklore? Is the number of girls playing drums growing or spreading in Polish folk tradition?

Zuzanna: The drums I play are traditional polish drums called baraban (the big one) and bęben obręczowy (the small one). My way of playing is based primarily on improvisation. It’s obvious that the rhythm must be preserved but except that (and some parts in our compositions which I always play the same) the only limit is my imagination.

I always try to play to my brother and improvise with him. I can’t tell if it’s traditional way of playing, I think that in the past there also were several madmen that broke down the rhythm in every possible way… but perceived as more accurate and traditional is playing simpler and without so many wonders. The way of drumming depends on what region you play in, because it can be a little different in different regions. When I started playing drums, I listened to drummers from central Poland, so if you hear central-drumming-style in my playing, maybe that’s why.

Traditional drumming, as a traditional music was dying out few years ago, but now, fortunately, there are many young people who are interested in it, and want to resurrect it. There are also some girls that play drum pretty well and I often meet them at festivals like Wszystkie Mazurki Świata. Regarding women drummers from Eastern Europe, I don’t know any, but I hope that it’ll change soon. In general and apart from percussion I play piano, drum, sometimes trying to play guitar, I can also play on traditional Polish cello.

 

 

Why folklore? Don’t you plan to try out some other genres?

Zuzanna: Folk and traditional music have always been in our house. My parents always listened to it, and played it so I think they had a big influence on it. It wasn’t like one day we decided to play traditional music. The traditions chose us, and we had to continue it. Everything came naturally.

But, of course I listen to a lot of different genres! Jazz, indie pop, pop, rock, folk from different countries like Ireland or Bulgaria and a lot of others styles. I love listening to blues, soul, jazz, R&B singers and singing it. And, who knows, maybe this is what my future will be about. I wish it would.

 

Zuzanna Malisz

 

What’s special in working in a family group?

Zuzanna: Probably the best thing about a family band is that we all live in the same place, so we can play whenever we want.

Once, at attempt, we got angry at each other, and we were arguing a lot. And then, Kacper started to play a random melody, improvisation. With all of those emotions, we made a new song.

 

 

Please tell about your repertoire and what are your favorite songs?

Zuzanna: We mostly play our compositions, based on tradition. There are some traditional songs that we changed a little bit. All of our compositions are unique and have a nice story behind it, but my favorite is “Chodzony od Józefa” (Kacper’s composition), which is played on our grandfather’s violin. It was broken by a horse, and after grandfather’s death, our dad fixed it.

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Interview with Daniel Ho about his Collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble

Ukulele virtuoso Daniel Ho talks to World Music Central about his newly released album Between the Sky & Prairie, a collaboration with Mongolian musicians The Grasslands Ensemble. The Sky & Prairie is a beautifully-crafted album produced by Wu Chin-tai “Judy Wu” (Wind Music) and Daniel Ho.

 

 

Your latest album, Between the Sky & Prairie is a collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble. How did you come in contact with the musicians?

I had been working on world music projects with Wind Music, a Taiwanese record company, for around five years. We recorded three Taiwanese aboriginal albums and a project with Wu Man (the pipa player for the Silk Road Ensemble) and Cuban percussionist Luis Conte. Our goal was to present traditional music, untouched, in a contemporary framing. We were lucky to receive two Grammy nominations and four Golden Melody Awards (Taiwan’s Grammy Award) for these collaborations and were invited to produce an album of Mongolian music. We visited Mongolia a few times and met many wonderful musicians, which became The Grasslands Ensemble.

 

The Grasslands Ensemble & Daniel Ho – The Sky & Prairie

 

Tell us about the recording process in terms of location, rehearsing, communication and so forth.

My co-producer, Judy Wu, helped to select the music with executive producer Li Dong. I don’t speak Chinese so she also communicated my arrangement ideas to the musicians as well as scheduled the recordings.

How did this experience affect you?

I had never been to Mongolia and I am grateful that music brought me half-way around the world to experience its rich culture and breathtaking grasslands. I treasure my new friends who have been so generous with their music.

Between the Sky & Prairie is released by Wind Records, a Taiwanese record label. How was the experience?

Wind Music is a wonderful record label. I admire their dedication to preserving culture and the entire staff is so kind and thoughtful. I always look forward to doing projects with them because it is more like having fun with friends than working!

