Category Archives: Interviews

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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Interview with Merema — the winners of Russian World Music Awards 2017

Daryana Antipova: Hi Katya, we have known each other since the Kamwa Festival in 2005 when you performed with another folk band. How old is Merema?

Ekaterina Modina: Merema was created in 2010. We called it a folklore ensemble first, and it turned into an ethnographic folklore studio in 2014. We sing Erzyan and Mokshan song and recreate folk rites on the stage. We go on ethnographic expeditions to villages and record and release albums. We are engaged in collecting and preserving folklore. “Merema” means “a story, a legend” in the Erzyan language.

Daryana Antipova: Tell us a little more about the Mordovian culture- how many people in Mordovia still speak their native language?

Ekaterina Modina: Almost no one speaks our national language any more. Basically, this language is preserved in the villages of the districts of the Republic of Mordovia. Maybe there are many more of us than is officially confirmed but the Erzyans and the Mokshaans are disappearing. During the population census, people are embarrassed to say they are Erzyan or Mokshanin- they prefer to say they are Russians.

 

Merema

 

Daryana Antipova: Oh, that’s sad. It seems to me that the young generation, especially children, do not understand folk music at all…

Ekaterina Modina: We invite children to our children’s studio and a children’s ensemble. There is an amateur ensemble and there is a professional ensemble for old Mordovian songs, “Moroma”. We perform in kindergartens and in schools. Of course, it’s hard to compare and compete with modern genres in music. But if kids get to know their native ancient culture from a young age, culture becomes a part of their life. And yes, it is becoming more and more difficult to attract young people. Teenagers don’t come to our concerts anymore. Our audience is adults who have already formed their own interests. Some of them come from the village and still remember living traditions.

People in Mordovia don’t understand their own culture, because it is incomprehensible to them. The songs are strange and unfamiliar, and they don’t speak this forgotten language. But they still have a unique opportunity to listen to ancient, prolonged polyphonic singing. The songs are original and not everyone likes them, because we have a lot of dissonant chords. In our culture, we sound more like singing traditions in Georgia and southern Russia.

 

Merema at Russian World Music Awards 2017

 

Daryana Antipova: How can we attract people to authentic folklore, if it does not exist on Russian television?

Ekaterina Modina: People are not ready for this. Not everyone can understand the beauty of multi-voiced lyrical songs. We usually combine our shows with the theatre. It all depends on how you present this folklore. Make it tasty. As a collector and a connoisseur I can listen to grandmothers all day long. We go to villages in different regions of the Republic of Mordovia. I made an agreement with our local TV channel 10, and they now travel with us and film the program “The Tradition of Antiquity”. I first go on an expedition, record, watch and listen. It’s so nice and amazing, it’s not possible to convey in words, you just need to be there. This program is shown all over Mordovia. When I come to the village, maybe I can find just one song, but for the sake of this song it is worthwhile to come there and spend a few days.

Daryana Antipova: What instruments do you use in Merema?

Ekaterina Modina: In our work we use household tools — uhvat, pechnaya zaslonka, rubel (traditional Russian kitchen implements). We have our own national drum, but at the moment we have not received any support to order and have it produced. It turned out to be easier to go to the store and buy an African drum than to make our traditional one. We are not proud of this. We also play our traditional, very capricious instrument — “nyudi”. No one plays it nowadays. We have restored it and managed to have an older person show us how to play it. The tool is very impractical. It manages to play for only five minutes. Because the “tongue” is very wet, the instrument shifts tonally.

Also we are actively engaged in traditional costumes. As you can see in our photos and videos, all the costumes are authentic; we do not alter them. If you do not show costumes and do not popularize them now, then they will be completely lost and will remain only in textbooks. To fully understand the culture, you must not only hear, but still see and, perhaps, feel culture.

The Erzyan outfit consists of a bottom shirt — a ”panar” and a top robe — “rutya”. Female amulets (“pulays”) are very important in our culture. The word “Pulax” is translated as a tail. This is a woolen floor skirt, which is tied at the front. “Syulgam”, according to traditional beliefs, protects the female breast, which feeds the new generation. The Erzyans were pagans, very superstitious people, so every Erzyan wore an amulet everywhere. The bells were hung on ”pulays”, since it was believed that the ringing repelled evil spirits. They even said that you hear a Mordovian girl first, and then you see her.

