Next month I’ll be releasing an album of curiosities titled Sharawadji. The album presents a fusion of Somadelia, Juju Space Jazz, Sahelian Generative, Nordic Throb and Post-Tribal Bliss (yes, existing genres have become rather inadequate to describe current musics ). Recorded and crafted in various locations over the years, the music paints an impression of the rhythms, melodies and sonic textures of its geographies: Lagos, Cotonou, Ouagadougou, Dakar, Fez, London, Barcelona, Berlin, Helsinki and Paris.
The release – which has also gone through titles like ‘Migrant’, ‘The Itinerant’, ‘Border Eraser’ and ‘Invisible Geographies’ – consists of outtakes from my forthcoming Interspaces and Earth Variations albums as well as from the previous Flash of the Spirit, Pulses/Radiance and Sahara albums – featuring also Noel Saizonou of Helsinki-Cotonou Ensemble on vocals and percussion. It’ll also include a previously unreleased track from LOS-HEL: Possible Cities, with a Lagos Soundscape by Emeka Ogboh.
As Interspaces and Earth Variations continue falling into place (or into space) slowly, delayed by me continuing to encounter new exciting musicians and possible collaborators here in Paris, I came to notice these outtakes together formed already a rather coherent and interesting whole: like a more colourful sibling or ancestor to the two albums-in-progress. More info to follow soon.
This week I’ve been recording vocals with this Ukrainian soprano, Viktoriia Vitrenko, for the Earth Variations and Interspaces albums. We met accidentally and serendipitously two weeks ago at the Cité des arts in Paris, an encounter which I documented from word to word on an Instagram post of mine since it was the most unexpected as well as the swiftest start of a collaboration I’ve experienced so far.
“I met her in a hallway, by the door. I was returning from a break when I noticed that a woman walking ahead of me stopped by the open door of the studio I was working in and peeked inside.
‘Are you possibly looking for something?’ I asked her politely. ‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘There’s supposed to be a hiphop dance rehearsal somewhere here tonight.’ ‘Well, I do occasionally breakdance when I’m working, but I’m sure that’s not the workshop you’re looking for,’ I said, joking only partially. ‘The hiphop rehearsals are usually over there, in Studio 5.’ ‘What are you working on in here?’ Her curiosity surprised me. People here weren’t usually interested in what others were up to. ‘Oh, just on my music. You know, composing, recording, mixing…’ I fumbled. ‘What kind of music do you make?’ ‘Erm, it’s electronic based but with lots of influences from different styles and from around the world…so hard to describe.’ I felt the usual ship of words sinking into the thought of an ocean of sounds. ‘That’s very interesting as I’m also a–,’ But before she could continue, we were interrupted by a pianist next door looking for a bathroom. ‘So, what do you do?’ I resumed when the pianist was on her way and we had both returned ashore. ‘I’m a singer.’ ‘Oh…I’m actually looking for a singer at the moment.’ I hesitated for a second. ‘But it’s quite experimental…no lyrics or clear structures or anything like that…a sort of new ways to play with voice in music…’ I was sure that by now, in her ocean view, my ship had actually sunk. But her eyes lit up even further. ‘That’s exactly what I do!’ she exclaimed, becoming visibly excited. ‘I’m a soprano, singing mostly contemporary music, but I also work with electronics and experiment with my voice and singing a lot.’ ‘Wow…that’s really interesting. Er…I don’t suppose you’d be–.’ ‘Yes, I’d be happy to sing on your tracks!’
And that’s how every collaboration should start. No ego, attitude, negotiation, hesitation or hassle: simply openness, enthusiasm, resolution and curiosity to play and experiment.”
It really is astonishing to watch and listen to a world-class singer, two metres away, building layers of vocals on your tracks, elevating them instantly into something resembling a proper, serious music. She comes up with similar ideas I’d written in my notebook earlier but am yet to share with her, and then expands them much further, exactly the way I’d do it but could never have imagined. The voice transports you: our small studio space turns into a concert hall, then into an Afromontane forest between a desert and an ocean, before returning, via the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Jonquet district of Cotonou, to a wooden cabin by a lake, with the stars just appearing in the late summer sky and the moonlight traversing the water’s still surface.
Afterwards we spend a couple of hours discussing philosophy, art, Detroit techno, Mediterranean cities, migration, and the possibilities of voice and sound as agents for social and political change. It turns out that she, like me, loves to deepen and expand her work through thinking and writing, reading and discussion. This happens so rarely with musicians – and understandably since music, at its best, evades all the words and thinking – that I want to freeze the moment for the eternity; I simply love this level and scope of commitment, curiosity, drive and professionalism. Through our conversation, I realise that my forthcoming book has begun to find its territory and form. Yet I can’t help wondering how random and unexpected, serendipitous it was that we met: in that hallway outside, by the door, just one night by chance.