The physical version of the album is gorgeous, with a beautifully- designed hard cover book. Is this the first time you release a project like this?

Actually, all of the albums we’ve released with Wind Music look like this. We put everything we can into all aspects of our projects – the music, recording quality, graphic design, music videos and documentaries.

Will you be doing more collaborations with musicians from other musical traditions?

I don’t have any specific plans right now, but I look forward to what’s around the corner. I’ve found the greatest joy in learning about the origins of music – how sound is used to convey emotion in ways that don’t conform to our Western framework of melodic development, harmonic structure, rhythm, and form.

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

Composition is at the core of my music. I’m always trying to open my mind melodically (traditional world music is great for this because its melodies are independent of Western rules and restrictions), expand my harmonic vocabulary, and develop my ability to function in advanced rhythmic settings like odd meters and polyrhythms. African, Indian and Latin music are wonderfully rhythmic.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I love Bach’s voice leading and counterpoint and use his techniques for all of my writing. Harmonically, Dave Grusin is the strongest influence on my music, and rhythmically, I draw from world music influences as well as great drummers like Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd.

 

Daniel Ho – Photo by Lydia Miyashiro

 

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

I first started recording in high school with my friend David Ho on a Tascam four-track cassette tape recorder. In the early 90’s, my first professional recordings were on 24-track, 2-inch tape recorders in studios in Los Angeles.

Around the mid-1990’s the Alesis ADAT began the revolution of affordable studio-quality home recording. From there it went to Mac-based fully editable digital recording in the mid to late 90’s. Technology quickly changed how we capture sound.

I started my record company, Daniel Ho Creations, in the mid-90’s and have recorded over 100 albums in my home studio. Without the pressure of paying for studio time, it is incredibly liberating.

Aside from Mongolian music, are there any other musical traditions that interest you?

I love all kinds of world music, though some of them would require me to be more skilled before I’d be able to collaborate effectively.

For example, I love Cuban music, but I would first need to develop my sense of rhythm before I could play with Cuban musicians.

What ukulele models are you playing now? Who builds them?

I play a Romero Creations Tiny Tenor. Pepe Romero, Jr. is a world- class luthier and the son of classical guitar legend Pepe Romero.

Four years ago, I had the opportunity to design this instrument with him. We looked at all the qualities we love about the ‘ukulele, like its portability and sound, and tried to expand on them. We came up with the Tiny Tenor, which is a full tenor scale ‘ukulele that fits in a concert ‘ukulele gig bag.

The instrument caught on over the past few years and Romero Creations is now distributed by YAMAHA in Japan. For me, this experience was like writing a song with wood. It is exciting to see people all over the world making music with an instrument we created! You can find more information about our instruments at RomeroCreations.com.

Have you even played a Portuguese cavaquinho or a Spanish timple?

No I haven’t. I’d like to though.

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

I would love to do a project with Yo Yo Ma. Working with Dave Grusin would be amazing, too. Or maybe a mandolin and ‘ukulele project with Chris Thile.

What music are you currently listening to?

I really enjoy listening to James Taylor. I love the sincerity of his songwriting and voice. But I don’t do a lot of listening. As a writer, I try to avoid getting melodies stuck in my head which could end up in something I’m composing.

What new projects are you working on?

Presently, I’m working on a comprehensive ‘ukulele program with YAMAHA music school. I’ve been a student of music all my life and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far. The project will launch in April 2018.

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Hungarian Ensemble Meszecsinka Completes 2017 Russian Tour

Meszecsinka

 

Hungarian world music band Meszecsinka is back from its Russian tour. The group performed in Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Dubna and Sergiev Posad from November 2-5, 2017.

In Bulgarian, Meszecsinka means a “small moon” and comes from vocalist Annamari’s favorite Bulgarian folk song. Annamari Oláh sings in seven languages (Hungarian, Russian, Bulgarian, Finnish, English, Italian and Spanish) and one of their own. The group itself comes from two countries (Hungary, Bulgaria) and leads listeners into a wonderland, where Bulgarian and Hungarian folk lives together with Latin music and funk, Eastern and experimental.