Our costumes are very different from all others, even from Udmurts and Mari, Finns and Estonians. Although we are one group, we have very different costumes.

 

Ekaterina Modina (Merema)

 

Daryana Antipova: In Russia, there is little support for folk culture. How do you continue your work?

Ekaterina Modina: People come and leave my ensemble due to life circumstances or because of the low pay for culture in general. People work on their own initiative- no one would have stayed in this system if they had not been so keen on culture, folk traditions. I myself still teach at the university. During their studies, students are satisfied with their salary in ensemble, but when they graduate and receive a diploma, they don’t earn enough to provide for their family. I myself have a family and three children, so I have to work other jobs so that I can do what I love and at the same time have something to live on. This is very sad. I would like to devote myself entirely to one pursuit.

During these seven years “Merema” changed several times. Now we have six people, but one will enter the army soon. It’s also kind of difficult to find new people for our kids ensemble. The Mordovian government pays more attention to sports, and it’s important for kids to be physically fit. Mordovia is famous for athletics- we have a good sport school and kids are eager to get into it. Even my son has recently joined the football team. I tell him that he will not be able to get by on folk singing, so he should just think of it as a favorite hobby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview with Afrobeat Master Femi Kuti

Acclaimed Nigerian musician Femi Kuti and his band Positive Force are set to release their new album One People, One World in February 2018 on Knitting Factory Records. Femi talked to us about his music and upcoming album.

Angel Romero – Tell us about your musical background, and how your father influenced your choice of music as a career.

Femi Kuti – Musical background is I practically taught myself everything I know by just reading and listening. And by playing in my father’s band. My father advised if I wanted to be a musician then it was best I listened to a lot of jazz music. This was difficult for me as I didn’t like jazz, he then introduced me to Moody’s mood for love by James Moody. This was really my introduction into jazz.

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

My father’s influence for sure, these days my music comes from my heart and soul.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

My father and all great jazz musicians from Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and for sure most of them great jazz musicians of that era.

How is your Afrobeat different from your father’s Afrobeat?

Hard for me to describe. And if I did, most people would think I’m being critical of my father. One easy way is my music is shorter 😊.

Afrobeat has spread to many corners of the world and is still popular with many fans. How is the Afrobeat scene in Nigeria currently?

Still very relevant. Especially as things are still bad economically for majority of the people. And most young artists or bands are influenced by my father or me in a way.

Femi Kuti – One People, One World

 

What’s the concept behind your new album One People, One World?

That we are all one living on one planet basically. And we have to urgently understand this before we destroy our planet.

Your son Omorinmade Anikulapo – Kuti participated in One People, One World. What was his role and what did he bring to the table?

For me, he brought beauty and love; I have no words to describe. To see my son play on my album and contribute was …. true love.

 

 

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

Being on the road missing my children, always trying to make my band understand what we are doing is a fight against injustice and corruption. Finding great melodies to keep people that love what we are doing happy and inspired and making sure my music stands the test of time.

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

Peace, love, understanding to complex issues that politicians are too afraid to talk about.

What countries will you visit on your next tour?

Hopefully everywhere. Europe, the USA, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asia.

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

I keep an open mind. I could really work with anyone or any band if time permits.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians out there?

To pick up at least one musical instrument. And music isn’t about just the fame and money. Music is as important as studying medicine, law etc.

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Interview with LADAMA

LADAMA – Photo by Kevin Bay

 

Are you looking to continue the holiday season’s festivities into 2018? You can consider purchasing the band LADAMA’s self-titled album that was released in Fall 2017. The words La dama are Spanish for the lady and here the four women do step up. On this album, South American musical genres such as the cumbia and maracatu dance with rock and blues.

Acoustic instruments join together with non-traditional instruments, the electric guitar and rock drum. The musicians are from four countries, Mafer Bandola on bandola llanera is from Venezuela; Sara Lucas on guitar and vocals is from the United States; Lara Klaus on drums and vocals is from Brazil; and Daniela Serna on tambor alegre and vocals, a cheerful percussive drum, is from Colombia.

The band’s name comprises several first initials of the musician’s first names, La for Lara Klaus, Da for Daniele Serna and Ma for Mafer Bandola.

