Name: Hyenah
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Recent release: Hyenah's debut album Love In Times Of Crisis is out July 1st via RISE. It features collaborations with, among others, The Basement Gospel, Amazi Wakho, Bajka, Patricia Baloge, Nanghiti and Floyd Lavine.
Recommendations: The first one is a book: Depth - the first 5000 years by David Graeber. It taught me a lot about the world we live in and the system that is destroying our planet.
Art Of Noise - "Moments In Love (Beaten)" - it must be that version. It is minimalism in perfection. Every sound touches me. Even though the arrangement is not contemporary anymore it is still a masterpiece. It is house, it is pop, it is hiphop, it is afro … everything is in there …

If you enjoyed this interview with Hyenah and would like to find out more about his work, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.

[Read our Patricia Baloge interview]

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

Is there anyone out there who ended up making a career as a producer and DJ and planned this from day one? Focusing on what you enjoy doing most and the next time you check you’re being dragged into a subject that won’t ever let you go again. Ever. The power of music.

I still remember events where it was mostly obscure vinyl 7”s being played and club nights were held in abandoned storage spaces. This nocturnal switch into a different world and meeting strangers was the strongest influence and created a calling.

Even before that I was curious about new types of music. Most of the music played on the radio bored me quickly so I started digging. Soul, Rare Groove, Hiphop, Leftfield stuff, edgy music that connected different genres. Crossover music (not the genre but the approach), when people connected the dots differently - that was always my thing. And it still is.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

Many times music materializes before my inner eye, it becomes tangible. Songs started to unfold into movie-like scenes, created by this inner storyboard writer, landscapes appear, different settings - the drama heading straight for the climax in the club. Other times that movie is all about suspense …

Many times I connect songs with locations. Either where I heard them first or where they belong. Sometimes the feeling of completely becoming one with the sound, physically or emotionally, is overwhelming.

At other times it is hard for me to not analyze a song too much. When I listen to it, I take it apart. layers, effects, mixing, build up. It all depends on the state of mind I am in …

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

You are asking for my origin story and how I became what I am now, right? So here it is:

About 10 years ago, I was a bit tired of the focus on the DJ as a superstar in the music scene. Things started working in a way that people cared more for the DJ as a role model than for the music. I did not like that. So I decided to go the other way. To take all the attention away from me as a person.

In my opinion, a great night out is about the perfect flow of amazing music and a crowd appreciating that emotionally and physically. I wanted to get back to that and do things differently. That's why my mask is mirrored. I want everyone to see themselves in me. I am not important, I am just a medium and conductor of the night. I want to reflect back and say: it is actually you who's important here.

On top of that, I am a bit shy and this artist persona allows me to become someone else. A mask is a powerful thing, you know?

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

Music is identity. It makes people define who they are, what they stand for, what group they belong to.

For an artist it can include your upbringing and cultural background. Your music reflects who you are. The same works for the listener / dancer: You are what you are part of. It somewhat defines you, especially at a younger age: Hiphop, Metal, Punk, Techno ... Music is a lifestyle, it’s an identity.

When I started out, there were Afro House, Afro Beat and many other different interesting local music genres in Africa. And there was House and Techno in the Western world - to put it simply. But there was hardly anything bridging those two worlds. So that's what interested me and still does: both worlds have so much they can learn from the other.

So that became my mission: How can I connect them? I was amongst the very few artists to intensely work in this field. This crossover approach meant a breath of fresh air for both sides. That field is where I started out quite lonely and eventually became one of many more now.

Actually I am super happy to now see so many like-minded artists that push Afro House forward and let it grow closer and closer together with other scenes like organic house, melodic house and techno but also Amapiano or Gqom. Bridges for a worldwide infrastructure are being built, things are growing …

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

I am a very curious person. I see myself as an explorer and messenger. I move between worlds and try to connect them. I try to provide a platform for new talents, styles and ideas and give my best to help with exposure and sometimes a bit of guidance.

For me, it is important to always do that respectfully and mindfully, as a partner and supporter. As a white person it can be a thin line to walk though and there are many ways I could be perceived as disrespectful - which I obviously never intend to. Starting from a very privileged position, I do have to be very conscious doing what I do. I am trying my best, but I also make mistakes that I try to learn from again. It can be quite exhausting.