 

 

This was my second time in Russia. I only was in Moscow 3 years ago so now I could see more details of Russia,” said Annamari Oláh to WorldmusicCentral. “Sometimes I felt I was in a movie or at home or like ’Hedgehog in the Fog’. I loved to travel between cities. The worst thing was that we hadn’t enough time for sightseeing but I got a lot of hugs, energy, unforgettable moments and words and shining eyes, gifts, and it was an incredible surprise when a couple who live in St. Petersburg, but they missed our concert on Nov. 2nd, traveled to Sergiyev Posad to see us (it’s in the Moscow region). I totally filled up with energy and this trip was inspired me a lot”.

 

 

Meszecsinka’s members are Annamari Oláh on vocal, Biljarszki Emil on guitar, Krolikowski Dávid on percussion and Vajdovich Árpád on bass guitar.

 

 

Russia is a special story for me,” says Emil Biljarszki, “ because I grew up there. I took up its music, culture and still swear in Russian sometimes even if I left it in 1982 (I was born in Bulgaria and since 1984 I’ve been living here in Hungary). I met old and new friends in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Meszecsinka tours regularly in Europe, we’ve been twice in America and it was our second time in Russia. Recently we started playing mostly in Eastern Europe and the reason is that it’s more interesting and the audience is better. Maybe we’re paid more in Germany but in Bulgaria, Russia and Poland I always feel that we’re loved. There is a short video from our Saint Petersburg backstage:
https://www. facebook. com/meszecsinka/videos/10159899375605393/

Annamari Oláh (Meszecsinka)

 

Our organizers Daryana, Maria and Yuri worked as magicians, they organized concerts 2 weeks before our coming to Russia exactly on dates and places we needed. For example there was a sold out concert in nuclear city of Dubna, we played for the atom workers!

Meszecsinka has performed in the biggest venues of Hungary like Millenáris or Palace of Arts and at many festivals in the country and almost all European countries.

The band tours frequently in many European countries. They visited the USA and Canada, recorded video on the Red Square in Moscow and a Balkan road movie. Their art video “Kinyílok (I open up) reached the sixth place on the video chart of World Music Network (UK) and fRoots Magazine (UK).

Meszecsinka is one of the 12 best Hungarian world music bands according to the WOMEX edition of Dal+Szerző magazine.

More about the band:
www.Meszecsinka.hu
youtube.com/user/meszecsinka

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Musicians need to collaborate and promote environmental conservation – interview with Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej

Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej recently organized and performed at The RoundGlass Samsara Festival in Bangalore, focused on environmental sustainability and nature conservation. He joins in this exclusive interview from his home in Bangalore.

As part of the multi-disciplinary festival, film screenings and art exhibitions were held at the Sublime Art Gallery and National Gallery of Modern Art, showcasing art about nature. A conference was held on environmental conservation, with speakers such as President Anote Tong of Kiribati, who highlighted the disastrous climate change effects in the Pacific islands.

 

Ricky Kej

 

The Samsara Concert featured other performers as well, such as Darlene Koldenhoven and Wouter Kellerman (Grammy Award winners), Lonnie Park (Grammy nominee), Hai Phuong (virtuoso on the Vietnamese zither, dan tranh), Venugopal (tabla maestro), Raveolution String Section, Suma Sudhindra (veena exponent) and B. Jayashree (theatre actor and singer).

Ricky has won a range of awards and distinctions such as the United Nations Global Humanitarian Artist Award, Producer of the Year at the South African Music Awards, Album of the Year at the Zone Music Awards (New Orleans), Centre for Conscious Creativity ‘FutureVision’ Award (Los Angeles), Mirchi Music Awards (India), as well as ‘Pride of Karnataka’ and ‘Youth Icon of India.’

His earlier albums include The Shanti Orchestra and Shanti Samsara, as well as the benefit album 2 Unite All with Peter Gabriel (aimed at humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza). The album Winds of Samsara won a Grammy in 2015; it was a collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman. Shanti Samsara was launched at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

 

Ricky Kej – Shanti Samsara

 

Ricky Kej – Shanti Orchestra

 


2 Unite All

 

Tracks from Shanti Samsara were performed at the Bangalore festival, which was held at the government legislative centre Vidhana Soudha. In this interview, Ricky shares his visions and insights into the connections between music, artistic collaboration, nature, spirituality and global environmental consciousness.

How do you view the connection between music and nature?

There is a deep relationship between music and nature. Music began as the sounds of nature, and early instruments were derived from nature. Only later did academic, professional, mass market and electronic elements come in.