 

Ladama – Ladama

 

What stands out on this album though are the vocals. Sara Lucas’s deep voice is persuasive on “Compared to What” and “Night Traveler.” The former is a protest song from the 1960’s, and the vocals are direct and forceful, reminiscent of Nina Simone’s. The melody is simple, punctuated by horns. Lara Klaus’s vocals are playful and soft on “Elo.” Here the subtle, Brazilian rhythm ripples through, taking the listener back to the gentle, acoustic feeling of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Girl from Ipanema.”

A highlight is the track “Cumbia Brasilera” which is folk with a strong and steady undercurrent of drum. “Cumbia Brasilera” features the masterful, elaborate playing of Mafer Bandola on acoustic bandola llanera; a pear shaped guitar-like instrument. This is a lively song with the interplay of the women’s vocals coming together. It could keep dancers on their feet for a long time.

 

Sara Lucas (Ladama) – Photo by Kevin Bay

 

Recently, I interviewed Sara Lucas about LADAMA’s album and their work together as a band. Sara lives in New York City. She writes songs, and sings them to the accompaniment of her guitar.

DJL: Where are you from and what music did you grow up listening to?

SL: I am originally from St. Louis, Missouri. As a child I was exposed to a lot of jazz, blues, rock n’ roll and gospel. I grew up listening to the American songbook and folk music. I am also a classically trained guitarist.

DJL: You had your own band prior to LADAMA.

SL: Yes, I am a cofounder of a group with Ryan Seaton – Callers. We have toured internationally and released three albums.

DJL: LADAMA met in 2014 at OneBeat while touring on the road. OneBeat is a one month gathering that brings together twenty-five young musicians from across several countries, not only to collaborate, produce and perform music, but also to see how the arts can impact and engage with society. What was it like meeting at OneBeat?

SL: OneBeat is a great experimental incubator of musicians and gives them the opportunity to compose. We as women cherished the time spent together, there was a bond, a tremendous excitement in our making music together.

 

Mafer Bandola (Ladama) – Photo by Kevin Bay

 

DJL: Why this album now?

SL: We felt compelled to record the album as our music grew organically out of our experience of working together. Half of the album was recorded in four days. The music happened as we went on tour — one month in Brazil, one month in Colombia, two and half weeks in Venezuela and then one month in New York.

DJL: LADAMA’s mission is to empower women in the community, how do you do that?

SL: We are operating on two levels, one is to tour our own music and the other is by bringing music workshops to the communities that we visit like, for example, high schools. We see music as life affirming – to hear and to see is really to believe. We are four women touring across four countries, and when other women and girls see that, we hope that it will inspire them.

 

Lara Klaus (Ladama) – Photo by Kevin Bay

 

DJL: Is audience participation important to you?

SL: Yes, 100%. Our performances are sometimes didactic and always a celebration. We want people to have fun. But we want people who come to the show to leave with something too.

DJL: The track “Compared to What” is bluesy in feel, but it also has a heightened, driving rhythm. Can you tell us about that song?

SL: Yes, it was written by Gene McDaniels, and Roberta Flack sang it first in the 1960s. It dealt with the realities of that time, the Vietnam War, the President and systemic, institutionalized racism – it is a protest song that rings true today. I grew up singing in this vocal tradition and wanted to incorporate it into the music of LADAMA.

 

Daniela Serna (Ladama) – Photo by Kevin Bay

 

DJL: What is your hope for this album and for the band?

SL: We hope that people will take the album home and have their own individual experience with it, responding to it on their level. We would like the album to reach as many people as possible and hope that the band can continue to record in the United States and in each musician’s country.

 

It is true that these women come from distinct cultural and musical backgrounds, yet there is a genuine feeling of unity on this record. Each could stand alone as a good musician in her own right, yet they seem to have more fun playing together. They generate a certain electricity that would not be as strong if they worked independently. Their presence as a collective conveys the power that music has to unite.

Discography:

Ladama (Six Degrees, 2017)

Website: www.ladamaproject.org

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‘It is important to build an ecosystem for cross-cultural music collaboration’ – interview with Dr. L. Subramaniam, Ambi and Bindu Subramaniam

Dr. L. Subramaniam

 

In recent interviews arranged over a week, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. L. Subramaniam (legendary violinist in Indian classical and Western styles), his son Ambi Subramaniam (also an accomplished violinist) and daughter Bindu Subramaniam (vocalist in Indian and soft rock styles).

Their annual performances at the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival in Bangalore are a huge draw (see my earlier writeups from 2014 and 2012). They also teach Indian classical and Western music at SaPa (Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts).