There is one thing I want to make clear: Afro House belongs to the Africans. There is no doubt about that. And that needs to stay in focus. Africans need to be at the forefront. I am just very grateful that they let me into their world and welcomed me in the way that only Africans can welcome strangers.

There is so much love for music in Africa, it is hard to imagine other places, you know …
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

Very good question. I’d say finding the perfect balance between both sides is key. Of course there is a moment when you're a little ahead of the rest of the herd, but growing with your own timbre while staying contemporary is the biggest of all challenges. Perfection will never be reached of course, but I sometimes feel a little closer to it.

Sometimes it can also be good to focus more on innovation. There is no clear either / or. Tradition is always the root and innovation is letting things grow. I can’t go without either one.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

I found out that the main tool is my imagination and the fact that I don't need to play around with too many machines to create my musical vision. I still find it fascinating how your mind starts to build a multi-layered story once the first elements are put in place.

Sometimes I feel that the track is in charge and using me to emerge. Other times I have a vision that I want to realize. Again: it is not that simple. There is not one formula.  
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

I became what I am today because i avoided too many strict routines, but a cup of coffee definitely helps. Sleep is important.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

Tough one. Since the creative process feels different every day. New and old influences are an inspirational interchange. Depending on the current state of mind. Just pointing out one wouldn't do justice to the fact that together they created the most important final pieces.

My album Love In Times Of Crisis was such a result, the outcome of some introspection done over a few years. To get out of the rabbit hole that club culture sometimes creates and finding more dear and relevant topics lead the way.

“Moood” for example is a very conscious piece of music. I wanted to create a song that reflects that feeling of tension when two people feel attracted to each other. I tried to express that with the music. It’s a tease that constantly plays with tension without fulfilling its promise yet. You can feel that something is going to happen though.

After that I tried to find a vocalist that is the perfect match for that idea. In this case Patricia Baloge was a perfect match. She totally felt what I felt. Like this, the song came together really nicely.

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

One of the main ideas behind my doings is the idea of bringing people together through music. And one of the main ideas behind my album is collaborating with those who inspired me most.

The idea of communal effort has always been a fundamental topic within my work - and that’s what our RISE crew stands for. Creating togetherness and reach through awareness and team spirit. For me, Madonna was wrong. It should also be: People make the music come together.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

The magic of music is that it makes people be in sync and connect. It’s a scientifically proven fact. No idea how ancient the responsible part of our DNA is, but I am sure the importance of music for our social connection leads back all the way to when we still called caves our home.

On top of that it helps people to let go, to feel and to express their feelings. So it can be non-verbal communication that we instinctively understand on a non logical level. That is very important, I think.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

Maybe it was even the other way around, art was a catalyst for such emotions and they triggered the creative processes.

For example my song “You Made Me Who I Am” was produced shortly after my father died. His process of dying was very special. He had cancer without knowing and passed away 6 months after he found out. About one week after the diagnosis he found peace with it and decided to be fine with the end of his life - even though he really wanted to live on. He accepted it. This acceptance gave peace to the whole family and his passing became something like a ceremony.

It was very inspiring and life changing. I tried to express that in a song. So it is basically a happy song about death.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?

Oh yes, they are very strongly tied together. Now more than ever, since these days it’s just 1s and 0s interacting.

Music is evolving due to technology. If there is a major step in technology, there are major evolvements in music. Making this connection invisible and creating something that comes along as entirely intuitive is one of my highest goals.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

I believe that the magic of making music lies in the fact that the energy you put into a piece is stored in it forever and can be released again and again, every time people listen to it, no matter who and where they are.

Whilst making music, expression doesn’t often stand in the center of the process, rather the approach and the sensation while creating it and the emotional content I am adding to it during that phase.

How the listener relates to that at the end, will remain a mystery that until today I really find astonishing.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it is able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

I believe that with music there is so much more being transmitted than just soundwaves.

My theory is that while our ears actively listen, all our other senses are highly active adding certain meta information to this experience. Once we actively follow the sound arriving at our receptors, forgotten (maybe even prenatal moments) are being washed up to the surface.

On top of it visuals, smells and other social transmissions are being thrown in. How could this mix NOT have a very deep impact on us? It is a magical thing.