I strongly believe that all artists have an obligation to use their work to make this world a better place. The threat to our environment is progressively getting worse. Musicians play an important role in creating conversations about our world. It is important for musicians and artists today to be on the right side of history. Art can be used to celebrate bio-diversity, and also showcase ecological impacts.

 

 

What was it like to perform at the Vidhana Soundha?

It is one thing to play at concert venues and hotels, but another thing altogether to perform right where policymakers are. That is why our recent Bangalore concert was held at the Vidhana Soudha, so that government officials could be exposed to the important messages about conservation right at their workplace.

I have always dreamed of performing at this venue and have known it right from my childhood. We began planning this festival way back in December last year.

I performed twice at the United Nations General Assembly. My work has been encouraged by India’s prime minister, and I have performed for heads of state in the audience. Music and art can go beyond speeches and pamphlets, and evoke messages at a deeper level. Musicians have the gift of art and communication.

 

Ricky Kej

 

Who are some of the music influences in your life?

My influences include Pandit Ravi Shankar, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, AR Rahman, Wouter Kellerman, Hugh Masakela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and others.

 

 

How is technology transforming your work these days?

On the one hand, technology has helped with reducing costs of production of music. Digital technology has helped promote my music and the movement for conservation. The rapid growth of technology also means you have to keep learning on the job.

While consumers benefit from getting access to lots of music, they also need to work hard at filtering what’s out there and finding what appeals to them. Many consumers are just content with getting music ‘pushed’ at them. Discovery gives thrill but takes work. Curators play an important role here.

What do you when you take a holiday from your hectic music career?

I have not had a holiday in over 11 years! What would I do on a holiday – nothing? I can’t imagine that; music is my everything, and I am devoted to conservation. Even when I am not making music, I am listening to new music.

Even during my travels I have not done typical ‘touristy’ things. I go to New York city six times a year but have yet to see the Statue of Liberty!

What kinds of collaboration are needed to promote environmental awareness?

Everything is inter-connected. The Amazon jungles are the lungs of the world, generating 20% of our oxygen. Global warming is already affecting the Pacific Islands with rising water levels, many of those countries stand no chance unless drastic action is taken today.

Society needs more spiritual balance. There should be more commitment to conserve nature, beyond mere compliance with regulations. This begins with encouraging children to think positively about nature. Scientific advice is also needed here.

That is why the Samsara Festival has been multi-disciplinary. We need more inter-disciplinary dialogue – between legislators, scientists, filmmakers, artists, environmentalists, innovators, musicians, thought leaders, industry leaders, media, change-makers and youth.

What role can India play in the environmental movement?

India can play an important role in conservation. It is a country that can make the most impact, since it is still in growth stage and can choose a sustainable path of development. The West is realizing that centuries of mis-directed development have extracted a huge toll on the environment, we need to have more environmental consciousness across the world now.

There are 350 million people in India who are entering the economic development stages, as much as the whole US population. There has to be a focus on renewable energy. India is in the Top Three countries in terms of coal reserves, but getting energy by burning coal has severe consequences.

India has an old civilization, and rich biodiversity in terms of plant and animal life. We pray to trees and animals, our gods are the natural elements. We can either screw it all up – or preserve it and lead the world with our example. We have the power to do the right thing. India needs to take leadership in environmental consciousness and be at the forefront of nature conservation.

 

 

What is your message to musicians and our audience out there?

Do what you can do conserve nature and increase environmental consciousness within you and around you. Do whatever you can within your limitations, be realistic.

There is no need to shame or shock people to change their attitude and behavior towards the environment; people may shy away from gory images of dead animals. Instead, it can be done through inspiration, creativity and positive reinforcement.

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‘Music can definitely pave the way to a peaceful, happy world’ – Sitar Artist Nikhil Patwardhan

 Nikhil Patwardhan has released six albums of Indian classical music – and is also an electrical engineer. He shares his unusual story in this interview, covering his musical journey, inner spiritual calling, and message to the audience.

Nikhil has played across India and overseas, in the US, UK, Dubai, Japan, Kenya and Zambia. Born to Shri Kumar Shrimangalmurti Patwardhan and Srimathi Madhura Kumar Patwardhan, Nikhil started his musical journey at the tender age of four. His grandmother, Srimathi Sarojinidevi Patwardhan and his grandfather, Shri Shrimangalmurti Patwardhan were also deeply into Hindustani classical music.

