Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Innovative Galician Piper Susana Seivane

Susana Seivane is an acclaimed Spanish bagpiper, part of a well-known family of Galician bagpipe makers. She’s a groundbreaking artist, who represents a generation of artists that defied norms and renovated Galician folk music. Her musical style is deeply influenced by the Galician “inland” bagpipe style.

Susana has a new album titled Fa and she discussed her musical career and the album with World Music Central in October 2018.

Susana Seivane, earlier in her career

How and when did you start working professionally in the music field?

I started playing the bagpipe at three, but in 2019 I’ll celebrate my 20 years as a professional.

What do you think are the fundamental elements of your music?

It is a fusion of our most representative instrument, the bagpipes, with other instruments that do not have to be traditional, such as drums or electric bass, adding modernity along with winks to other styles of music that I like, for example rock or funk.

How has your style evolved over the years?

My bagpipe playing style has been gaining technique but the essence is the same, that essence that we call “enxebre”, the one that remembers the old bagpipers that I liked from which I took bits and pieces in terms of playing [technique]. What has been changing is the instrumental accompaniment and the arrangements, adding new colors with instruments that provide much more energy, modernity and freshness to my music.

What does the title of your new album Fa mean?

It’s not because of the musical note or the deodorant brand as someone jokingly asked me 😉 These are the initials of my children: Fiz and Antón.

Susana Seivane – Fa

Tell us a little about Fa.

Fa is a bag of feelings, good, bad, regular, is a bag of emotionalized music since I found out that I was pregnant with Fiz, until Anton’s first years. It’s a record dedicated to motherhood, to everything that means, and a disc dedicated to these two little creatures of mine that make me crazy with love and crazy with nerves too 🙂

Your last record before Fa came out 8 years ago. Why did you take so long to record again?

It has been a recording silence. During this time I have collaborated on other albums like Kepa Junkera’s. Fortunately, I never stopped working. We have toured every year except for the one when Anton was born in August. That summer we could not do it, that winter I had my pretty big belly! I have had two pregnancies, two deliveries, the corresponding times of maternity leave I never completed because I immediately started to perform concerts as soon as I had recovered because we already had signed contracts. So, in terms of taking a break, I never stopped, I never did, I had a lot of work 🙂

Your family, the Seivanes, is well known as bagpipe craftsmen. Apart from playing the bagpipes, do you make them too?

You can’t imagine how labor intensive it is to handcraft a bagpipe. I would know how to make certain parts of the bagpipes but not the whole one. There was a time before recording my first album when I did work in the family workshop (obradoiro) but when the album started, the tours, etc., I left it to dedicate myself to my passion since I was a child, playing the bagpipes and now I am lucky that it has become my profession. But being in the workshop was a super nice and enriching experience to learn more about my instrument.

Where can Seivane bagpipes be purchased?

Currently Seivane makes bagpipes for the whole world. Many people like to come to the obradoiro itself because they like the family atmosphere and friendly treatment that you find there. But you can also purchase and configure your bagpipe as you please on the website, seivane.es/es/tienda/config_gaita_0.html?

Has there been any evolution of the Galician bagpipe since your grandfather’s time?

A lot! Previously, the bagpipes were much more rustic and the bagpipers themselves had to come up with ways to use the “rare” fingers so that they tuned some notes when they played with other instruments like the clarinet for example. Nowadays, after many years of study and dedication, the bagpipe is at a point where its tuning allows instrumentalists to play with any instrument.

Susana Seivane

What bagpipes did you use before and which ones do you use now?

Bagpipes have been made for me as I have grown. When I started, on my fourth birthday, my uncle, my father and my grandfather gave me a bagpipe built by them, perfectly tuned but with very small dimensions so that I could play it because I could not play with a standard one, even though I already knew how to play. That bagpipe is at the top of our obradoiro where there is an exhibition of the most special bagpipes that have been made, and there she is, like a golden piece, with a blow stick (where we blow) that has dimensions of a pacifier 🙂

Who are the manufacturers of your bagpipes?

If I do not want to be disowned, it’s my family! My father, my uncle, my sister, my cousin … everyone who works in the family obradoiro.

Do you play bagpipes from other cultures, besides Galician ones?

I do not.

Have you ever used the electronic bagpipe and what do you think of it?

I think the term electronic bagpipe does not exist. A wind trigger would be more correct. The “bagpipe” is the bagpipe. That invention we can call “wind sounds trigger”; seems to me very good to compose, rehearse, etc., but I would never play it live, for example. I like the bagpipes as they are, it’s our tradition and culture and I love how it sounds. I’ve seen people cry with emotion when they hear it, people who do not have Galician ancestors or anything. The sound of our bagpipes is something magical and that stirs many emotions inside.

You are part of a pioneer generation of women bagpipers. Are you helping to train the new generations?

To the extent that I can, I go to many schools to be with the children, to teach them how the bagpipe works, I let them blow it, touch it, teach them traditional songs and sing them together. I think it’s something important to continue transmitting our culture as our elders did with us. And to bring our instrument and our culture to the youngest ones seems to me something so important that I even think it should be a compulsory subject in our schools.

Susana Seivane

What new generation pipers deserve the attention of lovers of Galician music or Celtic music in general?

I really like David Bellas, Pedro Lamas, Dani Bellon, Magoia Bodega; it is sublime to listen to them. Surely you do not know them, but not always the most famous are the best.

If you could gather the musicians or groups that fascinate you the most to record an album or collaborate live, who would you call?

My musical godfathers, Milladoiro; Rodrigo Romani, my guardian angel, co-founder of Milladoiro and producer of my first albums; Shooglenifty with whom I have also had the luck to collaborate in concerts and on the Scottish BBC; Dulce Pontes with which I also play; Kepa Junkera, SonDeSeu, Treixadura, Noitarega, whoa … many admired by me.

What music are you currently listening to?

In the car, I have my latest album. I am very satisfied with how it came out and I listen to it a lot. Then, at home, the truth is that I listen to about everything. I’m quite eclectic in terms of musical tastes, I like jazz, funk, rock, classical music, etc.

What do you like to do during your free time?

Playing paddle tennis, I’m in a team where I play in the Galician league and the national series. I was hooked from the beginning. I also like bowling, I was also asked to join a team but I do not have any more time! I have been away from paddle for a while because I have knee injuries but I’ll be back!

What other projects do you have in hand?

We are preparing a very special concert for our 20th anniversary next year. An extraordinary concert that will give a lot to talk about and that we will record live with many collaborations from friends of all these 20 years.

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Interview with Guiss Guiss Bou Bess

Senegalese-French band Guiss Guiss Bou Bess is set to perform a showcase today at the World Music Expo WOMEX today. The concert will take place at Twin Stage A, Plaza de la Música in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.

Mara Seck and Stephane Costantini talked about this project with World Music Central.

Tell us about your background in music.

Mara Seck: I began music since I was a child, since I was raised in a big family of Senegalese griots, the Sing Sing Family. When I was 16 I played a lot with Garmi Fall, a band mixing jazz funk with Senegalese music (mbalax). With this band we toured during 4 years (from 2006 to 2010) in Senegal and in Europe. After that I focused on my solo act and working with other artists in Senegal, until I met Stephane and decided to work together.

Stephane Costantini: I also learned music quite early in music school in South East France, first guitar then drums and percussion. As a teenager I played in a reggae dub music band, which last for ten years. I also began to produce beats and instrumentals for rappers and local sound systems. This is where my love for Afro and Caribbean music started to grow, as well as more electronic beats and bass music. When I moved to Paris, I played percussions a lot in different bands (jazz, funk, rock, Latin American, music, French chanson, etc), and I started a band playing live electronic hip hop. Then I moved to Dakar…

Guiss Guiss Bou Bess

How did the two of you connect?

