As a young man, João Donato would listen to birds singing and men on boats whistling to create his melodies. It is telling that one of the most renowned Brazilian artists of the past century, whom many consider instrumental in creating the bossa nova, took his cues from nature: Donato's rhythms instantly capture the body, his weightless songs seem plucked right out of the air, his music, he says, "can heal the soul." In fact, it can do just about everything: "Music can produce serotonin which makes you feel comfortable, makes you feel good. It can give good health for people that are sick."
In our interview with Donato, he takes us back to a time when all of his achievements were still a long way off, when he took his first instrument lessons under circumstances not unlike those of the current pandemic:
"My teacher taught me how to play the trombone on the telephone! It was one of those public telephones. They only had a three minute time allowance. So after three minutes, the machine would end the call. So that was the end of the lesson."
Later, he recorded A Blue Donato, an early masterpiece of the marriage between Brazil's proud music tradition and jazz. On his latest mini-album JID007, a collaboration with bassist and producer Adrian Younge and hip-hop-legend Ali Shaheed Muhammad, everything that made A Blue Donato so successful is still present. The sound, however, has been updated to make an entire new generation fall under his spell again.
Read our João Donato interview.
Wherever Sam Mangwana went, it seems, he picked up a nickname. In the 1960s, when his career was starting to flourish, journalists referred to him as "the moralist", thanks to his reputation for songs with powerful sociopolitical messages. "At the beginning of my career, I wanted to change the world, especially to push society in Africa to evolve and to recognize the place of African women," he remembers this time. He knew the strategy was working when responses to his work became increasingly polarised and more people were dissatisfied with his lyrics: "The message was getting through," he says with palpable satisfaction.
Mangwana's message was born locally but, as it turned out, the entire world wanted to listen. And so he embarked on a many-decade-long endless tour which spread his infectious grooves and beautiful voice – which has retained its youthful sheen up until his latest album release Lubamba – to audiences across the globe. The moralist had become “le pigeon voyageur”, the travelling pigeon, and home was wherever he laid his hat. Although he has by now returned to Angola to support the war-torn country wherever and whichever way he can, he is still travelling and as busy as ever: The wings of this pigeon won't be getting any rest soon.
Read our Sam Mangwana interview.
Ugandan singer, songwriter and rapper Awori bridges the gap between Mangwana's classic afrobeat and a new generation of listeners. She no longer wants to rely on men doing the talking for her. Instead, she says, it's time for the women of Africa to take charge and care for themselves:
"The music industry, like most industries, is dominated by men who want to dictate women’s careers, from the way they sound to the way they look, even down to what they say in interviews. Our creative control is constantly being challenged."
Her music, a blend between RnB, Trap and Neo Soul, pushes these topics forward with gentle incision. It's not the sound of a revolution, but of an artist who believes that "softness" can be just as powerful sometimes as violent protest.
Read our Awori interview.
Manja Ristić's path to her current sound wasn't straight. It wasn't even curved. Rather, it started out from a clearly defined beginning and then took every improbable – to the outside world – twist and turn it could: Early on in her career, Ristić was a promising, classically trained violinist; then she discovered electronics, embraced improvisation and later on found her calling as a sound artist and composer of spellbindingly otherworldly acousmatics. Judging by the response her latest releases have found, she's made the right choices along the way.
Whereas Marja Ahti, whose work feels near in aesthetic terms, treats sound as abstract food for fantasy, Ristić charges it with meaning, metaphors and spirituality. It makes her oeuvre seem dark at times. But that is an illusion. These pieces take us to places we need to visit if we want to evolve, they force us to go through pain in order to heal:
"Sound transforms and can never die. I am pretty certain that sound exists in death, since we do know that we are deeply connected to the environment through sympathetic resonance. Music reaches and triggers beyond obvious intellectual constructs - and there is this specific narrative people nourish about the relationship between music and the soul."
Read our Manja Ristić interview.
Our interview with Greek composer Konstantia Gourzi felt like one of the most pleasant ones we ever did. Everything in her words feels natural and well-reasoned, everything is balanced and makes complete sense. But it is a state of mind she has worked hard to attain. Regaining her bond with her Byzantine roots was one part of her journey. Breaking through the encrusted structures of the establishment was another:
"During my studies in Berlin, writing melodies was effectively forbidden! I whistled melodies a lot, but I was not allowed to write them down."
Her new album Anájikon on ECM proves that he has finally arrived at the place she always wanted to be. It is a music which aligns itself in a tradition, but still manages to be entirely its own, a music which accepts no limitations but has a clear understanding of what's desirable and what is not. It is an impressive statement by a composer who is bound to make many more impressive statements in the future.
Read our Konstantia Gourzi interview.
Can there ever be too much pink in the world? Not for Giorgia Angiuli. On the cover of her aptly titled debut album In a Pink Bubble, she is running through a maze of rose-coloured lollypops; in her videos, she uses toys as sound sources and collaborates with chipmunks. Clearly, the Italian multi-instrumentalist and producer sees the world through different eyes.
Increasingly, however, the world wants to see it through hers. Angiuli's rise to fame is mainly down to her gripping live performances, in which she transforms the material of In a Pink Bubble and the subsequent EPs into passionate, constantly shapeshifting epics. Grounded by the hypnotic pulse of her sequencers, and playing an assortment of synths, guitars, drum machines as well as her trademark Sylphyo (a futuristic hybrid wind instrument), her gigs are dynamic undulations, mesmerising ripples in the space-time-continuum held together by emotional narratives.
In our interview, Angiuli stresses the importance of authenticity, of sonic excellence and keeping the doors of perception clean at all times:
"For me it is really important to be ready to listen to all the messages that the universe wants to give us. We are made of emotions but sometimes we close ourselves to protect ourselves. Let’s stay open."
Read our Giorgia Angiuli interview.