Nikhil’s projects include the musical trio, ‘When Wood Sings,’ based on instruments such as sitar, flute and tabla. I caught two recent performances in Bangalore by Nikhil, along with tabla players Partho Banerjee (at Lahe Lahe) and Shailesh Shenoy (at Jus’ Trufs).

Tell us about your musical background, and how your family influenced your choice of music as a career.

Although sitar and Indian classical music have been in my family for three generations, I really took to the sitar after hearing a concert recording of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. To this day, my grandmother Mrs. Sarojinidevi Patwardhan, my parents and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee remain as the leading influences in my musical career. Inspiration is everywhere: even a bird singing in the morning can provide great music fuel to the soul.

I have a master’s in electrical engineering from Clemson University in the US and have worked for 12 years in semiconductors. I have been playing sitar and Indian classical music for over 30 years now.

At the age of eight, I gave my first public performance at Balgandharva, Pune. I became a Balodyaan AIR artiste at the age of nine. At the age of twelve, I won the prestigious Centre for Cultural Resources and Training scholarship from the government of India.

At the age of fifteen, I started receiving training from Pandit Parthapratim Chatterjee, who is an exponent of the Maihar Gharana from Kolkata and a disciple of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and Ustad Ali Akbar Khansahib.

I am balancing both worlds, the world of a techie and the world of a musician!

 

Nikhil Patwardhan and Shailesh Shenoy – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

How does your composition process work – individually, or along with other musicians? Do you also compose while on the road?

It works through both ways – primarily through individual creation and then a lot of continuous listening and collaboration with other great musicians.

I very much compose on the road as well. In my day job, I have to drive for a couple of hours every day – so my car always turns into a music studio where I listen to and also record some compositions I think of.

Currently I am not into music full-time and doing both a day job and music. I feel that the day job and music complement each other extremely well.

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

Like yoga, our music is intense, complete and with a lot of depth, as it has evolved through so many thousands of years. So it becomes difficult for the general public to understand and extract the goodness that this music has to offer. Hence, the challenge I face is to get more people interested in our oldest form of Indian classical music. However, over the years I am seeing a very positive comeback of people, especially the younger generation, wanting more of this pure and divine music.

What have been some audience reactions you get at your performances?

I feel I am really blessed to have some amazing and appreciative audiences across India and all over the globe. My biggest highlights have been when people from the audience have come up to me after the concert in tears, and told me that the music really went to their hearts and they did not want me to stop playing.

Do you also teach workshops for students/musicians?

Yes, I have several students. I have taught workshops both overseas and in India. I make it a point to give a short lecture demonstration before every concert so people can understand what they should listen to in this music.

How has the music industry changed over the years in terms of tech trends, and how has it affected you?

The virtual and real worlds have been swapped. We all live in the virtual world and the real world is only to meet our physical needs. I think this is an incredible evolution as this allows someone sitting with an online connection in the remotest corner of the world to listen to Indian classical music. Sound technology has also helped immensely in bringing out the finest and subtlest of the sounds of the sitar.

 


Nikhil Patwardhan and Partho Banerjee – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

How would you describe your musical journey so far?

It has been a fantastic journey so far and every second of it has taught me to respect my music and reap the joy out of it. Juggling between two lives (techie and musician) definitely is very difficult to manage but music to me is the very oasis that powers my life. I think a music-centric life is very rich, and it not only gives happiness to you but also brings so many people together.

I think my albums show the degree of growth and maturity in my music over the years. I have slowly learned how to explore the depth of a raaga and the rhythm and not only the breadth. I think learning is a continuous process and all you have to see is if you as a whole are growing with respect to your own past.

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

I see myself as a performer and a teacher in the next 15 years or so. In today’s life where everything is supposed to happen in the blink of an eye, Indian classical music can always bring peace and harmony to our mind and bodies and slow us down. One of my dream projects is to work on a music therapy album which I would consider my ‘magnum opus.’

 

 

What are your thoughts on the rise of ‘fusion’ music, and how to bring about ‘fusion without confusion?’