Fusion: India and the world

Early cultural collaborations between India and the West included Uday Shankar (who also included dance). “India has two classical music systems – Hindustani and Carnatic,” says Dr. Subramaniam. He started collaboration with Western, African, Australian and East Asian musicians from the 1970s onwards.

Interpretation of music from different cultures creates harmony and peace,” he said. “Music is an expression of emotion, and successful collaboration blends knowledge with respect,” he explained.

As one of his memorable collaborations, he cites ‘Sangeet Sangam,’ performed along with vocalist Pandit Jasraj. It consists of only the aalap section and features no percussion.

 

Dr. L. Subramaniam

 

Dr. Subramaniam’s most recent project is Bharat Symphony, composed to celebrate 70 years of India’s Independence. It premiered at the Chicago World Music Festival, and was performed with the London Symphony Orchestra last month.

The movements reflect four major periods of Indian heritage: the prehistoric Vedic period, Mughal period, British colonial era, and post-Independence period,” he explained. The performances also featured Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam (vocals), Dhulipala Srirama Murthy (mridangam), and Tanmoy Bose (tabla).

Dr. Subramaniam’s son Ambi and daughter Bindu were of course exposed to musical collaborations right from their childhood days; they recalled seeing musicians like Herbie Hancock in their living room. “Fusion is normal,” they joked.

They explained how jazz lends itself well to collaboration with Indian classical music, thanks to the commonality of improvisation and call-and-response interaction. All three musicians have collaborated with Western folk musicians as well, from Scandinavian countries like Norway.

 

Ambi Subramaniam

 

Ambi has also collaborated with gypsy musicians on guitar, violin and cimbalon, fondly recalling some amazing spontaneous jam sessions while on tour in Europe. Vocalist Bindu cites as influences Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Al Jareau.

The group SubraMania, formed by Ambi and Bindu, released its first single and music video ‘Days in the Sun’ in 2015. The single is dedicated to the late great keyboardist George Duke, with whom they had earlier collaborated.

 

Technology and travel

Digital media have rapidly disrupted the music industry. “CD sales are not the benchmark for a band’s success anymore,” according to Ambi and Bindu. The Internet, however, is great for promoting music and coordinating activities around concerts.

Streaming video and audio have led to music consumption “on tap.” This applies to NetFlix as well as the Indian music app Twaang. For example, SubraMania’s debut album, ‘You Were There,’ is available on Twaang. All instructional audio content of SaPa is accessible for free on Twaang. SaPa’s initiatives reach over 12,000 students between 3-16 years old across South India.

The musicians travel around the world for recordings and collaborations. “I can compose music on the plane also,” says Bindu. “The drone sound of the engine is like a tanpura,” she jokes.

 

Ambi and Bindu with their band SubraMania

 

The future of music

The future of music is in education and collaboration, according to Ambi and Bindu, who both teach at the SaPa school. “It is important to build a good ecosystem which immerses young students in different musical traditions,” they urge.

The school gives scholarships to talented but needy students. Ambi and Bindu also urge music venues to give discounted tickets and passes for students. Musicians around the world have great respect for Indian music, all three musicians observe across generations.

While some classical musicians may look down on other forms of music, Ambi and Bindu urge listeners and performers not too be too judgemental about other genres, and appreciate how they connect to different kinds of audience. “Don’t get trapped in narrow-minded categories,” they advise.

Chase good music and focus on outstanding performances – don’t just chase social media views,” Ambi and Bindu joke. Music represents a path of growth for musicians and for society, and it is truly blessed to become a musician, Ambi and Bindu sign off. 

About the artists:

Dr. L. Subramaniam is a leading exponent of Indian classical and fusion violin, and has performed and recorded South Indian classical music as well as Western classical. His international collaborations have included Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Al Jarreau, Jean Luc Ponty, and Billy Cobham.

 

 

 

Ambi Subramaniam gave his first violin performance at the tender age of seven; he has played violin in Western and Indian styles along with Larry Coryell, Ernie Watts, Corky Siegel and Shankar Mahadevan. He has performed along with orchestras in France, South Africa and Austria.

 

 

 

Bindu Subramaniam wrote her first song at seven and has been performing since age twelve. She blends soft rock and jazz elements with traditional Indian music. Bindu has performed alongside artists like Al Jarreau, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, Hariharan, and Remo Fernandes.

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