Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? 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?
Nothing has been very consistent lately. I travel a lot, and lately I've done a lot of touring. So I take on more of a tour manager role with Kondi Band. So if we have shows it really is about getting to the venue, making sure everyone is taken care of, getting a good soundcheck, and playing a good show. Then making sure everyone is happy and gets back home ok. That’s punctuated by off days where we try to fill the days as productively as we can while being away from home, an travel days which are probably the most difficult at the moment.
When I’m at home, it’s all about balancing time on the computer between my writing work, tour planning, and trying to find time to create music — and time with my family, especially since I have just had a newborn son arrive in February!
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
One song that I kind of sit back and am really proud of, because it seems kind of abstract is a song called "Antes de Ontem" that I just did with Ziminino. It was a fairly simple acoustic guitar based song, but with a non-traditional chord progression. It took me awhile to kind of lock into the vibe, and if you build a song from the same elements every time you don’t want every song to sound the same. So I took awhile just listening to it over and over and, the structure started present itself as all these different ghost rhythms and sounds were sinking into my head.
The first instrument I added was a calabash, to not have the drums be too hard and keep the softness of the acoustic guitar, but emphasis a rhythmic undertone. I got the idea from watching Ali Farka Toure perform live, alone with a guitar voice and calabash. After that, I added a double time distorted bass (which was replayed live in studio later), and a really hard drum progression that really contrasts with the acoustic guitar side. Lastly I just put this really messy synth solo kind of meandering over the whole thing, and in the end it almost turned out like a 60s psychedelic trance rock tune with all these disparate elements from over the decades between then and now — really in the spirit of the Tropicalia movement, but updated for today.
It’s one of the songs I’m most proud of.
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?
I think just not being preoccupied with life’s responsibilities is the most important. Having a space away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, whether that means taking a trip to concentrate on creating, or just creating a space wherever you are where you can’t be distracted.
This is obviously more relevant the older I become, but even when I was young I would need to isolate myself from other aspects of life a bit in order to really feel like I had the space to create.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
It has changed for me going from being a DJ who produces for DJ sets, to a producer who is putting together albums.
In order for any kind of album project to have longevity in these days you really have to be able to put together a live show. Since producing albums is new to me, thinking about putting together a live show before even getting any ideas down for an album is a new concept for me, but I also think it’s a really smart move if you want to have a career in music long term.
Then again there’s lots of artists who have found success learning about performing while being thrust on stage. Maybe I’m experiencing that a bit now with the Kondi Band.
I will say, I produced the Kondi Band album without thinking about the live show at all. At first it was nerve wrecking having to perform without really having a vision for the live show, or even how to perform live with Ableton. But now that we are a bit more comfortable as a group, I am having a lot of fun figuring tweaking the live set and my own live performance.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I think sound at least in the electronic and hip hop worlds is determined by audience, and where and how the music is consumed.
I always liked the thought that in the 90s, New York Hip Hop had certain sonic characteristics because people listened to it on headphones, in the subway, walking through the city, and that LA and Southern Hip Hop had aspects more tailored to the car. So the culture around the music can change the sound.
So when you compose if you’re composing within a certain paradigm, determined by local audiences, then the sound they expect is going to help determine your composition.
However, for myself, someone who is trying to transcend local geography and even national boundaries, and someone with all kind of local influences, the sound choices become intentional statements about place, social relations, and belonging. For me that is often determined by belonging to the Black Atlantic cultural space, and being part of the African diaspora as a unifying feature. If I incorporate sound elements from Atlanta and mix them with Brazil then I’m trying to make a statement about our interrelation. That said Atlanta Trap has penetrated Brazil’s Funk scene, and without being conscious of it, local producers in Sao Paulo and Rio are also making their own statements of belonging by incorporating certain sounds into their compositions.
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? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Hearing and light to me are the most linked senses. Which is interesting because my current partner is actually a non-sighted person. Rather than disregard that idea, it actually intensifies it because for Sorie, his ears are his eyes.
I think we are trying to incorporate some of that philosophy into our live show, but we perhaps haven’t gotten to the technical point in staging yet to make that so explicit. But club culture in general has always had an emphasis on lighting to set a mood in a place. Whether it’s an underground party with a single light in a basement, or a high production with light and laser shows, sound and light are often closely related.
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?
My motivation in art is to push for more representation of non-mainstream perspectives and use that fight as an argument for more equality in the world.
It’s quite a grand goal, but it’s rooted in my relationship to Sierra Leone, one of the least resourced countries on Earth, and that country’s amazing relationship to music. I was a musician when I first arrived in my father’s land, and that’s what made me most instantly feel at home, to know that I came from a people that were so musical in every day life.
My push to help give voice to the underrepresented is in direct relation to this experience. Because I think the underrepresented often best express themselves and their humanity through art.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Well, I actually think you could go to the past to see where music is going. Obviously we’ve had this brief moment where music as commodity reigned, through the dawn of the recorded medium. But that in reality only lasted about 100 years, even less than that really.
Music forever has primarily been social glue, and now that the physicality of music is becoming less important — at least as physical commodity — the social glue aspect is becoming more important.
So now, many movements have sprung up in the digital DJ music era, of people who get together in specific environments to celebrate their local identity. Often because of lack of resources for other forms of expression, these communities are on the margins of the physical place they are located.
So people gather to listen to Gqom and Funk and Footwork in the abandoned spaces of Durban, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago, and create some kind of community centered around music, just as our ancestors gathered in village squares and places of worship and fields to cut the monotony and give meaning to a pre-industrial agrarian existence. Music has always been around at the times we most celebrate life.
That’s why, at least for me, the most interesting music made today comes out of a context specific to a certain community of people. I think the goal, in my mind, in the future would be for all local communities, wherever they are on earth, gathered for whatever reason, would find enough resources to thrive. If music can be at the center of recognizing the existence of those communities, than so be it!