I think it is a great idea to blend different genres so that people who like both genres can enjoy both aspects of the music. Fusion is an excellent way to bring the musically uninitiated to start liking music.

However, it should not sound like ‘con’-fusion. A good musician always knows when and where to put the right notes in the listener’s ear, just like a good cook knows how to put the right ingredients in the right dish. However, I think if one stays true to oneself, only then will the real colour of his or her music come out, so trying to imitate without understanding the depth of the music will lead to a dilution of both genres of music.

What is your vision of what music can bring to our troubled world?

My vision is to use this music to bring peace all over the globe just as the yoga movement is trying to bring good health to all. All this turmoil for power is totally unnecessary and music can definitely pave the way to a peaceful, happy world.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians out there?

Stay true to yourself. If you like rock, play and perform rock, if you like jazz, play and perform jazz. Feel each note, feel each vibration. Each one of us has a beautiful and unique way of expressing ourselves, if it comes straight from the heart. I also advise aspiring musicians to get a good education that will give a means of livelihood and also do music. This will prevent them from compromising with their music and stay true to their music.

As a Chinese proverb goes, ‘If you have two coins, with one coin buy food to eat and with the other coin buy a rose.’ The food will give you life and the rose will give you a purpose to live that life.

 

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Interview with Afro-Folk Singer Naomi Wachira

Naomi Wachira

 

Seattle-based Kenyan Afro-folk vocalist and songwriter Naomi Wachira has a new album titled Song of Lament. We talked to her about her songs and the new recording.

Your new album is titled Song of Lament. What’s the meaning behind the title?

“Song of Lament” was written at a time when I was sensing so much fear around me, especially because terrorism has been on the rise and also because of the refugee crisis. I was also in a hopeless place personally, so I was lamenting a lot. The album is compilation of songs that mourn some of the harsher realities of life, but also looks forward to what can bring a difference, which I believe to be empathy, kindness and living from a place of recognizing our shared humanity.

As an Afro-Folk songwriter, what topics are you more interested in or concerned about? I’m mostly interested in writing music that empowers and inspires all of us. As an artist, I get to write words that will influence other people, and that is something I take seriously because I desire that what I write has a positive impact on the listeners. Whether writing about romantic love, or lessons I’ve learned from my mistakes, or what I hope for the human race, the overarching theme will always be love and hope.

 

Naomi Wachira – Song of Lament

 

Tell us about the musicians who participated in Song of Lament.

What I love about Seattle is that the music community is very close knit and I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best. Teo Shantz (drums) is a good friend of mine and has been playing with me since 2014. Masa Kobayashi (bass) started playing with me in 2015 and plays for quite a few other bands, one of them being Clinton Fearon. Andrew Joslyn on strings and Owour Arunga on trumpet are friends I’ve known for the last 5 years and both play for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis among a long list of other bands they contribute their talents to. The only two I didn’t know prior to the record are Dave West (Organ) and Tommy Sandovallegos (percussion) who were brought on by my producer.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I’ve always looked up to Tracy Chapman and Miriam Makeba both from the longevity of their careers, but also the content of their work and the fact that they wrote about issues affecting society.

Does the traditional Kenyan music have any influence in your music?

I don’t think that traditional music per se has had a lot of influence in my style, because I grew up listen to all genres of music, which I think comes through in how I write.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

My first record was an EP “African Girl” which I released in 2012. I worked with a friend of mine and we recorded in a tiny bedroom and a warehouse. I feel like from the beginning of my career I’ve always known that I wanted my music to be simple, with an emphasis on the lyrics being more prominent than instruments. I’ve always favored sparse production on songs, because again, I want people to hear the words.

The greatest evolution has been to trust my own vision of what my album should sound like. It has been about believing that what I hear is valid and I don’t need to seek approval from someone on how the album should sound. Song of Lament is an album I’m so incredibly proud of not only because of the content, but because I got to have every song exactly as I wanted it to be and I’m grateful to have worked with a producer who trusted that vision.

 

Naomi Wachira

 

What musical instruments do you use in your arrangements?

I’m very simple and often play solo with an acoustic guitar. On the record, for the pretty basic songs, I had a drummer and bass player accompany me with some additional percussion. But I also tried different things, such as strings and horns, which I hadn’t done before.

 

 

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

I recently got to see Mokoomba from Zimbabwe and loved them so much that I hope to someday collaborate with them.