Stéphane: We met in Dakar, during a concert in an art place and venue called Les Petites Pierres. This place was a good place to listen to good and unconventional live music and to play jams no matter the genres you’re into. The place is now closed for repair works but it gathered a lot of people from the music scene in Dakar. So our encounter was quite informal and natural. Mara was interested in electronic music and I wanted to get more into the essence of Senegalese mbalax music, which is sabar music. At the time Mara just had his first solo EP out and wanted to do remixes of some of his songs. But then we started to rework the songs together and the musical outcome went to a much different dimension…

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

Mara: It’s a mix between traditional and modern music. We’re trying to make use of African instruments like Tama, Sabar and Djembe, but in a rather unconventional way, since the electronic music is thought to integrate the original rhythms, melodies and voicing, and not the other way around. The essential goal is also to value and make the people discover the tradition of Senegalese Sabar percussion and dances, which is far less known as other genres like the Manding percussion in West Africa. We named this encounter ‘electro-sabar’, since there wasn’t a musical genre to coin what we are doing. But what we can say about it is that it is very rhythm led, and bass music influenced African music.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

Mara: I listen to a lot of things, from coupé décalé to Senegalese mbalax and electronic music. If I had to cite a few, I’ll say Michael Jackson, Alpha Blondy for African reggae, and speaking of Senegalese music, our own (and unavoidable!) Youssou Ndour, but also Baaba Mall and Cheick Lô.

Stéphane: as a real ‘musicoholic’ I must confess it’s a really hard question! I use to listen to a lot of reggae, dub and hip hop, and a lot of African music too. to say it broad and quickly, black music is essential to my ears and soul. Electronic music wise, Amon Tobin and guys like Dj Vadim or Dj Shadow got me really into making beats. And I also owe a lot to the UK bass music scene since its beginning, being it UK dub, drum and bass or UK garage to dubstep and more darker techno. Artists like Swindle, Joker, TC or Machinedrum are coming to my mind right now, but there a bunch more to be cited!

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

Mara, Stéphane: It’s a bit early to answer this question since our first EP is not out yet! It will reach the stores and digital platforms this autumn and gathers the music we were working first hand we met in late ’16 / early ’17.

Right now we are working on a full length record, trying to push further this quite unique collaboration. And creating new bridges between sabar and electronic music.

Can you share some information about the program you’ll present at the WOMEX 2018 in Gran Canaria?

We’re really thrilled to play at WOMEX this year! We’ll try to present an overview of the project as it is since our first European tour this summer. And a new live VJ set will be prepared for the occasion, with Benjamin Richard-Foy, who is also doing visuals for our mate and great artist IBAAKU (go check him out if you haven’t already done so!). So we want it to be an immersive audio-visual experience as well as a participatory live show (don’t forget to bring your dancing shoes to Gran Canaria!).

What musicians will you take to Gran Canaria?

We’ll be 3 musicians, with Senegalese fellow drummer Aba Diop coming with us. And Ben, our VJ like we said earlier 😉

How’s the current world music scene in Senegal?

Mara: Nowadays in Dakar, It’s a lot about hiphop music, with young and talented Senegalese rappers taking over and some events filling the big stadiums. That said, the Mbalax music is not dead, but the scene is kind of saturated, and only a handful of singers can handle making a living from it. And on the side, there’s a lot of acoustic and traditional musicians who are still finding their way, but with a less wider public.

To sum up, the music scene is full of young talents but it severely lacks economic and logistic support to make the things working fully.

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

Mara : For our work we already collaborated with a lot of great musicians, mainly Senegalese singers and instrumentalists, and I hope we will keep it that way! That said, why not collaborating with a great American performer like Beyonce or Jay Z, mixing Sabar with their music. If I’m allowed to dream, that could create a really different universe…

Stéphane: for my part, I’d love to do some collabs with Kenyan producers from the East African Wave collective, as their are producing a lot of great music mixing African and urban sounds, I really dig it. More European oriented, the Mancunian guys from Swing Ting are making really groovy productions and dope collabs with Jamaican singers, and their style is quite unique. Maybe for a next remix?

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

Not that we have already talked about! New music coming out, and insh’allah a lot of touring 🙂

headline photo: Guiss Guiss Bou Bess – Photo by JB Joire

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Interview with World Music Sensation Bokante

Bokanté, the world music phenomenon led by Snarky Puppy’s multi-instrumentalist and composer Michael League has released another superb album titled What Heat. Michael and the band’s charismatic vocalist Malika Tirolien talked to World Music Central in October 2018.

How did Bokanté’s musicians meet?

Malika Tirolien – Michael is the only one who knew each member of the band through past collaborations. He had the vision of the instrumentation and he introduced us to each other on the first day of the recording of our first album “Strange Circles“.

 

Bokanté – Strange Circles

 

What does the band name mean?

Malika – Bokanté means exchange in Guadeloupian creole.

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

Malika – To me, the essential elements of our music are rhythm and melodies. Both of these aspects are highlighted by the percussion, guitars and vocals.

Harmonically, we keep things pretty simple and repetitive. The lyrical content is also a big part of the identity of the band since we want to address sociopolitical issues through our songs.

 

Bokanté – Photo by York Tillyer

 

Whom can you cite as your main musical influences?

Michael League – For this band, we’re drawing upon a lot of music from West Africa, Mali in particular. Oumou Sangare, Bassekou Kouyate, and Ali Farka Toure have all had big influences on our music. But we’re definitely pulling from American blues and even bands like Led Zeppelin, who took the blues to different places.

Singing primarily in Guadeloupian Creole, Malika is bringing her own Caribbean roots to the table as well. And on the most recent album, “What Heat,” the Arab roots of the blues have emerged through the inclusion of oud, daf, sumbati, and other Middle Eastern instruments. Kardes Türküler, Erkan Ogur, The Secret Trio, and other Turkish groups were in my ears constantly as I composed for the album.

 

Malika Tirolien and Michael League – Photo by Ralf Dombrowski

Tell us about your previous album and your musical evolution.

Malika – Our first album was entirely written via email. It was a ping pong between Michael and I. He would send me music and i would send back melodies and lyrics. The album was very influenced by west african music, delta blues and by Guadeloupian gwoka.

As I explained earlier, the band really met at the studio on the first of the recording. We were very lucky to feel an instant connection and symbiosis even if each members are very different individuals. The music was more jammy and open for that album and let each musician express and reveal themselves more.

The second album was written differently. Michael and I went to Spain to write for a few days. The writing process was more collaborative this time which was very cool but also challenging sometimes!

Also, since the music was written with the idea of a collaboration with an orchestra, it was more defined and arranged, leaving less space for jams.

Also, since we had already recorded an album together and toured a lot together, the connection between the musicians was even stronger and I think we became more of a band with a sound for this second album.

 

Bokanté – What Heat

 

Your new album features the Metropole Orchestra. How did you come up with this collaboration?

Michael – I first worked with the Metropole and Jules Buckley a few years ago, as my other band (Snarky Puppy) recorded the album “Sylva.” It was such a fulfilling experience for me that I was just waiting for the opportunity to create something with them again, but more specifically, a fully acoustic album with Bokanté. It’s a such a great fit. They really can play things that you’d be terrified to hand to most orchestras. I can’t say enough about the MO and Jules as a conductor and arranger.

 

Malika Tirolien and Michael League – Photo by York Tillyer

 

The arrangements are exquisite and they remind me of some of the great progressive rock compositions with unexpected changes and time signatures. How does the public react to these sudden tempo changes?

Michael – Everything is pretty natural despite the appearance of dramatic change. If we make it feel good on stage, they feel it in the audience. If we don’t, then we have a problem!

 

 

The album also features spectacular percussion section in various tracks. Who played percussion and how was it recorded?

Michael – Our three main percussionists are Keita Ogawa (from Japan), André Ferrari (from Sweden), and Jamey Haddad (from Ohio). On “What Heat,” we were joined by our friend Weedie Braimah (Ghana) on jembe.

We tracked everything at Dreamland Studios, a big old church-turned-studio near Woodstock, New York. Keita, André, and Jamey recorded their parts together with the guitarists, then added additional parts as overdubs later (if needed). Weedie came a few days later and put down his parts. Nic Hard, our engineer, has to be recognized here for his incredible sonic work on the record.