Images: recent visualisations of some of the sonic atmospheres on the aforementioned albums.
Next to my favorite table and intersection in Paris there’s a recording and rehearsal space called Studio Bleu. Yesterday we had a recording session there with bassist Omar Harb, for my albums Earth Variations and Interspaces.
I was blown away. I had reserved the studio for eight hours because I thought we’d need all that time to finish at least some of the tracks. Not had we just finished everything in four hours but Omar had made everything so much better than what I’d imagined.
Omar understands your music like a fish understands water when it meets it for the first time. He can play as figuratively and elaborately as you want (or couldn’t possibly imagine) or beat a machine in precision, duration and slight liveliness. There were moments when I had to hold back my tears because his melodic basslines made me simply recall how unbeatably lovely the world is – or hold back my idiotic grin of joy because of the ecstatic funkiness and a human-overcoming-the-machine of a kind of bliss of his playing.
Omar is originally from Damascus, Syria, where, since 2005, he used to run a very successful music production studio and company (“factory”) of his own, becoming a mainstay of a thriving new Syrian music scene, producing work that went on to win praise and awards across the Arab world as well as Europe. That all came to an end in 2011 when the war broke out, and eventually he and his wife had to abandon everything they had and flee to Lebanon. Since then he has lived and worked globally, collaborating with artists around the world. (He’s also one of the nicest human beings I’ve met.)
Since my Earth Variations started as an interdisciplinary sonic art project about migration and the refugee crisis but which got subsequently cancelled, I was struck: here I was with a guy who actually comes from the origin of all that, who has experienced it firsthand, personally having witnessed the bombing and killing and the destruction of his home and those of his family and friends, and having had to plan a daring escape through everything all these (art) projects try to grasp but can only intellectualise. Yet here he is in front of me, playing the most beautiful and life-affirming music that seems to know no crises, conflicts, borders, ideologies, territories, let alone any art projects, curatorioral practices and their momentary trends. This is life. This is why music exists.
Update from Paris after a lengthy silence (you can follow my more frequent snapshots of Paris and abstract visual “musics” on Instagram @ilpojauhiainen).
Time flies, and the noise the spring keeps making is mostly inspiring: an exhilarating mix of new music, ideas, encounters, conversations, collaborations, doubts, dead ends, openings, failures, idiot glee, love as well as writing, reading, cycling, “working it harder, making it better”.
Currently I have four to five albums’ worth of material floating around – and every one of these compositions works rather well with everything else. For a while I was playing with the idea of releasing just one album: every time you’d play it, it would choose a different set of tracks from these 40+ compositions, depending on the first couple of tracks and the time of the day. A generative and modular record, in a way. But since it’s not financially possible to finish so many tracks – unless I have a record label backing me (finding a record label that’d understand the territory I’m cultivating has become next to impossible) – I’ve decided to focus on two albums only. Naturally this has presented a new challenge: which tracks to pursue further and to include on these records when everything seems to suggest a fertile new direction.
Both albums are inspired by the sort of global multiplicity and potential that we’re living in – creolization of ideas, if you will. Where Earth Variations I moves through denser geologies with more classical, traditional and experimental musical influences, Interspaces travels through more open landscapes and vistas, drawing from electronic, popular and possible musics; the keywords connecting their desired production criteria read “soulful”, ”purposeful” and “timeless”. Paris has influenced the music enormously, as have my friend’s abstract expressionistic paintings that she’s been creating here during the past year (soon to be shown in her solo exhibition in Helsinki): their vivacity, multilayeredness, delicateness, movement, rhythm and pulse, beauty and sensuality emerging from chaos, turbulence and randomness…have resulted in a kind of evolved richness, clarity and maturity in my music that I haven’t heard before. Both albums will be out in the fall.
Paris is also rather fitting a place to be working on these albums in: it was here that I first got the idea for this kind of “global” music (for lack of a better word) when I first came here as an adolescent in 1995. I was listening to these two Malian musicians on the Pont des Arts, one playing kora, the other electric guitar and singing. I had never heard such music before, and everything about that moment felt so novel and exciting, full of future potential: the electrifying West African sounds, midnight in Paris, being in a global metropolis, meeting these people from around the world, travelling across the continent…I realised I could never be happy making “just” electronic music, it had to have this feeling and texture of the world woven into it somehow.
The question always is how far to develop these compositions though. I can easily hear some electronic parts being replaced or accompanied by real string quartets, intercultural ensembles, gospel choirs…but this would require a whole different level of financial investment. The pioneering Finnish electronic duo Pan Sonic always used to say that what they’re actually making is Jamaican dub and American rock’n’roll, but since they are just two taciturn Finns with electronic oscillators, they leave all those dub and rock’n’roll elements out. In a similar way, I’m always working with orchestras and gospel choirs in mind but since I can’t afford them, I leave them out in the final mix.
