Name: Kondi Band
Members: Sorie Kondi & Chief Boima
Nationality: Sierra Leonean / American
Occupation: Kondi Player (Kondi), producer, DJ (Boima)
Current Release: Salone
Recommendations: I just read a really spectacular book called “An Indigenous People’s History of the United States” which I think every person living today should read. It’s not really music related, and seems quite USA focused, but as someone who uses music to question norms established by the ear of European colonialism, I think it’s important to understand how the world’s largest military power today was built upon, and continues to exist as a defense of European supremacy and suppression of non-European ways of living and being in community on this earth.
The other thing I’d recommend is checking out the current scene of young African and Caribbean rappers in London, calling itself loosely the UK Afrobeats scene. It’s to me the most exciting local musical movement happening in the Black Atlantic today.
Website/ Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with the Kondi Band, their bandcamp page is a great way to start your journey into their music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My first memories with recording are actually pretty funny. I first started recording myself when I had a boom box with a microphone in the 90s. I would tape myself and friends doing Boyz II Men and Shai covers and things like that. I really recorded a lot of my world when I was a kid actually, because tape recorders were ubiquitous then, and it was fun to listen back to things you did during the day. I graduated to making multitrack recordings of myself playing Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley songs on guitar by using the dubbing feature on a two tape boombox. And finally, I started sampling and making kinds of DJ mixtapes using the same set up, adding a discman and a 2 second gemini sampler I traded a friend my Nintendo 64 for.
I was always into music because it was always around. My parents had a piano that I would tinker with, eventually leading to formal lessons. My mom really encouraged me to pursue music growing up, and I played cello all through grade school. My dad was influential in my tastes because he was kind of an amateur collector/DJ who would have parties at our house and play African diaspora sounds like Franco, Bob Marley and Byron Lee, and then in the car those artists would sit alongside acts like Fleetwood Mac, Simon and Garfunkel and Neil Diamond.
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 an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
To learn how to DJ I alternated between listening to Funkmaster Flex tapes and DJ Shadow albums and trying to copy their ideas. I didn’t really understand what either were doing, and didn’t have anyone to show me how to, so I just listened for hours and hours trying to decode it. That was pretty much my DJ/production school, and led me to make music that wavered between dancehall and trip hop in the early years.
By the time I was on digital programs like ACID and Reason (and had some folks to show me the basics of digital recording) a self-awakening through travel, and a residency at an African night club got me interested in DJing and producing African and Caribbean musics like coupe decale, kuduro and soca. So I would listen to old Congolese and Cameroonian records to teach myself drum patterns, and use the sounds like 808s and sample packs to construct a new digital version of those rhythms and bring remixes of those records and American rap and pop to the club.
Learning how to mix, sequence and use synthesizers came after I befriended folks through the global bass scene, like-minded folks into digital global sounds like Uproot Andy, DJ /rupture, Matt Shadetek and my former production partner in the group Banana Clipz, Oro11. This is really where my contemporary style was formed in these years of traveling, djing, befriending and living with these folks.
So all of these were moments where I learned a lot about different aspects of production. I think in order to create one’s own voice, one has to build on all of these types of tools and life experience that you accumulate to say something personal, which is more often than not the best way to make something unique.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, like when I first started playing my productions out, I feel like it was easier because I had less of an audience. I was just making stuff for a small club on a bad soundsystem, and no one really heard it beyond that. Then when I started to share stuff on the Internet, I would be more conscious of quality of the sounds and stuff like that.
I remember my first EP I put out someone commented online that the voices in the chorus should have been 2db lower in the mix, and I think I obsessed over that for a good while. But I was definitely less worried about making something good, and just churning out something new in the early days.
Now that I’ve made a couple projects, and am much more oriented towards making producing full albums than remixes, I think now just finding the time to be creative is the biggest challenge. Balancing the business aspects of this industry while also trying to be an adult with a family, sometimes just sitting down and creating goes by the wayside.
How I deal with that is that I make sure to schedule time to work. Like block out a week, take a trip, get away from distractions. That’s the best way for me to be creative now.
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 still really work on my original set up. Even maybe a more stripped down version because I move around so much. I think the space for feeling creative is much more important than building a perfect sounding space with unlimited toys and resources.
My home studio is just a laptop, monitors, a soundcard and a midi controller. I’ve switched from ACID to Reason to Ableton, but beyond that it’s still pretty much the same.
But the biggest change now is that after that initial demo stage, I hire a studio to record and mix in. I’m not interested right now in investing in building my own studio because I move around too much, and don’t plan on being anywhere very long. Also, once I get demos down, I like to replace many of the synth sounds with live musicians to give some more depth to the record. I really like the mix of digital and live instruments right now, and doing that in a proper studio really feels best at the moment.
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 think more than anything, at least in western pop, technology has changed the standards with which we’re judged.
Like all western pop music now is pretty uniform when it comes to technical aspects. Compression, loudness, digital sounds are ubiquitous. I don’t mind that if folks are doing something interesting with that, like the Atlanta or Bay Area rap scenes, or the Portuguese and Angolan and Chicago electronic music scenes use compressed sounds, especially low end in very interesting ways, tailored to the environment the music is consumed in. Kuduro for example is often over compressed, but it works for the type of sound system it is being consumed on. Many African capitals are very loud places, so the music has to cut through in order to get attention. Some music sounds better on cheaper systems.
But the definition of creativity I’ve been going with for many years is what humans are able to accomplish in the face of a lack of resources. It’s not necessarily technology that determines that but how one uses the technology that is available to them. Do they use it in prescribed ways, or are they doing something further than what the technology intended? That’s what I’m interested in on the technology side.
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?
Well the last two projects I’ve worked on have taken acoustic instruments, the Kondi and the Guitar respectively, and put them at the center of the composition process. Once I have those laid out, I work to build other instruments and sounds around them, emphasizing and accenting certain aspects or tailoring the sounds to compliment the tones of the acoustic instrument.
So in that way the instrument determines the direction, and the compositions are filled out by kinds of hidden traces of sounds that I hear inside the instrument.
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?
I used to collaborate a lot with other producer/djs. Like I said I worked particularly a lot with Uproot Andy while living in New York, and Oro11 while living in California. That was kind of like my music production school as we would bounce ideas and tricks off of each other, and through those collaborations I learned how to produce.
Now, that I’m equipped with a certain set of skills, I really enjoy working with people who are skilled in a certain aspect that I can compliment through my production techniques. In a way this is a how I can facilitate cultural exchange and work across social boundaries. By bringing knowledge that is valued in the West to say Sierra Leonean traditional music, or Brazilian acoustic pop.
These kinds of cross cultural and geographical collaborations are central to my INTL BLK project.
I also think that this kind of collaboration is the recipe for the most exciting music being made, not only for myself but across the world.