 

 

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

Malika – We are very spoiled because we get to collaborate with a new bass player on tour every time because Michael plays the oud and baritone guitar live despite also recording the bass on the albums. Since he can’t multiply himself yet, lol, we get to play with amazing bass players (like Paul Bender from Hiatus Kaiyote)! It would be an honor to have Meshell Ndegeocello, Esperanza Spalding or Victor Wooten with us!! Also, a collaboration with Jacob Collier or Moses Sumney would be amazing!!

Do you have any other upcoming projects to share with us?

Michael – Malika is finishing her next solo album soon, which we’re all very excited about. I just produced a new album for David Crosby called “Here If You Listen” which comes out this month, as well as a new Snarky Puppy record that will drop in March. Malika and I are already writing music for the third Bokanté album, so hopefully that’s not too far in the future!

headline photo: Bokanté by York Tillyer

Discography:

Strange Circles (Ground Up Music, 2017)
What Heat (Real World Records, 2018)

Website: bokante.com

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Interview with Innovative Canadian Musician Chairman George

 Canadian artist George Sapounidis, better known as Chairman George, has a new album titled Bringing to Greek Party to China! It’s a ground-breaking recording that combines traditional Greek and Chinese music, Mandarin Chinese vocals, rock and infectious electronic dance grooves.

In terms of musical instruments, Bringing to Greek Party to China! connects Greek bouzouki and Chinese pipa and guzheng. The music video for the irresistible song “Golden Night” is fascinating and a lot of fun to watch.

 

 

Chairman George talked to World Music Central in September 2018 about his background and Bringing to Greek Party to China.

Can you give our readers a brief history on how you started singing and composing music? 

I began taking guitar lessons in Montreal in 1968 and learning folksongs by different artists from the Joan Baez Songbook. Then when we moved to Greece in 1970 my mother found me a classical guitar teacher in Athens (a Greek protégé of the Spanish virtuoso Andrés Segovia no less) and in my teens I continued to take lessons and perform classical repertoire. At the same time since we were living a bohemian lifestyle in Greece I was meeting troubadours and buskers on the Greek islands which further inspired me to sing and perform publicly.

In university in Montreal and later in Toronto I met singers from different cultures so I began singing in Hebrew, Russian and Spanish. I took a delight in singing multilingually. In the 1980’s when the famine in Ethiopia happened I wrote a song and discovered a joy and ability in songwriting.

In 1988 I began learning the Greek bouzouki after listening and feeling impassioned by the Greek blues the Rembetika. I travelled to Greece with a musical partner and we started my first band Ouzo Power which performed at Canadian music festivals.

In the 1990’s, after finishing my PhD in statistics in Toronto and working as a folksinger extensively in Greektown, I returned to Ottawa where I had a day job in the federal government and I met a woman from Beijing who inspired me to learn to sing a traditional folksong in Mandarin Chinese. This was followed by challenging myself to write songs in Chinese. This is when my music career took a radical new direction towards Asia.

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

The essential elements of my music consist of sung vocals in different languages, translation of lyrics, and proficiency on the Greek bouzouki and acoustic guitar. This includes the incorporation of an eclectic array of cross cultural musical styles. I engage audiences on stage using humor while unraveling some of the mysteries of Greek and Chinese culture and language through music.

Whom can you cite as your main musical influences? 

Theodore Bikel, David Wilcox, Danny Michel.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution. 

My first full album on cassette consisted of duo interpretations of Greek Rembetika with the use of mandolin instead of bouzouki and translating Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin into Greek. The second EP consisted of standard Greek popular repertoire using larger ensembles incorporating African Senegalese rhythms. I then began dabbling in different languages and made a demo recording of songs in Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, Chinese and Greek.

When I performed my first Chinese song at the local Chinese New Year Gala in 1998 the roof fell in when the audience was applauding every 15 seconds. I realized I had discovered a vast new audience, endless musical possibilities within a new culture and my innate facility with languages.

In 2000, I gave my first major concert in Greek and Chinese in Ottawa where I invited the Greek and Chinese Embassies. Subsequently, I received an invitation from the Chinese Embassy to travel to China to perform at two international festivals. It was at this point that my music career took a radical new direction towards Asia.

My 2005 album consisted of exclusively Greek and Chinese traditional, popular and original material followed by my 2008 album of Olympic themed songs and then my 2011 CD of experimental rock-infused Greek repertoire. The culmination of my Greek and Chinese influenced musical arc has culminated in the present album where we have fused both cultures by presenting re- worked standard Greek repertoire in Mandarin.

 

Chairman George

What musical instruments do you use?

I use the Greek bouzouki and acoustic guitar myself. In my band we also have Chinese pipa and guzheng as well as bass, electric guitar, drums and backup vocals.

Your new album features Chinese musicians, electronic dance music beats, Chinese vocals and Greek influences. How did you come up with this combination? 

After many years performing Greek and Chinese repertoire side by side my producer Ross Murray and I decided in 2013 to go to the next step: a fusion of both. This had never been done. We chose 10 of the most well-known quintessential up tempo Greek popular songs with the intent of presenting Greek party songs to Chinese audiences, hence the album title.

I started translating these songs into Mandarin with the help of a translator while at the same time ensuring equal numbers of syllables in lines and incorporating rhyming. I developed bilingual vocals for these translated lyrics. We brought in Chinese instrumentalists we knew locally and my producer who is a recording engineer infused some of the renditions with electronic dance music beats.

 

Chairman George – Bringing to Greek Party to China!

 

What has been the reaction so far? 

Chinese audiences in China are very surprised and interested in hearing Greek songs in Chinese. Greek people are astonished at hearing their own songs recreated in what seems to them to be an incomprehensible language. Greeks are proud to know that their music is being promoted in a vast new environment.

How did you meet the Chinese musicians? 

I met the Chinese musicians in my home town of Ottawa, Canada. I already knew them well after years of performing in the local Chinese community.

You sing in Chinese, is it Mandarin? Do you speak Chinese or is it phonetic singing? 

Yes I sing in Mandarin Chinese. I speak in Mandarin Chinese and comprehend fully all lyrics that I sing.

 

Chairman George

 

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

I would like to collaborate with English rock musician Peter Gabriel whom I have not met – however, more realistically I would like to collaborate with English rock musician and multi Grammy award winner Chris Birkett whom I have met.

What would the ideal Sunday look like? 

Being on a quiet Greek island having a good swim in the sun all day with friends followed by Greek dinner in a taverna while listening to live Greek music performed by local musicians.

What would you like to learn?  

I would like to learn how to cook properly in a Cordon Bleu school.

What is your favorite food?  

Greek cuisine followed by Thai cuisine.

Favorite movie or movie genre?  

Westerns.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you have become? 

I would become what I in fact I already am: a mathematician with a PhD.

Your greatest triumph? 

Being the subject of the award-winning W5 CTV / BBC international television documentary ‘Chairman George’ produced by EyeSteelFilm in Canada and directed by Daniel Cross a fellow Montrealer whom I met by chance on the other side of the world in China.

What do you like to do during your free time? 

Swim laps and then meet friends for a home cooked meal.

What country would you like to visit?

Thailand.

Do you have any other upcoming projects to share with us? 

We are creating new interpretations of Canadian popular and traditional repertoire in Chinese.

Discography:

George From Athens To Beijing (2005)
Expect The World (2008)
Ouzo Power Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (2010)
Golden Night (2014)
Bringing to Greek Party to China! (2018)

Website: chairmangeorge.com

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Interview with Spanish Folk Music Band Aljibe about Agua, the Music of the Tagus River Basin

Spanish folk music band Aljibe has released a remarkable album titled Agua, Músicas tradicionales de la cuenca del Tajo (Water, the Music of the Tagus River Basin) that consists of an audio CD and a 144-page book. Aljibe has 33 years of experience in the Spanish traditional music scene.

The project highlights the value of the traditions that have developed around the Tagus (Tajo in Spanish), the most extensive river in the Iberian Peninsula. Aguat is a collective work that praises all that the Tagus River has contributed from different points of view: historical, artistic, literary, anthropological, musical.