The theatre/dance production we worked on during the winter is currently on hold due to the pandemic; the related short film has been finished and I’ll share it once it’s being released. My “futuristc jazz” album has been postponed for the future: it simply doesn’t feel so thrilling to me at the moment, compared to the new music that has emerged here. Some of the promising musical collaborations have led to nowhere. My bicycle broke down (now fixed). And Paris…Paris continues to be love, a home in this galaxy of ours.
Recently I had a pleasure to be interviewed for the experimental music show Planisphère on Radio Campus Paris. Dubbed lovingly in French, the 8-minute edited interview forms part of the episode 44 at https://www.radiocampusparis.org/planisphere-44-lamour-18… (starts at 1-hour mark); a longer version will appear later on their social media channels. Topics covered: possible musics, generative music, sound and philosophy, site-specific art, interdisciplinary work, West Africa, Afrobeat, complexity, Aihio (my duo with Petteri Mäkiniemi).
The pictures in the trailer are from my recent bike rides around Paris.
The summer has finally turned into an autumn – the first time I felt my fingers freezing while cycling home late at night. Where did all that heat and endless blue sky go? Into working haphazardly on everything, meeting new people, cycling around Paris, going out, experiencing the city, settling down, pondering, searching for the meaning and motivation to continue making music: releasing albums digitally to muted response just won’t do anymore, I’m honestly done if that’s all there is for the function of music-making!
The end of the summer has fortunately coincided with the start of new conversations and collaborations. Paris, like any location, is an assemblage of different multiplicities, each multiplicity presenting a universe of ideas, encounters, possibilities. As the autumn leaves are preparing to fall, I’ve found myself on a plane connecting one such multiplicity to few others, entering exciting new becomings – meaningful and refreshing expressions of life, creativity and culture, if you will.
One such becoming is with this Swiss choreographer, dancer and director. Finally a long-term project that allows me to collaborate with other talents across the arts and other areas of the society for the next few years (why doesn’t this happen more often, especially since I’ve been more than ready for the past 20 years?). The details of our project may be discreet for now; the reason I bring this up is because it is our long conversations and shared experiences of Parisian culture that finally brought to an end my months-long impasse of trying to find the purpose for music-making. We don’t exist in isolation nor is the digital any answer: we need each other, real feedback and different talents to make the projects and worlds we care about happen. Behind every success story there are dozens of people with different skills working toward the same goal. My work has existed more or less in isolation (and digital ambiguity) up until now – not because I’ve wanted but because I haven’t encountered any like-minded scenes (and sceniuses) so far. I don’t really care about the popularity of my music per se: as long as I feel thrilled and passionate about what I’ve created, that’s all that matters; it’s the greater cultural and societal function of my creativity and dedication that bothers/matters to me.
And with this Swiss artist my long-term musical and societal interests have aligned with hers. Creating and imagining music for her project feels like serving a greater societal and cultural purpose than releasing albums into some digital amnesia that the internet represents.
Alongside this, Paris has presented some of the most fascinating live concerts I’ve experienced so far: between cultures, in a fourth world, between experimentation and tradition, like possible musics of the future (for one, check out the Palestinian composer Kamilya Jubran and her Terra Incognita project – and if you can’t find it, book her trio for your next festival/event ). And I’m excited to say that I’ll be collaborating with some of these artists for my forthcoming albums Sharawadji and Earth Variations. I’ve been working joyously with a kind of “idiot glee” (as the painter Peter Schmidt put it) in my studio for the past week and have to concede once again: there’s so much potential and beauty in everything – so much incredible material – yet only less than 0.1% of that ever gets released. I guess the life wouldn’t have it otherwise.
Below some random snapshots from this transitional period. Paris is love, a home in this galaxy of ours.
I’m currently doing an artist residency at the Cité internationale des arts for a year: working on various musics (Earth Variations and a tentatively titled album Sharawadji), developing the Future Forest Space II generative composition, and researching and writing (gravitating towards philosophy, judging by my recent haul from my local bookshop, Shakespeare & Company).
Paris has always felt like home to me, ever since my first visit here in 1995, so it feels wonderful to be able to immerse myself in this microcosm with greater time. While the city feels lovingly timeless and is always recognisable, it’s constantly permutating, evolving and progressing; it’s a multiplicity upon multiplicity upon multiplicity which never ceases to pique and inspire me.
Below some photos of the residence and its surroundings, with my crappy (apologies) phone camera.
Backstage at the closing ceremony of FESPACO film festival, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (2013). The rhythms and sonic textures these musicians were producing were out of this world, from some kind of deep ancient future. Naturally I was in heaven (and my recorder heavily in overdrive).