What music are you currently listening to?

With my daughter around, all she wants to hear is pop music, so currently we’re listening to Top 40 – especially because we’re on the road a lot.

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

Because Song of Lament just came out, that will be my focus for now.

More information at www.naomiwachira.com

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Forró in the Dark Discusses New Album Sandcastle

Forró in the Dark – Photo by Vladimir Radojicic

 

New York city-based band Forró in the Dark has a new album titled, Sandcastle (Nacional Records), its first release in 8 years. The band was formed in 2002 features Brazilian musicians based in the United States. Forró in the Dark members include Mauro Refosco on zabumba, percussion; Guilherme Monteiro on guitar; and Jorge Continentino on pífanos, flutes, and saxophones.

 

Forró in the Dark – Sandcastle

 

Forró in the Dark’s music is characterized by the forró rhythm of Brazil that is combined with rock, jazz, country and other genres. Earlier recordings include Bonfires of Sao Joao (2006), Light A Candle (2009) and Plays Zorn (Tzadik, 2015).

We talked to guitarist Guilherme Monteiro about Sandcastle.

This is your first album in 8 years, how has the band evolved musically during this time?

Well, we’ve done a lot of touring after the release of “Light a Candle”, so we had the opportunity of developing that music in big stages around the world, which is pretty different from the process we had before of testing out our new material at Nublu, which is a small club we used to play in New York. Also, we grew a lot individually, playing in different musical situations as side man or with our own projects, so when we get together to play with Forró In The Dark these days it has less of a testosterone driven energy and a much more musical vibe. We play with more dynamics and nuances than we used to.

Are there lineup changes?

Yes, Davi, who was a percussionist in the band, left the band a few years ago, so that was important for us to forge the sound of the new record. Me, Mauro and Jorge have a more similar sense of aesthetics and way of approaching the music.

 

Forró in the Dark – Photo by Vladimir Radojicic

 

What languages are you using in your new album Sandcastle?

Portuguese and English.

Eight years is a long time in-between albums. What have you been up to during this time?

We toured quite a lot in Europe and the States. Played some important festivals, like Bonnaroo, did extensive tours with Gogol Bordello. At some point we all had individual projects going for each individual member. Mauro was out playing with David Byrne, Atoms for Peace and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers; Jorge with Bebel Gilberto; and I’ve been touring with Gal Costa, who is a 72 year old singer, a sort of a living legend in Brazil.

Forró is still not a well-known genre outside Brazil. Are you making any inroads in the American market?

We think of ourselves of a band that honors the Forró genre but we don’t feel obliged to make inroads for it. We are primarily a band that makes music for people to dance, feel and think. Forró is a means to achieve that but we don’t consider ourselves “ambassadors” of the genre.

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Aurelio Martinez: Music of Love, Culture of Love

Aurelio Martinez takes up space in the room even when he is seated. He speaks without hesitation and with big clear gestures. I had wanted to speak with him ever since catching an ecstatic live performance at the Global Beat Festival in New York a couple of years ago. By the end of that concert everyone was on their feet.

Aurelio is a guitarist, percussionist, composer and singer. Darandi is his fourth album (released on Real World Records in February 2017). It represents the best of his thirty years in music. This album captures the live sound of his performance. The musicians were all recorded in one room. So, its lively and real, rather than the precise, overdubbed sound of his previous albums.

Aurelio – Darandi

To understand Aurelio’s music, you need to know his background. He grew up and spent his childhood in Plaplaya, Honduras, surrounded by Garifuna music. Indeed, he is one of the Garifuna peoples’ strongest Ambassadors. Garifuna music is closer to West African music than to rock; it’s closer to folk than New Orleans jazz. Sometimes, it’s as melancholy as the blues, but always it owes more to Africa than to Europe.

Much of the music has a percussive undercurrent that both grounds it and helps to propel the music forward. The segunda is a bass drum that is at the core of much Garifuna music. Aurelio has a very evocative voice, even if as a listener you cannot understand his vocal, you feel there is true heart in what he is singing

He is a master of Paranda music, a sub-genre within Garifuna music, that is blues-like in feel, and its lyrics, like the blues, often convey a lively commentary on society.