 


Aljibe – Agua, Músicas tradicionales de la Cuenca del Tajo

 

Aljibe uses a combination of traditional Spanish musical instruments like the guitar and zanfona (hurdy gurdy) as well other instruments from other traditions. Regional instruments used by the band include the guitarro manchego, a small guitar from the La Mancha region of Spain; pito castellano, a high pitched Castilian flute; and the pandero cuadrado, a square frame drum from western Spain.

The lineup on Agua includes Teresa García Sierra on vocals, violin and nyckelharpa; Manuel Marcos Bardera on vocals, zanfona and keyboards; Luis Ramón Martín-Fuentes Palacios on guitar, guitarro manchego and Spanish lute; Domingo Martínez Martínez on acoustic and electric guitars and bouzouki; Luis Miguel Novas Morera on flute, pito castellano and clarinet; Pablo Rodríguez-Tembleco Guilabert on drums; Juan Rodríguez-Tembleco Yepes on vocals, pandero cuadrado, bottle and accordion; and José Manuel Rodríguez-Tembleco Yepes on bass, frying pan, guiro, horn and vocals.

 

Manuel Marcos Bardera

 

Teresa García Sierra – Photo by Paco Gómez

 

Guests musicians Benito Cabrera on timple (small guitar from the Canary Islands); Eliseo Parra on vocals and percussion; Miguel Afonso on accordion; Jamal el Auraoui on darbuka, bendir and karkebs;  Juan Manuel Sayán on palmas (flamenco handclap percussion), castanets; and Spain-based Argentine tango ensemble La Porteña Tango Trío: Alejandro Picciano on electric guitar, Federico Peuvrel on piano, and Matías Picciano on bandoneon.

The book features essays about the Tagus from writers José Luis Sampedro and Olga Lucas; history and legend by Almudena Cencerrado; nature and poetry by Joaquín Araújo; and the current state of the Tagus with the narration of José Ángel Gracía-Redondo.

Interview with Manuel Marcos Bardera:

How did the project of making a book and album about the music of the Tagus River Basin come about?

When we speak of traditional or roots music we usually limit it to that belonging to a country or a place, but we forget that the music moved with the people, being a common heritage of large areas. We think that the rivers and their valleys have always been the easiest roads for this communication, and we came up with the idea of ​​looking for and rescuing melodies along the basin of this great river that runs through Spain and Portugal.

 

Aljibe

 

How long did the development period last, from the idea to the final product?

Seven years have passed since our ninth album “Enea,”  and since then we  started working on new songs but it was approximately four years ago when we defined the idea that it was a work framed in the Tagus River and released in the form of a CD-book.

Who contributed to the 144-page book as writers?

There was much to tell, because the Tagus has seen through its shores the extensive history of the Iberian Peninsula and because the longest river in Spain at present is subject to serious problems like lack of water and pollution. That’s why we contacted the writer Olga Lucas, who gave us an unpublished text by the writer and philosopher José Luis Sampedro, author of the well-known bestseller “El río que nos lleva” (The river that takes us).

The naturalist Joaquín Araújo also collaborated. He was recognized with the Global 500 prize granted by the UN to the people who have done the most for the defense of the environment on the planet.

We also have texts by Almudena Cencerrado, president of the Association of Professional Tourism Guides of Spain and José Ángel García-Redondo, forestry engineer and member of the Tajo Research Group of the University of Castilla-La Mancha.

 

Casa Diamantista in Toledo 1922. The house was owned in the 1800s by Don José Navarro, jeweler and royal crown maker. Currently, it’s used as a hotel

 

The book has many fascinating historical photos. How did you get the material?

The truth is that it took a long time to contact so many friends who have collaborated in this project. Starting with Agustín Tomico, who provided us with many photos of the whole riverbed and through the Doce Calles publishing house, we had to look for the first historical photos of Talavera de la Reina thanks to Miguel Méndez-Cabezas, or old photos of Jean Laurent or by Otto Wunderlich, facilitated by Eduardo Sánchez Butragueño.

In terms of the photos of Aranjuez we mainly have the photos of Guirao Girada from the Doce Calles archive and vintage engravings from the Museo del Prado.

The book is very beautiful, with a hard cover. How was the project financed?

Like all Aljibe projects, it started being self-financed by the group itself. However, we called on many doors of institutions because we thought it was a beautiful and exciting project to defend the river through music and culture.

Fortunately, several institutions responded affirmatively and have supported us with the purchase of copies, facilitating the dissemination of the project. These institutions are the Junta de Castilla-La Mancha, the Diputación de Toledo and the municipalities of Aranjuez, Yepes, Madridejos, Chinchón and Toledo as well as private companies such as Anber-Fenienergía and El Rana Verde.

 

View of the Tagus from the castle in Monfragüe in the province of Cáceres.

 

Regarding the music, the Tagus basin includes several regions. How was the investigation process?

Well, through many sources, starting with a review of the songs that we recorded ourselves from villagers in the area, as well as reviewing other recordings in different archives, such as those made in Spain in the 50s of the last century by Allan Lomax or those of Kurt Schindler, Manuel García Matos and José Manuel Fraile Gil.

And how were the final songs chosen?

The songs have been chosen mainly for their musicality, their instrumentation and for their relationship with work or work related to the river, as well as geographically represent all the provinces and countries of the basin. So we can find the rogativas (prayers) of Valdelaguna, which is still sung in that town in Madrid to ask for rain in the dry season, or the Gancheros de Aranjuez, that tell us about the work of the men who came with the trunks down the river from the sierras of Guadalajara and Cuenca until arriving to Aranjuez.

We also remember the different cultures that inhabited our country with the inclusion of a Sephardic song, “Me dice la gente,” and of another song, “Tikchbila,” which talks about the expulsion of the Moriscos and that is still sung throughout the Maghreb.

 

The gancheros (river log drivers) of Aranjuez in 1900

 

A reenacting of the gancheros in 2016

 

 

What’s the situation of the traditional music of the Tagus basin?

Traditional music is gradually being claimed not only by veteran groups such as Aljibe but also by new groups that are coming up.

 

Tagus River, La Escaruela waterfall in Zaorejas, Guadalajara

 

What are the current environmental threats that the Tagus River is experiencing?

The main one, without a doubt, is the existence of the Tajo-Segura transfer that collects the water in the marshes of the headwaters of the river and, through its capture in the Bolarque reservoir, carries the water 300 kilometers away to the Segura River.

Up to 650 cubic meters per year can be extracted from the Tagus River, which logically means that the river lacks a large part of its natural flow with the damage that this causes to its flora and fauna. Additionally, it is also under pressure from the waters , better or worse filtered, poured into the Tagus by the  more than 10,000,000 people throughout its watershed and countless industries, including mines, nuclear power plants or paper mills.

 

Tagus River, Poveda waterfall in Guadalajara

 

How has Aljibe’s sound evolved since its inception?

We are now 33 years old and logically it would not make sense to sound like in our beginnings where the instrumentation was based on guitar, lute, bandurria and vocals. Little by little some musicians left the group and others joined. At the moment, Aljibe is made up of eight musicians from different origins as instrumentalists but with the bond of love for roots music.

In addition to using Spanish instruments, you also use the Greek bouzouki and the jembe of West Africa. What other instruments do you use or would like to use?

As we do not consider ourselves a “purist” group of research and exact interpretation of the music of our ancestors but a group that recreates these songs that allows us total freedom at the time of the instrumentation. That is why we combine traditional Spanish instruments such as the Spanish pito, the three-hole flute, the hurdy-gurdy, the guitar, the lute, the square tambourine … with others such as the bendir, the tar, the karkebs, the jembe, the ney, the bouzouki or the Swedish nyckelharpa.

Much of what is broadcast on the radio, internet and movies is pop and hip hop. How do you divulge your music?

