Monday, 9 March 2009

Dazed and Confused Interviews

Wow, what a hiatus. Here are a couple of interviews I did last month with Amadou and Miriam and Hockey for Dazed Digital and Dazed and Confused respectively (their online and print arms).

Amadou and Miriam
Once known in West Africa by the sobriquet ‘The Blind Couple from Mali’, ‘Amadou and Mariam’ have become Mali’s musical vanguard; popularising its thriving music scene and bringing themselves and their contemporaries out of the Doldrums of the World Music shelves and into the light of London’s Koko club. In fact, ‘World Music’ is a bit of a misnomer and Amadou and Mariam opine for “Music of the World” as a more apt label for their sound: an assimilation of many types of music – including western – rather belonging to any particular niche. Their new LP, ‘Welcome to Mali’ takes them on a musical Diaspora through Blues, Rock, Reggae and even electronica – courtesy of co-producer Damon Albarn – and back to their Afrique homestead. Dressed in exquisite Malian attire and sporting designer sunglasses, Amadou Bagayoko stops to talk to Dazed Digital about his music, his life and marriage on the road.

DD: How did the two of you meet and begin making music?

AB: We met in 1975 in Blind Institute. I had some of my music on the radio and Miriam was a singing teacher. Music is what we shared and music is how we began our relationship.

DD: How did you develop such a broad musical vocabulary?

AB: I grew up with Jimmy Hendrix, James Brown, Led Zeppelin which were played heavily on the radio in the 60’s in Mali.

DD: Malian and Senegalese music like Ali Fakatori and Salif Keita have been very successful in the word music scene in Europe. Why do you think it is these African countries in particular have such a lot of exports?

AB: West African and French cultures were heavily integrated and this has caused Malian Music to be structured on the same blues scales as a lot of European and American Music. African music then began to affect European music so our music had developed together and it becomes difficult to say who has really influenced who. Senegalese music is not based on the same structure so it’s difficult for me to say why it is popular, only that it is very good.

DD: Do you see ‘Welcome to Mali’ as a departure from your previous records in any way?

AB: We work with the same producer, Marc Antoine Moreau, on every album and the process is always the same: we lay down the guitar and voice but from then on we are open to other paths and other partners what other people can bring us. For example, Damon brought electronic sounds to ‘Sabali’. We have this open mind for every album, including this one.

DD: Does the title serve to generate attention more broadly in Malian music?

AB: Absolutely, we used the name to open the door to Mali; its culture, its civilisation and its music.

DD: Does your blindness affect the way you experience music or create music?

AB: The difference between the blind and the sighted is that it’s easier for the blind to concentrate - I appreciate the focus it gives me. The other part is that when you are blind, music takes a larger place in your life because you don’t have books, films or visual art.

DD: You are quite politically and socially active. What causes do you support and - forgive me, I don’t speak French - is your music politically motivated?

AB: We don’t have an ideology we sing about but values which affect our music. We stand for peace, solidarity, respect and love.

DD: What’s it like touring as husband and wife?
AB: It’s really not difficult at all. People often think its crazy but sharing this together makes things so much easier and we never feel lonely.

DD: Which UK artists do you like at the moment?

AB: I hear stuff I love UK Radio but I don’t know the names. I love the Scissor Sisters and I like old music like Genesis, ACDC and Phil Collins.

DD: If you like, I can make you a mix tape to bring you more up to speed?

AB: Yes, yes. I’d like that very much.

-A few days later I got an e-mail in very broken English from Amadou asking for the Mix I had just really mentioned as a joke. I think making a mix for a blind man might be even more important than making a mix for the love of your life. Await the track listing......


During the a pre-gig photoshoot 'Hockey'
languidly - but a little knowingly - pass a joint between themselves in Shoredich Church’s graveyard while sharing a few words with Dazed and Confused.

Nestled into the breadbasket of the Willamette Valley, Portland has been synonymous throughout recent American history as a magnet for musicians and novelists alike. From Beats to geeks, the town has at one time or another been the base for a myriad of artists including Ken Kesey, Chuck Palahniuk, The Kingsmen, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Everclear, Modest Mouse, The Shins , Elliott Smith, The Decembrists, Scout Nesbit and now, the bizarrely titled ‘Hockey’, who are playing one of a handful of UK shows at Rough Trade East tonight. Hockey are Ben (or Weyth as he insists on being called - “Ben is just a bit boring”), Jerm, Tony and Brian. Starting off as a two piece way back in 2001 they played a "really striped down, quite urban setup – just a drum machine and a MPC sampler – which would work in some settings but not in others" and after testing that formula to destruction they moved up to the Northwast to expand into a traditional 4 piece, recruiting Tony on drums and Brian on guitar. It's the first any of them have been in the UK where they have been reinventing the whistlestop tour: 4 days, 5 gigs, lots of press and mixing the last of their soon to be released LP 'Mind Chaos' on Virgin Records. Jerm is glad to be here, opining "People in the UK generally are a lot more receptive to us. Personally I think it has a lot to do with the American music scene vs. the British music scene - there’s less willingness to bridge different ideas together or respond to something a bit weird over there - the US only has a few exceptions to this rule in towns like Williamsberg, New York; Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon - but generally music in Britain is well ahead." The NYC band which it's nigh on impossible not to compare Hockey with are The Strokes, particularly Weyth's voice which quivers with the familiar lethargic growl of Casablancas' "I completely see the similarities. The way my voice works naturally dictates what kind of songs I can sing so, you know when we sound a bit like the strokes at times because I'm from New York and can't sing the national anthem." Once on stage they rip through 5 tracks from the album, kicking off with with a supped up version of 'Work' - replacing the minor key keys with Brian's frenetic guitar - before ripping into their ever infections dance floor single 'Too Fake' which slaps on plenty of synth, a driving high hat and dancy base hooks. Lyrically, Hockey strike the same playfulness as their namesake - "This is forget me music, This is 'Who can love me music', This ain't no Roxy music!". The boys are one tour again in the UK next year and are well worth a look - don't let their asinine name fool you: "We just came up with it a long time ago. I don't like the sport or any of that shit, it's just that because it's dissociated from the sport, even if don’t find it funny the joke ends up being on you."

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Blog Train

I join the 'blogosphere' for several reasons: to copy my mates; to have something better to do at work than work or listen to the morbidly obese woman drop pie crumbs into her keyboard and sing along to whats-her-face do the Hallelujah cover; and lastly, to have somewhere to talk about the gigs I see and record musical rants of love and hate.
It doesn't look like it but
I've already put a half day's work into this by having a myriad of potential names repeatedly rejected by the 'check availability button'. I started off bold, trying some musical nods like Station to Station (which someone registered in 1904) and Fear Of Music (which I swear my computer actually replied to with a sigh). After scraping the digital trough with more obscure nods (Guns Before Butter, Smells like Content, Say Valley Maker) and hybrids (LowIdiot, The Magical Mystery Revolver - terrible, I know, but still taken), I got off music and went back to the title I thought of first: Thirsty Ears. So that's some unnecessary etymology for you, I promise something on topic tomorrow...