The Garifuna people are the descendants of African slaves who were first bought to St. Vincent in the West Indies and the Arawak Indians. While in St. Vincent, they fought the English colonizers, who killed many of them, the ones who survived were taken to Punta Gorda, Belize. I spoke to him recently about his music, his childhood, and the Garifuna. His conversation is as upbeat as his music.

DJL: Can you tell me about your childhood?

AM: Yes, my mother was a singer and composer of Garifuna music. She represents fifty to a hundred percent of my music, even now when I compose. She is my best mentor. My father was a guitarist. My grandfather too was a musician with the local community band. My music school was my family.

 

Aurelio Martinez in 2010 at Forde Festival in Norway – Photo by Angel Romero

 

DJL: How did you come to play guitar?

AM: I made my first guitar out of fish line and pieces of wood. (He chuckles.) You know how you come to find toys sometimes. I was about six years old. I first wanted to play the saxophone, because my uncle was a saxophonist. But when I was 15 years old, my Dad, who had moved to America, sent me my first professional guitar.

DJL: The biography on your website describes you as a singer, guitarist and percussionist, but one aspect that is sadly missing, is your incredible dancing. You can get everyone in the audience on their feet, even coming up on the stage to take turns dancing. Sparks fly during a performance. Can you talk to me about your dancing?

AM: Yes, you know when I hear drums, it is impossible for me not to dance. I used to hold onto my grandmother’s skirt as she danced at parties. And you know the dancing is sensual, I was watching all of that as a young boy. I was taking it all in. In Garifuna culture, we have celebrations where both the young and old come together. When I was little – seven or eight – drumming was my special weapon.

I would say to the adults, ‘if you are not inviting me to the party, I am not playing drums.’ I used the fact that I could play percussion to negotiate invitations to come to parties.

DJL: What would you like to say about Garifuna culture to someone who knows nothing about it?

AM: On April 12th this year, we will have our annual celebration that marks 286 years of our living in Central America. Garifuna people are extended into four places: Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. We have a huge Garifuna population in the United States, half a million people. We have food, language, spirituality and music that are all unique to us.

DJL: Are you fighting to preserve this culture?

AM: Yes, of course, the government in Honduras is a threat. They want to convert our community to a tourist place by building hotels on our land. Previously, the Christians said we were diabolical. We have been forbidden to speak our language. We face discrimination and oppression. Yet, we are keeping this culture alive. My band takes our pride around the world, we convey to people a culture that is both powerful and rich. The soul of Garifuna is about bringing people together, in peace and harmony. I am a spirit, the music comes through me. I want to be true in my music. I sing what I feel.

 

Andy Palacio

 

DJL: You met Andy Palacio, who was a known Garifuna musician and a leading activist, who fought hard for the people, before dying at aged 47. Can you describe him?

AM: Yes, we met in Honduras. He was a brother. It was a friendship. We agreed on many things about the Garifuna people, we saw eye to eye, and he loved his culture. We worked on music together. When I first stepped on the beach in Senegal, West Africa, after he died, I was moved. I knew that Andy would have been there with me in Senegal, if he were still alive. His spirit was with me that day on the beach.

DJL: This album Darandi represents your whole career, why now?

AM: It is about closing one part of my musical life, and a renewal, moving into more powerful music. I want to work with other, different musicians, who play jazz or Afropop. I want to open the music up.

DJL: Yalifu is a powerful track on this album. Yalifu is a song of longing. Can you talk about it?

AM: Yalifu means pelican, and in the song I ask, “pelican, lend me your wings so that I can fly.” This is a love song about wanting to fly to my father, who at that time was far from me in America. It was written as I was remembering being young in Honduras and missing my father. The song also speaks to bigger issues of immigration, borders, loss, and longing, how people should have the chance to move freely around the world.

DJL: Landini is also another evocative track.

AM: Yes, it is a song about my reconnecting to my home town, Plaplaya. When I sing that song, the image of my home town appears in my mind: the river, the birds, the boats coming in.

DJL: And finally, what is your hope for the Garifuna people?

AM: Do you know that in 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the language, music, and dance of Garifuna as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity? We love to live in community, not to fight. A grandfather is a grandfather to our whole community. Come to the Garifuna nation to see. I welcome you. I know that we will continue as a spiritual people with our music of love, our culture of love.

To read more about Aurelio and his discography, read his Artist Profile.

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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.

Videos:

 

 

 

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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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