Thanks to the publisher of the CD-book we have managed to spread the album better because they have a communication department that has allowed us to reach more radio and television stations. On the other hand we are also visible through the main virtual stores such as spotify, itunes, amazon prime music …

Is there any effort on your part to make folk or traditional music known to children and young people?

Most of the members of the group are music teachers in primary and secondary schools, which is why we have always spread this music among our students, as well as holding concert conferences about traditional instruments and music. In addition, even Aljibe’s first album was a collective work on Traditional Children’s Songs of Madrid.

If you could gather musicians or musical groups to collaborate, who would you call?

Well, we have been lucky enough to call them and they have come, because in Agua nine excellent musicians collaborate, starting with the great singer and percussionist Eliseo Parra, or the best timple player in the world, Benito Cabrera, or the accordionist Miguel Afonso, in addition to the three members of the prestigious group La Porteña Tango: Alejandro Picciano, Matías Picciano and Federico Peuvrel. Jamal el Auraoui, Josemi García and Juan Manuel Sayans have also helped us with the Arabic and Spanish percussion.

Are you preparing any new project?

At Aljibe we are always thinking about new topics for new projects, but before we expect this “Water” to flow for a long time.

Discography:

Temas Infantiles Tradicionales de la Comunidad de Madrid (Saga, 1987)
Surco arriba, surco abajo (Saga, 1987)
Felices Nusotros (Tecnosaga, 1989)
Gañanes, gancheros y otras faenas (Several Records, 1991)
La Marca del Oricuerno (Several Records, 1997)
El Motín de Aranjuez (Several Records, 1998)
Penas y Alegrías (Sonifolk, 2002)
Al lado del Mediodía (Galileo, 2002)
Enea (self-released, 2011)
Agua. Músicas Tradicionales de la cuenca del Tajo (Doce Calles. 2018

More about Aljibe: www.aljibefolk.org

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Les Moncada Chats with Master Conguero and Batalero Tony Rosa

There are drummers, then there are drummers. Some go out of their way for exceptional things to happen to them. Tony Rosa, master conguero and master batá drummer, resided in the City of Los Angeles, California. He played batá for the Orisha community for 7 years with conga batá master, legend of legends, Francisco Aguabella, from Matanzas, Cuba.

Francisco was a very stern group leader; whether it was his Latin Jazz Orchestra or Folkloric group and his religious batá ceremonies. Francisco either liked you or he didn’t like you. It was always beneficial to be on his good side. Francisco had three Afro-Cuban folkloric groups in California: one in San Francisco, another one in Los Angeles, and a third in Sacramento. Sometimes I say ‘Masters’ are so good, that they actually are not teachers.

Francisco Aguabella’s apprentices have reached legend status and Tony Rosa is one of them. Tony Rosa performed with Francisco Aguabella’s Afro Cuban folkloric group in Los Angeles, along with batá master Virgilio Figueroa and Francisco Aguabella.

 

Virgilio Figueroa, Francisco Aguabella & Tony Rosa

 

Virgilio Figueroa, also from Matanzas, Cuba, made a remark in one article I wrote for World Music Central, where Virgilio contributed on a tribute to Francisco Aguabella. He said that Francisco showed his apprentices Afro Cuban rhythms that are no longer played in Matanzas today!

Tony Rosa took the big step and moved to New York City. Being an accomplished conga drummer, he linked with great all time master timbalero Manny Oquendo and Conjunto Libre, with co-leader bass legend Andy Gonzalez, brother of legendary conguero and trumpet player Jerry Gonzalez. Tony also performed and recorded with the legendary group Conjunto Folklórico Nuevoriqueño Experimental and recently won a Grammy performing and recording with Arturo O’Farrill.

Let see what Tony has to say about his life and career.

 

Tony Rosa, Jerry (Gerald) Gonzalez & Gene Golden

 

Tony, tell me your background, or family background in Latin music and drumming.

I am Puerto Rican, born in New York City, raised in Los Angeles, California. My father is from Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and my mother from Loiza, Puerto Rico. My influence comes from my mother, being a priestess of Elegua and taking me to all the African dance classes and “tambores” (religious drum ceremonies) as a kid.

How did you meet conga bata master Francisco Aguabella? Tell us some of your history with Francisco Aguabella.

I met Francisco Aguabella in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Francisco was very serious when it came to Cuban drumming (batá, yesa, etc…) He was very selective with who he would share and teach Matanzas-style drumming with.

So how was it that it occurred for you to go to New York City from Los Angeles?

I went to perform in New York with El Chicano. While there, I hung out, checking out other Latin bands. The music vibe in New York was intense at that time. Salsa was booming. I felt like I wasn’t growing musically in Los Angeles so I decided to move to New York in 1996.

 

Tony Rosa – Photo by Kirk Richard Smith

 

You performed with Manny Oquendo and Conjunto Libre. What was your experience with that orchestra?

I started with Manny Oquendo y Conjunto Libre in 2000. Never ever did I think I would be with Libre steady. Manny was very picky when it came to conga players. That’s how I got respect from others; plenty wanted “that chair”. Laughs out loud.

 

 

What other bands have you played with in New York?

In New York I have performed and shared the stage with artist like Nelson Gonzales (legendary tres player), Miles Peña, Chocolate’s group Grupo Foklórico Nuevayorkino Experimental, DLG, Orlando “Puntilla” Rios, Bebo Valdés, MalPaso Dance Co. from Havana Cuba, Lou Soloff, among other artists.

What do you think is the difference in musicianship Los Angeles, vs. New York City?

There are great musicians and drummers everywhere, I think it’s all about attitude. New York musicians are aggressive, where Los Angeles musicians are more laid back. My opinion!

 

Tony Rosa

 

You won a Grammy. Tell us a little about that situation?

Winning a Grammy was very exciting and awesome. My first Grammy was with Cachao Master Sessions in Los Angeles 1994. I didn’t find out till later on. Conguero Richie Flores informed me. I am so proud to say I am a 4 times Grammy Award Winner, feeling blessed. The other 3 Grammys were with Arturo O’Farrill and The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.

What are you doing now musically in New York?

I currently have a 9-5 and traveling and still playing drums.

 

Tony Rosa & John Rodriguez

 

What does the future bring for Tony Rosa, master conguero and batalero, the musician?

I am currently working on my own project CD, recording. Latin Jazz with Afro Cuban and Puerto Rican rhythms. Lots of drums…

 

 

Thank you, Tony Rosa for your interview. Now that I have up and coming musicians that have been in the circuit for a while, the next few interviews that I will be doing is with the middle generation of musicians, to expose their contributions to the Latin music community. Those musicians are Latin percussionist, orchestra leader and Puerto Rican Folkloric Director, California-based Jeri Quiñones from Vieques, Puerto Rico and legendary Latin bassist Lalo Vazquez from northern California, residing in Mexico City. There will also be other specialty interviews to surprise the readers as well.

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Interview with Chano Dominguez

Pianist and composer Chano Dominguez, one of the essential innovators of flamenco jazz, and will be touring the West Coast of the United States in May and June. Chano discusses his music and the upcoming tour with World Music Central.

How did you come into contact with flamenco, rock and jazz?

Flamenco was played at my house in a pickup my dad had, rock came through my older brother who listened to groups like Emerson Lake and Palmer, Genesis, Yes and others, then the Beatles, and jazz came through the radio station at the US naval base in Rota.

What repertoire will you be performing during your upcoming American tour?

We will mainly play the repertoire of the album Flamenco Sketches, which are all Miles Davis songs adapted to flamenco rhythms, but with all the freedom that Miles was looking for in his music

What’s your current band lineup and how did you come into contact with the band members?

On this occasion I have the pleasure of having Alexis Cuadrado on the double bass, a Catalan musician who has lived in New York for more than 20 years, and on drums, the prodigious Henry Cole, a percussionist from Puerto Rico who has also been living in New York for more than a decade.

From Spain there is flamenco cantaor (singer) Blas Cordoba on vocals and palmas. He’s been my cantaor for more than 20 years in all my albums; and dancer Daniel Navarro, a virtuoso of foot percussion and a fantastic elegant dancer.

