Name: Carlos Niño
Occupation: Producer, percussionist, performer, arranger, composer, musician, programmer, radio host, DJ, music consultant, poet, event organizer
Current Release: More Energy Fields, Current, the new album by Carlos Niño & Friends is already out digitally. On June 25th, International Anthem will publish a physical edition on vinyl, cassette and CD.
2 Books: Love Is In The Earth and Optimal Eyesight
2 Musicians: Nate Mercereau and Surya Botofasina
2 Records: Keith Jarrett - Spirits (ECM 1986) and Ali Jihad Racy - Ancient Egypt (Lyrichord 1979)
If you enjoyed this interview with Carlos Niño of Carlos Niño & Friends, visit his bandcamp store for more music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started making beats and DJ mixes when I was 17. Played a little piano and trumpet before that. Was never trained or studied, just trying things, exploring, discovering ...
My earliest influences were Run DMC, The Fat Boys, Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, Prince, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, then Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef, Weather Report, Native Tongues, and DJ Premier.
Everything drew me to sound and music. I was always drawn to it, felt its calling, and always knew that I would be involved in music, making it, listening, sharing, supporting it, in various ways, and on numerous levels ...
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Yes, this is often true. It was for me. One of my first beat records as Ammoncontact, with my then partner (and still close friend) Fabian Ammon, was called "Sounds Like Everything" - I remember titling it that because I felt like it was an ode, sweetly derived of all of our Influences. It was referencing Sa-Ra, Dilla, Madlib, Prince Paul, Prefuse 73, Dabrye, Q-Tip, DJ Premier … All people that I knew or had met from 1995 and on. People who were on my Radio Shows too, etc ...
My first band Build An Ark covered several artists on our debut release "Peace With Every Step" - that title was a direct reference to Thich Nhat Hanh. Again, more sampling, emulation, copying. Always lovingly, and with real intention to make something special and unique with our versions. I was always aware of it though ...
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Identity is interesting, what you believe you are and how you see yourself, it's like your guide in that moment. So much comes from that, but it's always changing, and as it changes, so does your creativity. Being truly creative, to me, is beyond identity. It is a very open state of being, totally present and connective … I am there, more and more so …
Making a record and considering its release, who, when, how it's released brings identity back in. Everything that is considered in that sense takes on an Identity. This question has a cancing answer for me, it's kind of moving ...
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My main creative challenges were just in learning how to use and work with my instruments and gear. I always felt inspired and motivated, but I had a lot of trial and error, and I was lucky that I could call friends like Daedelus, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Dexter Story, and Benjamin Tierney for advice, guidance, etc ... They were always so helpful!
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I still use the exact same ProTools rig that Daedelus set up for me in 2004. Same interface. Same mics. New laptop. I no longer use Fabian's ASR10 or MPCs that I started on in 1996.
I have many, many, many more instruments now. That collection is ever growing. Sometimes I have recordists come into my studio with special mics, etc., but mainly I am heeding the wise words, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." I just do my thing and follow my heart and ears through the process … I collaborate with numerous other engineers and studios on certain things, for certain sessions, or aspects too.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I can easily say "no" to this one. For me, there haven't been.
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 through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaboration is central for me. Sometimes I do it all by myself, but most of the time I am initiating deep collaborations of friendship, communication and creation … I am very forward and just call people or invite them to play live, or to play on my budding pieces, works in progress from their studios … It has always been this way for me and I love it! All of the above, from file sharing to spontaneous composition in a studio or some live setting - it's all great!
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
No fixed schedule at all. My life is based on being a good, strong, well, expansive, loving, caring participant within humanity, co-existing with all other life here on this magical planet earth. The human world on this planet needs much, much aid. It's so violent and insane. I make my contributions toward a higher version of living, harmoniously, with LOVE and respect, through music, bringing people together in various ways, and by communicating from my soul.
There is no separation for me. I live music, and I live musically, aware of sound vibration in, of, with and surrounding everything ...
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
This question reminds me of advice that I have been given over the years … I have been blessed to have several amazing mentors and guides in my life … As I started to play my Instruments more live, I got better and better and was no longer "dabbling" but was truly communicating. It was a major breakthrough for me when I got to the point where I realized that I was good if no one else showed up to play with me.
Say I was scheduled to perform with my group, or set up to play with someone else's group - I got to this point where I felt comfortable that if no one else showed up, that I would be able to play by myself and offer something meaningful. It may not be what the people came out for, or were expecting, but it would be totally real, honest, fluent, flowing, and authentic. That was a breakthrough realization for me ...
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
It's your whole life, in that moment. The distractions may be a part of that, then you keep on living. If the distractions take over, then you're not really present, not really living. (In those cases, one should probably go and deal with that, then come back to the music … It will all come through the music though too, so you can work it out, work through it, in the music. That can get a bit bumpy though … I would most likely stop and tune into my heart and breath . . .) To be in that moment, with your whole life and whole vision, alive and active is amazing!
To me the process is about being and staying ready, ever changing, rippling, you just stay present and are open to being creative, always. I am never not. Let's go! and also let it go ...
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I don't think about "healing" - I think about the reason why you or one would want to be healthy. What for? What is your vision? Who are You? What are You? What for? What do you want it to be for? I tune into that.
I do not consider myself a healer or my music to be healing. Someone else can, but I definitely don't. I am a Communicator of my soul and I share my experiences via my music for anyone to connect with whenever and however they want to. Back to one of your previous questions, how a person identifies with those questions (of What for?) has so much to do with the state that they are in. From that state they will be drawn to different sounds, energy in motion. Their feelings will directly lead them to whatever resonant music and sounds are happening in, on those frequencies. If someone believes that they are benefiting from sounds that I find repulsive, that's for them to decide, not for me to decide for them.
I will make and listen to what I am feeling. There are sound messengers at all levels that are working to help people raise their vibrations, if they want to ...
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
To me, "appropriation" is exploitation. If someone takes and is not offering a balanced harmonious exchange, if someone takes without being given the blessing of the individual or community that they are taking from, if someone takes and doesn't know what they are taking, what something means, what something is for, if someone takes and profits from the use of culture and doesn't give everything back, they are appropriating.
There are levels to this. I am not claiming to know everything, but I know that I am open in my communication with everyone and that is very helpful in getting to that sweeet common ground that you want to have with others. Learning, asking questions, being open, having caring intentions, these are all things that help the exchange.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Our senses are all connected and they are all amazing! I feel hugely grateful, and privileged, to have all of my senses working so well. First and foremost is breath and breathing. That's essential to life in this realm!
Spiritual feeling comes next for me, then hearing … Being caring and conscious of all of our systems and organs is major to me. They are also making music, and involved in the music that we are making with their aid … It's a whole reality within each body vessel. So amazing and wonderful!
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art is expression, it reflects a person's state of being, whatever that may be. Many modes of that expression. Many techniques. I wish for everyone to have outlets to express themselves, as fully as they want to. Experience,
feeling, expression, reflection, that is everyday life.
My approach is to be as totally myself as possible, staying open to further depths of myself, then sharing what I find, feel, with anyone and anything that is interested, in need or want of anything I have. It's pretty simple. I'm just on, and can be tuned into, the way that I also love tuning into frequencies like Iasos and Laraaji ...
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Everything, anything, nothing, however it is felt or interpreted. It's all happening, just depends on how someone relates with the sound vibration. For me, it's everything! I get so, so, so much from music!