Currently I’m working on a truly exciting collaboration that enables me to revisit my experiences in West Africa and imagine possible futures – probably my most favourite creative activity ever. I’ll post more info on this later when it’ll become more actualised. This project has made me realise that we are probably drawn to and occupied by the same ideas and possibilities throughout our lives: my first memory of making music was when I was six years old and I was trying to imagine a possible African landscape after seeing a documentary about “a village somewhere in Africa”; I’d become tantalised by its atmosphere, scenery and soundtrack so much that I’d wanted to recreate that distant, another world with the electronic organ at our home. And here I am, doing exactly the same thing 37 years later.
But what is it about this particular idea that keeps occupying me?
It’s about redesigning our society, our politics, our economy. No more poverty, no more inequality, no more conflicts, no more ideologies (e.g. the outdated and unnecessary left-right politics). Just conscious, intelligent, healthy, long-term outcomes. We could easily live in a world where no one has to struggle for living, where everyone is taken care of, where people can enjoy living instead of having to earn living, where the nature and the humanity continue to flourish in balance, where the world lives in deep freedom (a concept by the economist and philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Unger – find out more here) – and where the prosperity and growth come from us thriving as conscious and active citizens of the world and not from us struggling as passive consumers tied to the unsustainable, elite-serving capitalist system. We only need to change our outdated political and economic systems – and music and the arts are already way ahead in this act of rethinking, reimagining and redesigning, waiting for the politics and economics to catch up.
This idea is equally about borders, nations, nationalism, tribalism, cultures, ethnicities and origins: inhabiting a possible world beyond and in between all the these arbitrarily maintained divisions; belonging to and being a citizen of Earth instead of any arbitrary nation. Cultures and differences are reasons for celebration and cooperation – harmonious disagreements – not for inharmonious disagreements, conflicts and walls. We humans are all different but equal, cohabiting this tiny planet equally with millions of other species: Earth is the shared home of everyone and everything. When you are making possible musics – multicultural, transcontinental, imaginary and hybrid – you are not actually trying to imagine a possible future, you are simply trying to show the actual reality amid all the ideologically constructed, artificially maintained divisions that we keep wasting our precious resources on.
My new album, meanwhile, will be out in mid June (it keeps evading all the titles and verbal descriptions, that’s why). Please, do stay safe and healthy X
I’m truly grateful to the Finnish Cultural Foundation (SKR) for awarding me a working grant this year. The grant allows me to focus on developing the next version of Future Forest Space for a year or so, alongside all the other artistic work, and it is really a much-needed boost to get this project and all the research and writing related to it finally off the ground. I’m equally grateful to the Finnish Music Foundation (MES) for once again offering me their grant that in turn allows me to concentrate on my next musical direction with greater freedom. Liberated from the need to perform commercially, ideas tend to diversify and multiply in unexpected ways.
The new album will be out in March-April. I took a month off from all the music while writing, and have since been making final treatments to some of the tracks while looking for the right mastering studio – and desperately trying to come up with titles for the pieces. The album is currently called Untitled and it contains 12 untitled pieces (which have had working titles such as Radiohead/Pan Sonic, Fela-Surulere, Tokyo Warp, Fez Dub and aaaaa). Stay tuned!
Greetings from Amsterdam! My old hometown, where I haven’t been to for 22 years. I’m in town for the 2019 Prince Claus Awards for culture and development, as I had the honour of being one of the advisors for the jury this year. You can read more about the awards and the laureates here: https://princeclausfund.org/awards-laureates
As this decade is coming to an end, I became reflective on this rather transformative 10-year period I experienced – and put together a short Spotify playlist containing three pieces from each of the seven albums I made this decade. New Geographies 2010-2019
For this has truly been a decade of coming into being, journeying, discovering and developing new geographies, becoming: from escaping the noise of Berlin to the solitude of Helsinki in 2010, in order to focus on my debut album (which I’d been only dreaming of making in the previous decade while experimenting with wildly different sounds and lifestyles in London); through my subsequent travels and residencies in West and North Africa, Western and Southern Europe; through my further academic studies; through my public sound installations in Belgium, Germany, Finland, Italy and the US; through my subsequent six albums, which all explored the question of “what if…” (“what if this kind of cultural landscape existed”, “what if this was the most popular form of music, what kind of society would that suggest?” and so on); to this gathering of creative talents and minds in A’dam, where new possible geographies and becomings are being formed for the coming decade.
I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to all of you who have supported me during these 10 years, and all of you who have been listening. It really has meant the world to me. The next decade will start off with a brand new album and new journeys and discoveries after that. WARMTH X
ps. few random and blurry pictures from the last night.