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

Improvisation.

Who can you quote as your main musical influences?

There are many but Paco de Lucía is my biggest influence along with Bill Evans.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

This year I book my 40 career as a music professional. It all started in 1978 with my first project the Andalusian rock group Cai.

I think since then I have been mixing flamenco rhythms with everything that has influenced me, rock, classical, jazz, etc.

You grew up and lived in Spain for many years. How did you end up in Seattle and now in New York City?

Especially to give my children an opportunity to get to know other cultures and to develop in another country since in my own it seems that the economic situation is not going to change and also to develop my work where the cradle of this music is located, I think it is important to spread this way of understanding jazz and flamenco together and here I have the opportunity to do it in schools and universities.

Are you still connected to the Spanish flamenco jazz scene?

Yes, in fact on June 10, I’ll play with my flamenco quartet at the flamenco festival in Madrid.

 

 

Although your main instrument is the piano, you started playing electronic keyboards. Do you still have electronic keyboards and do you plan to use them in the future?

Yes, I still have my keyboards and play them. A few years ago I recorded a project for Verve that was called NFS, new flamenco Sound. In that work I played keyboards too.
I still have interest in playing other instruments such as the guitar, the vibraphone or the drums.

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

I would love to have a good concert tour with my original trio with which we have worked for more than 15 years. To me they are part of this language that we have invented between these two cultures. Javier Colina and Guillermo MCgill are the musicians that I would put together for some good concerts.

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

I just recorded a project for brass quintet, percussion and piano. It’s my compositions arranged by me for this project. I am lucky to have the best brass quintet from my country, Spanish Brass and we hope to tour the United States next year with this project.

For more information about Chano and his discography, go to artist-profiles-chano-dominguez

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Interview with Valeria Matzner

Uruguayan jazz vocalist and songwriter Valeria Matzner has a new album recorded in Canada titled Anima. She incorporates exciting Brazilian and electronic music elements. Valeria discusses her work with World Music Central.

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

I always start my compositions with a melodic line. In my opinion, a good melodic line makes or breaks a song and if it is strong, it should be able to stand alone. Then comes the rhythmic idea and the harmony. Because of my background, I like rhythms that are syncopated. I also like harmonies that create tension and release and are somehow unpredictable.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

Too many artists have inspired me but I would say that my way of singing is definitely inspired by Brazilian singers like Elis Regina, Maria Rita and Joyce, among others. My compositions, however, are inspired by every inspiring musician and music I have ever heard from the Beatles to Piazzolla, from Gotan Project to Ruben Rada from Jorge Drexler to Radiohead from Jazzanova to Mercedes Sosa, Charly Garcia and from Fito Paez to Nirvana. I am a musical sponge, I absorb many styles and then come up with my own thing.

Uruguay has a great tango and candombe tradition, but you seem to be more influenced by Brazilian music. How did you come in contact with Brazilian music?

My mom loves Brazilian music so she would often play it at home. I love the way of singing: effortless, rhythmically challenging and so deceivingly simple. I also love the incredible composer from Brazil like Milton Nascimento, Chico Buarque, Joao Gilberto, Jobim, Lenine, etc, etc.

 

Valeria Matzner – Photo by Bryan Blair

 

You sing in various languages but when you sing in Spanish, it feels more natural. Will you continue singing in Spanish?

Absolutely, Spanish is my first language and I will always sing in it. But I also think that singing in different languages allows me the opportunity to communicate with a larger audience.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

I made my first recording when I was 19. I was the singer and composer of a grunge rock band fused with the native sounds of Ecuador and Peru. In 1994 my band was invited to play at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, followed by a tour in the US.

Before all that, however, I studied classical guitar and was part of the Uruguayan national choir. Then I moved to Buenos Aires in the mid 1980s where I found myself in the middle of a musical movement that was sweeping the nation and taking over radio stations and venues. When I went back to Uruguay I started my own band and that was it until I moved to Canada.

In Vancouver I studied jazz and electronic music composition and it was there, at music school, that I started realizing the incredibly rich musical background of my native South America. I decided to fully embrace my musical background and a fusion of all my different influences was born.

 

 

How are you adapting to life in Canada?

It was very difficult at first. I felt like a “frog from a different pond” (como sapo de otro pozo) but I was slowly able to find my place and to learn to appreciate the Canadian ways of thinking and behaving. Canada is a country of immigrants and Canadians, for the most part, are very open to embracing different cultures. Toronto, specially, is a very multicultural city with people of all religious, cultural and musical backgrounds. I love that.

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

Wow, too many to name but off the top of my head I would say Jorge Drexler and Bono for their lyrics and poetic way of looking at life, Milton Nascimento and Peter Gabriel for their musicality, Elis Regina for her phrasing, David Bowie for his edge, Radiohead for their creative force and any new and up and coming musician who I find interesting.

 

Valeria Matzner – Anima

 

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?

At the moment I am concentrating on promoting my album, Anima, putting a tour together and writing music for my next album.

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Interview with Roberto Paolo Riggio of World Music Esemble Atash

Atash

 

World music ensemble Atash will be performing today in New York City along along with the St. Stephen’s Global Ensemble. Roberto Paolo Riggio, Atash’s musical director, violinist and composer discussed the project with World Music Central.

On Monday, April 23, Atash and The St. Stephen’s Global Ensemble will be performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall. How did Atash connect with The St. Stephen’s Global Ensemble?

John Moon, who is also a violinist in the group, is the Director of Orchestras at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, where he’s been for 20 years or so. Several years ago St. Stephen’s commissioned me to write some music for the group, for a European tour they were doing, which culminated in my writing a piece for oud and orchestra. It turned out to be a hit with the ensemble, and the school, and I was asked to revise it a few years later for another tour, adapting to the changing instrumentation of the group. Again the school loved the project, which brought the students into contact with concepts that they otherwise might not have gotten to explore, such as improvisation, eastern approaches to playing, and modern techniques.

After taking a chance on going in this unconventional direction at the school, we saw involving Atash as a natural progression. We’ve both felt so privileged to get to work with this kind of group for all these years, Atash is such a unique combination of talented and masterful musicians from varied traditions. John realized it was an untapped resource that could offer his students exposure to something extraordinary that would be a great experience for them. So he put me to work scoring our music for the ensemble for another European tour, which happened last year. And he was right. It was a great experience not only for the students, but also for all of us. He submitted video from the tour to Mid-America, and they wound up inviting us to play in Carnegie Hall. So, of course, it was back to writing for me, for a larger group of students this time, including several keyboard players and percussionists in addition to the strings and winds. And here we are.

What’s the concept behind Global Harmony, the work that you’ll be presenting in New York?

The concept is really an expression of what Atash itself is, at its core. We are musicians from very different backgrounds who are united by our love for music, and our desire to create. It’s a microcosm for what’s possible in the world – that is, bringing people from different cultures, different countries, different religions, different ages, different socioeconomic backgrounds, together and creating something beautiful together. Although I am the main composer, responsible for the ultimate shape and structure of the compositions and, especially, for the orchestral arrangements, every stage of the project includes collaboration, whether it has to do with other members’ contributing specific lines or melodies, or parts, or with decisions made in the execution stage. Even when I am alone writing, I write in response to input that I get from the various members of the band and from the students, and also keeping mind what I know about their abilities, capitalizing on their strengths but also looking for areas where I think they can be pushed beyond their comfort zones. While the music is structured and parts are fully written out, there are also varying degrees of improvisation involved, and some moments where I don’t write anything out but expect them to create their parts.

From a music education standpoint, the students are learning about how music is actually put together in the modern world. Instead of merely learning the mechanics of playing their instruments and reproducing what’s written on a sheet of paper in front of them, they’re learning more about how music is actually created, how it may be adapted, how they might interpret or transcend the written page. They’re learning in a broader sense what it means to be a musician. Because this music is ours, all of ours, and because of the approach we take, each participant has an ability to shape it in their own way, within certain parameters, of course. And they’re learning about how to discover what those parameters are, how to develop a sense of taste and elements of style. Global Harmony is about making music that may contain the blood of various traditions, but grows up to be its own person with its own traditions unto itself, something that everyone involved in can enjoy and feel that they belong to.

