Name: Andy One (Andy Owen Newa)
Current Release: Digital Indigenous 01: Imba Africa on Digital Indigenous
Recommendations: As Long As I Live by Michael Newa inspires and encourages me to keep on striving for better / “Motho” by Wambali Mkandawire which is about fire, strength, and confidence.
Andy One is the first artist on Digital Indigenous - a new series by the non-profit organisation 1000HZ Records. The new series presents local producers who use rudimentary digital tools to create mixes of electronic and traditional music.
What was your first recording-related job - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
When I was in my youth I used to play around with a borrowed keyboard and became the keyboardist of a so-called praise-team at a church in Mzuzu. It was because of my friend, who was good at telling lies to people. He told the choir that I was very dangerous on the keyboard, so they invited me. I managed to play some songs and they engaged me and from there I became choir master. After I left Mzuzu and moved to Karonga, I studied at the Lusuwilo Music Centre. It was perfect. But then my father passed away and I had to quit the school to support my mother.
Later, I started record my own songs; the first one was “Imba Africa”. I recorded it at a studio, but it sounded different to the version I heard in my head, and I didn't like it. So, I decided to produce it by myself.
More generally, the person who gave me a passion for music is from Malawi, Evison Matafale, I loved his songs so much. The way he composed, the way he sung – it gave me the passion. I loved a lot of reggae music or the fusion of reggae with rock and disco. The message of my songs was inspired by reggae. “Imba Africa” is about encouraging people to stop things like corruption. In Africa, there is too much of it, I don't know about other continents, but here a lot of countries are corrupt. I decided to sing about it, like Evison Matafale.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as a producer and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I am a producer, singer, arranger, composer, I can also play piano, bass and little bit of guitar. I think I was born a musician and had the desire to stand on the stage, singing. I didn't find it very difficult to arrange and compose. I also record for some other people, some choirs, some solo artists, that's how I got my experience.
Whenever I want to record a song, I need to have a certain feel, a certain message. That's when I can arrange instruments and then record the voice. Sometimes it is struggle to find the right way of expressing this feel, but I know I have to record the way I want, not the way somebody else wants. Recording with other producers can change the sound completely, so I prefer to do it myself.
I don't like copying. It is very important to copy but not to extract, these are two different things; all in all, you have to create your own thing. Some people extract directly, but I don't know if it is really music in the end.
What were some of your main challenges and ambitions in terms of your approach to production when starting out – and how have they changed over time?
When I was recording my first song in Mzuzu (the biggest city of the region – PC), I was watching the producer. At the church where I worked, there was also a choir, which was recording a CD. I used to go with them, and compare these two studios. Some months later, in 2010, a producer friend gave me some software – it was FL10. When I installed it, I started looking at GUI, not knowing what it was for.
I didn’t have anything – not a computer, or microphone, so I borrowed them. With the laptop I installed software and started to learn them little by little, then, eventually I produced some beats. Finally, I found a headset with an attached microphone. I removed this small mic and placed it on the wall at my home. I reconnected the cables and plugged it to the computer and started recording. That's how I recorded “Imba Africa”, “Mbuye Wanga” and other songs.
Sometimes the owner of the computer needs his laptop back, and there’s nothing I can say. But now people understand that I am passionate about making music, so when I want to borrow something, they understand. These are good changes, I also hope that these songs from the “Imba Africa” EP can change things even more.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I started by going to my friends' studios and learn by watching what they do. I got some software like FL and Cubase and I have the old laptop and small mic now, but no other gear like soundcards, keyboards, or midi controllers.
I want to create a new sound by fusion. I like to fuse r'n'b, techno, reggae and jazz with Malawian music which is not very well-known in the world. It is my advantage, I can take vimbuza, manganja and chiwoda and mix it with many styles. But to do that in full, I need instruments, I need to play on something.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I like African music, which is difficult to attain when you use digital only; it is in the performance mostly. So when I work with the digital sound, it takes time to grasp it,
particularly because I'm not an old hand with the software. Sometimes I listen to sounds when I'm walking, like bells, or birds tweeting and I'm thinking of what type of effect they can bring about in my songs, so I look for it in the software, intuitively.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
When you have more advanced condenser microphones, mixers, computers, sound cards, monitors – of course the production will improve. But here it is not possible, we have to work with what we have. I'm not even sure what the music could sound like if we had this type of advanced gear.
While there are instrument sounds inside the software and I'm not afraid to use pre-sets, it is still I who makes the song.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives and the artists you're recording?
I work with many artists, most of them underground, upcoming. When I see somebody who has talent, I take him or her to my studio and help them with recording. Even if they don't have any money, we can come up with something. Through that I can also get some new skills for my future music.
My plan is to compose all types of music; I have to try, to feel the difference. I've composed r'n'b songs, hip-hop songs, reggae, rhumba, pop, slow gospel songs. Whenever I see an artist making music from a different genre than myself – I approach that person so we can make a collaboration, who I then promote in our area. That way we both have something to gain. When we cooperate, firstly, we need to understand one another. I have to understand his or her type of music, also they have to understand what I do and what I want. After that, we try to share.