 

St. Stephen’s Global Ensemble

 

How does this project differ from Atash’s regular music?

In substance and execution, not too much. It sounds different, of course, because now we’ve got an orchestra with us. It’s more lush, more intricate. We have to take certain things into consideration that we don’t normally. When it’s just the band, one of us can veer off in a different direction in the moment, based on what he’s feeling, knowing that the other band members will not only follow him but also be able to converse musically with him, spontaneously. We’re all very used to that, and are quite good at connecting with each other telepathically in that way. Whereas, with these arrangements and the large group of students, we now need to explore what can be done within a structure that’s a little more contained. However, we still have freedom. Everytime we play these pieces, they’re different.

The students have had to learn to adapt to our approach at the same time that we’ve adapted to following a stricter form. It’s not unlike the way the Egyptian orchestras of the black and white films of the last century operated. In other words, while following a score which encapsulates an overall structure, there is still a great deal of flexibility. There are moments when the members of Atash may slightly alter the form, which the orchestra must catch and deal with in a musical way. They are learning what it means to think like a musician – like a composer, arranger, a side man, a member of a band, an improviser. And although we help guide them through doing this in the rehearsal process, a lot of what they do turns out to be somewhat innate, which is a great discovery to make for them as students, and for us as educators.

Is this a one-time project or are there plans to continue the collaboration with The St. Stephen’s Global Ensemble?

I think this is going to be ongoing for Atash, but not limited to working only with the St. Stephen’s group. We’d like to do this with lots of different groups around the country and around the world, both student and professional. Every time it will be different, it will be fresh, because the people will be different, and each group of people will leave its own imprint on the music. Every performance will be a totally unique experience.

Can you give our readers a brief history on how Atash was formed?

In a nutshell, Atash emerged from a pre-existing group that was called the Gypsies, which had been started by our singer, Mohammad Firoozi, and another great artist living in Austin, Oliver Rajamani, in 1996. Jason McKenzie and I joined the group shortly after it was formed. The group went through various personnel transformations, and Oliver left to do his own thing at one point, leaving the “musical director” position open, which I moved into. After going through a lot of changes, in 2001 a five-member core emerged which included – in addition to Mo, Jason, and myself – John Moon and Dylan Jones. At that point, around 2001, we decided to break away from The Gypsies’ mold and call it Atash and make the group more of a collaboration, with a sound that embraced more of the diversity within the group.

From that point, we have only grown in size, with new members generally being added, but none ever really leaving the group. In other words, it’s more of a brotherhood, or a family, than a musical act. We don’t play with everyone who is a member of the group all the time, but there are a number of people we consider to be members whom we play with whenever there is an opportunity that presents itself.

People like our old friend Christian Fernandez, who lives in France, or Fareed Haque, who lives in Chicago; Elias Lammam and Abbos Kosimov in California; Michael Ibrahim in Detroit. But there’s a core of around nine players based in Austin now.

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

The essential elements of our music are:

1.) of course, the international aspect, but also the idea of expertise. We not only have musicians who come from different cultures and traditions, but the musicians we have come from deep within those traditions. I would even say that they are masters in those traditions.

2.) The collaborative aspect. We make our music together. Sure, there are usually one or more people who can claim to be the primary composers of a particular song or piece, but it gets transformed and evolves as it gets taken up by the group. It gets “Atashified.” And many of our songs wind up having everyone’s fingerprints on the composition. We have to make music that satisfies ourselves, with all our varied tastes, so we’ll either hash things out in the writing process, or it will start to change in fundamental ways through performance, through individual members feeling something in the moment and adding it to the piece, and it winds up sticking. Really both things often happen.

3.) The sound itself, I think, is very distinct and recognizable. We’ve got Mohammad’s voice, which is a unique Persian voice. It’s not a classical Persian voice, but more a voice from the street, like a flamenco singer. Very rich, but also very primal. The strings have that sort of earlier 20th century Egyptian sound, or even old Hollywood or Bollywood sound, very lush and ornate. Sophisticated, yet sensuous.

The shimmer of sitar, and Indian elements like tabla, and the rawness of west African and Middle Eastern drums wrapped in the energy of rock and roll drums and somewhat jazzy, somewhat hip-hop upright bass. It’s a sound that if you dissect it is actually quite eclectic, but somehow comes across as very organic and cohesive, unified as if it comes out of one tradition, its own. I think this is because we meet in the mystical space of all traditions, where we have access to everything, but we let it be guided down a particular path that seems to come from a divine source.

4.) The dance of improvisation. I put dance and improvisation in the same sentence because I think they are divinely linked, especially in our music. It’s very difficult not to dance to our music. But what’s amazing is that, no matter where in the world we play, we inspire the same kind of free, individualistic and communal improvisatory dancing – because we are improvising. Every show is an improvisation, though we may play the same songs from one show to another, and it is inspired by the connection we feel with each other, and with our audience. We’re very popular with the “ecstatic dance” community, and many people have told me that they consider going to hear our music, and dance, to be a sort of ritual. And it connects a lot of people from all sorts of different backgrounds, which I love.

5.) Mystical poetry. Mohammad, our singer, is very influenced by the Sufi poets of several hundred years ago – Khayyam, Rumi, Hafez, etc. He often uses their verses or adapts them, or composes his own, inspired by these poets.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

This would be a very long list. I think in the beginning, Mo and Oliver were inspired a lot by groups like the Gipsy Kings, qawwali singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Rai singer like Cheb Khaled. However, we sort of opened the Pandora’s box when we turned into Atash. Ali Akbar Khan, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Ravel, Satie, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Radiohead, Bob Marley, Dimi Mint Abba, John Coltrane, Willie Nelson, James Brown, Cat Stevens, Fairuz, Paco de Lucía and Camarón de la Isla, Ojos de Brujo, Fela Kuti, Bob Dylan, Youssou N’Dour, Ali Farka Toure, John Cage, Shakti, Ravi Shankar, Philip Glass, John Lee Hooker, of course, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, my teachers Simon Shaheen and Pandit Ram Narayan… I mean really, I wouldn’t know where to begin or stop.

Tell us about your recordings and your musical evolution.

Our first recording as Atash was in 2003, called Republic of Love. Our next recording was a live recording from our “Global Harmony Concert Series,” and was called Global Harmony, released, I think, in 2007 or something. It’s out of print and I believe the masters are lost. Our next album, Everything Is Music, was released in 2013 or 14, I think. I think we’ve just gotten better at what we do over the years.

We’ve been together a long time. As time goes on, I think what we see is the voices of each member of the group growing stronger, in terms of writing. We’re each finding who we are more and more, and honing the craft of weaving those voices together to create a coherent whole.

 

Atash – Everything Is Music

 

How’s the current world music scene in Austin?

The Austin world music scene is small, but very eclectic and strong, and has been for decades! (Did you know that Hamza al-Din was once a part of it, back in the 1970s? And Alan Lomax was born in Austin!) Austin’s a big university town, and a big music town, and career musicians often play in a variety of genres, so all kinds of people are connected to the world scene, even if their primary scene is a different one. And people who predominantly play international music also get hired to play in a variety of different genres, some more conventional than others. It’s a very musically promiscuous scene. (I said musically!) People in Austin take live music for granted, because it’s always there, everywhere. It’s like the air we breathe. Every place of business is potentially a live music venue. Almost every local restaurant at least has a stage. You wouldn’t believe how many opportunities there are to hear live music in all kinds of places you wouldn’t expect!

I once counted that the local paper had listings for sixty shows on a Monday night, just a Monday night! And that’s just what was listed. For this reason, I think Austin musicians understand the idea that music has to move you. It doesn’t have to be pretentious or exclusive, it just has to move people. That’s what we call authenticity, whereas in other places people might think of authenticity, in world music especially, in terms of musical pedigree or purity with relation to a tradition, adherence to particular rules of style. In Austin, that is not what we mean by authenticity. In fact, that can be very inauthentic if it’s something that forced. For us, authenticity means playing music from the heart. It can be informed by tradition, of course! But to be authentic it should not feel that it’s removed from who you are. It should sound like your voice, your spirit. Music that stirs the emotions and moves the body. Rumi, the 13th century mystical poet who is one of the primary inspirations to our singer, Mohammad, once wrote, “We have fallen to a place where everything is Music!” That pretty much describes Austin.

What musical instruments do you use?

Two violins, oud, sitar, flamenco guitar, upright bass, jembe, tabla, darbuka, kanjira, congas, drumset, and Persian vocals. This is the core of the instruments we use, but anything is fair game, especially when we’re in the studio.

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

There are many people I’d love to collaborate with, too many to start listing, but one thing that really interests me, as someone who began working in classical music when I was very young, is bridging the gap between what we do and the classical world. Although I have immense respect for western classical music, I do think that there’s something lacking in the training. You often find musicians who are incredibly talented who are scared to death of improvisation. That was not the case for me when I was growing up, mainly because I found practicing etudes and composed pieces too boring to stay with for very long. I’d work for a little while on a piece, but then find myself improvising. I loved playing, but I didn’t love that kind of practice.

When I discovered things like Indian music and Arabic music, I wound up taking to it quite naturally, because learning the music involved a certain degree of learning how to invent, and experimentation. I’d like to help classical musicians have this experience. I dream that one day there will be trained musicians who are literate in a more broad base of styles and approaches, who can adapt to a broader set of musical circumstances, including improvisation where it is called for. I mean, I think there are already a lot of musicians like this, but I don’t think it’s yet become a part of musical training. I’d like to be someone who helps to make that happen. There’s a sound that I associate with those old orchestras that I mentioned earlier, that I’d like to try and cultivate again. A sound where the individual musicians have a bit more flexibility and freedom to be individuals while still melding their sound with the people around them in a pleasing way that works, and creates a richer sound. I’d like to do this with youth as well as professionals and amateurs, all over the world!

Do you have any upcoming albums or projects to share with us?

We’re in the beginning stages of our next album. We’re also planning a whole new set of orchestral arrangements for a tour of Spain next year. I’d like to start working with more groups, and perhaps even creating an orchestra of our own, with players from all sides of the cultural, educational and economic spectra.

Discography:

Republic of Love (Ars Mundi, 2003)
Global Harmony (2007)
Everything Is Music (Ars Mundi, 2014)

More at http://atash.com

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Interview with Regula Curti, Founder of the Beyond Foundation and Beyond Music project

Regula Curti

 

The Beyond Foundation and Beyond Music project have released fascinating musical productions that bring together various world cultures. Regula Curti, founder of the two projects discusses her musical background and endeavors with World Music Central.

Can you give our readers a brief history on how you started singing and composing music?

I was born into a Swiss family. Over generations we have been practicing music and singing. Traditional folk songs were delivered to me by Grandmother and Mother. I got a broad music education from playing viola to singing and also entrepreneurial skills. In 1999 I received a Master in Music Therapy and Expressive Arts. Improvisation and finding new ways of expression on various instruments were helping to go beyond my classical music education. I started to compose and write my own lyrics. Some melodies I contributed to the Beyond albums were flowing through me at night. I would wake up and sing a melody in my phone and go back to sleep.

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

My music is based on a simple melody. As a child I used to play one note for hours and hours to find the right sound and vibration. Our Beyond music is transcendental, soul nourishing and uplifting. My “Credo” in making music: “Less is more”!

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I personally met Lord Yehudi Menuhin, one of the greatest violinist of our times. He was the first to introduce Indian music to the West. West meets East is an inspirational album by him and Ravi Shankar, the great Indian sitar player. He was encouraging me to use my voice to heal. – The Beatles have been an important influence in my life. I am fascinated by their Indian connection to Yogi Maharishi Mahesh and their studies in Transcendental Meditation at his ashram in Rishikesh, Northern India. I often spend time with my Swamiji at Mother Ganges. In India I get inspired more than elsewhere for my music projects.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

It was amazing how people took our first album Beyond as something that helped them. I started with Dechen Shak-Dagsay, a Tibetan voice, to search for corresponding prayers and mantras in Buddhism and Christianity. During work in progress we both realized how important our music could become for a larger audience. As Tina Turner became a close friend to me I ask her to collaborate. She just finished her last tour in 2009 as a rock singer when I asked her to join the Beyond music project. She strongly felt ready to contribute her spiritual side, her chanting practice and her story of growth and development as a human being to the people. Beyond – Buddhist and Christian Prayers was awarded with Platinum. Children Beyond followed and it is used worldwide as calming and enhancing music for children.

Love Within Beyond is very popular for Yoga. In the first three albums I was involved in composing and arranging. The fourth double-album Awakening Beyond was the most difficult because of the Arabic music and the new harmonies. I needed a skilled producer and composer. I was fortunate to meet Kareem Roustom, a Syrian-American composer, who just finished a composition for Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

 

Tina Turner, Dima Orsho, Ani Choying, Regula Curti, Sawani Shende Sathaye and Mor Karbasi – Awakening Beyond

 

What led you to record Awakening Beyond?

The world gets more and more divided. We are all feeling the depression. The first thing we think of prayer, something beyond presidents and preachers. Awakening Beyond embraces faith and traditions and offers an elegant musical variety to heal a troubled world. We are women of six different backgrounds and cultures; the US, Israel, Syria, Nepal, Switzerland and India raising our voices to find an unitary resonance meant to lift us out of our everyday trials, towards something greater.

Our album, Awakening Beyond, is the latest in our ongoing efforts to increase dialogue, respect and engagement via education and creative projects. I feel strongly that it’s time for us to move beyond the division, into a greater spiritual connection and mutual recognition. Music is the most universal language to unite us all. Music can built bridges between You and Me, Us and Them.

 

left to right: Sawani Shende Sathaye, Ani Choying, Regula Curti, Mor Karbasi and Dima Orsho

 

How did you connect with the vocalists featured in the album?

I believe in a divine plan. All the singers and musicians I worked with have been brought to me in a mystical way. If I look back it makes me smile with gratitude to all those wonderful stories of being connected to the Beyond collaborators at the right place and time. We all share the same vision that the essence, which unites us, is pure love.

Why did you select these specific artists?

I looked into their history of family-traditions and the delivery of songs and prayers over generations. The sound of their voices had to be deeply rooted in the culture they have been born into. I was looking for an authentic vibrational sound.

 

 

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

Idan Raichel, Manfred Eicher, Sting, Caetano Veloso and Peter Gabriel.

You are one of the cofounders of the Beyond Foundation. What’s the purpose of the nonprofit?

Beyond Foundation, established in 2007 by husband Beat Curti and myself. It is a registered nonprofit organization supporting causes that unite cultures in the world through music to create cross culture understanding, awareness, dialog and respect. We were very fortunate in our entrepreneurial activities and want to give back.

What’s the scope of the foundation; local, regional or worldwide?

We started in the German part of Europe and expand now worldwide.

Can you tell us about some specific outcomes delivered by Beyond Foundation?

Many music productions over the years have been made possible through the foundation. In addition to cross-cultural music productions we support the preservation of the world’s heritage from Switzerland to Bhutan and across the globe by contributing to projects that bring traditional music to contemporary relevance. 

Do you have any upcoming musical or foundation projects to share with us?

In 2018 the Beyond Foundation will go “beyond the beyond” in establishing an online platform to encourage musicians worldwide to create innovative, cross-cultural music beyond borders. Beyondmusic.org will become a global exchange place for like-minded musicians to meet and collaborate. We invite musicians from any genre to join, to inspire each other and to develop new Beyond music together. Beyond MUSIC projects will continue our legacy and passion in celebrating the universal power of music and creating a world team spirit of togetherness and compassion.

Websites:

www.beyondsinging.com

www.beyond-foundation.org

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