1/ Tell us a bit about the new album Guardians; the recording process, the space and sound you’re after and anything else…
Guardians was recorded at our buddy and bandmate (House of Hamsa) Grant Chambers’ studio in Nevada City. We used an old Neve Preamp and Nueumann mics to get a fantastic sound. His space is perfect- out in the woods to get the vibe. We even recorded outside. We wanted to get as organic and natural as a sound as possible, as we are primarily using traditional wood and skin ethnic instruments. These instruments are traditionally used as ceremonial instruments so we wanted to get that feel. -VM
2/ When did the two of you first meet and play music together ?
We met at a Beats Antique recording session in 2003 as David Sartori (Beats Antique and Dirtwire) had both of us on a track for the first Beats Antique album.
3/ What were some of the highlights when you were part of Hamsa Lila ?
Hamsa Lila reached some of the most amazing highs I’ve ever had on stage. We play a lot of the same instruments we use with the new Guardians album. We were known for playing all night trancy grooves with chants. 2006 sunrise set at Burning Man is one that sticks out. After playing all night, the Sun came up, and the audience and the musicians were all transported to another realm. Amazing. -VM
4/ You both play a number of musical instruments, and I’ll ask some specifics in a bit below, but for now, what drove your interest in instruments from other parts of the world ?
My parents like to sing and had a big vinyl collection of all kinds of music that got me tuned into the diversity of music cultures around the globe and the richness of our own American music styles. I’ve always been fascinated by unique sounds from other places. As an outdoorsy kid I studied piano through high school. Piano is a very big instrument and is usually indoors so I was on the lookout for smaller more portable instruments that could go outside. This led me to the accordion, harmonica, kalimba, and then percussion when I got to meet Babatunde Olatunji. My high school music teacher, Mark Growden, introduced me to sax, jaw harp, didgeridoo & jazz theory. I took his Junk Ensemble class where we built instruments from scrap metal we found on a field trip to the dump. When I realized that once music is inside the body, it can be played on anything and everything including the human body. I began seeing, experimenting, tapping, crafting, thrifting and finding instruments everywhere. I’ve been collecting instruments globally and building my own ever since. I am especially drawn towards organic sounds produced by plants, skin, seeds, stones, and metal materials. These elements connect me to the Earth through their sounds and have a song and a voice that really needs to be heard in this time we’re in. -EF
I first heard Hamza El Din play the oud as a teenager and was fascinated by the vibe, tone and feelings I had from hearing that. Then when I heard the Moroccan Sintir on an album by Pharoah Sanders-Trance of the Seven Colors, I found the instrument I was looking for, that earthy sound is like no other...VM
5/ How was is that you both came to play the Ngoni ? Is there a lineage ?
We play different types of ngoni. Vir plays the djeli ngoni which is the smaller, 3 string, lute like instrument with a wooden boat shaped body played by griots in Mali, West Africa and made famous by Bassekou Kouyate. (Suggested listening: Bassekou Kouyate - I speak Fula). Evan plays the kamale ngoni. This African harp is derived from the older 6 string dousso ngoni or hunter’s harp played by medicine men in Mali and Burkina Faso. The kamale ngoni (youth harp) can have from 8 to 16 nylon fishing line strings and is tuned in any 5 note pentatonic scale. It is made from a gourd with a goat skin over it attached to a shaft of wood with tuning pegs. Evan has bought from and learned to play the kamale ngoni from Yacouba Diarra (Burkina Faso) and Mamadou Sidibe (Mali).
The kamale ngoni is often confused with another African harp, the kora, a 21 string diatonically tuned (7 note scale) African harp that has been played in the courts of kings by the griots for generations going back to the Mali Empire 1235-1670 AD. Toumani Diabate and his son Sidiki Diabate are current maestros of the kora. They are the 75th and 76th generation kora players of their lineage. (Suggested listening: New Ancient Strings by Toumani Diabate and Ballake Sissoko). -EF
6/ What about the Sintir ? is there a story attached to how you came to play that Vir ?
Continuing from above….I met Yassir Chadley in Berkeley in 1999. He’s a Moroccan Sintir player and started giving me lessons. He said “take this and do something new with it” Then Hamsa Lila formed and quickly exploded. Within two years we were headlining at the Fillmore in SF. VM
7/ Old question, but if you both had to take one instrument during an extended time away, what would it be ?
Guitar. Still my fave, even though I love other instruments.-VM
The kamale ngoni is my favorite. I can express myself so many ways on it. It’s tonally very versatile and where I’m coming from as a musician resonates with it’s sound. -EF
8/ Evan - tell us about the new album with Dirtwire ? when’s the release date and what stands out for you ? And how was playing in Europe at Ozora ?
Dirtwire’s full length album Electric River comes out October 18th, 2019.
We recorded a lot of it while tripping out on psilocybin mushrooms! We enjoy their creative boost that help to open the flood gates of creative inspiration. The trick is to make sure everything is plugged in and up and running before you drink the magic tea. Haha! Also we recommend having a sober designated engineer present for the session. :) We were able to record what came through and shape it into what has become our upcoming album. Electric River features some very special guests including the great Trevor Hall, Aya, Mbilou from Gabon, and Emma Lucia. -EF
Playing with Dirtwire at Ozora in Hungary was a profound experience. The festival owns the land so there are a lot of amazing permanent structures there on site. Hope to get to go back there one day. -EF
9/ There’s a new Dogon Lights album being recorded for release on Jumpsuit, Vir did you get to let loose on the guitar ?
The Dogon Lights have been a solid crew for awhile (Evan Fraser and I, Garry Norris, Ashel Seasunz and Bongo Sidibe) and we combine Hip Hop, African Music and Funk/Rock. Our new album “Starborn” will come out in 2020 on Jumpsuit. And yeah I took a couple of raw guitar solos.
10/ If you had to pick a few “most epic” places you’ve played live over the years, what are they ?
Sunrise Burning Man 2006, Headlining the Fillmore, Morocco in the Sahara with Tuareg musicians. -VM
Also Sunrise Burning Man ‘06, Red Rocks in Colorado, Ozora in Hungary, and DoLab Stage at Coachella. -EF
11/ You can go back and do a collaboration with any musician from the past - who would it be and why ?
“Hey Jimi- I got this idea for a track….”VM
Led Zeppelin. Would love to explore the roots and connection between American blues and African blues with them. -EF
12/ The secret to a good arrangement is ….. ?
Well in this kind of music I would say- No arrangement…-VM
Let your ears rest for a few days then come back to it. -EF
13/ Finish the sentence…. ”Music is…..”
my offering, my service, my joy, my love, my dance, my prayer, and like food, it brings us all together. -EF
14/ The title of the new album is Guardians…. Is there a story behind this ?
Yes. We are in the midst of massive plant and animal die offs, Earth changes, pollution, and greed is alive and well. We felt that as Earth Guardians, protecting Mother Earth is paramount, thus Guardians. VM
We stand for Mother Earth and we’re all in this together. This planet is all we’ve got and it’s up to us to clean it up, plant trees, and protect the sacred. We are one. We take pride in using natural sounds and instruments that are representative of the Earth’s voice and its inhabitants in our music. -EF
15/ Your previous album Yakaruna was done as a collaboration with Shiva Rea - can you tell us a bit about this ?
We had done a series of live shows with Shiva Rea and she suggested we do an album that would be for the flow of a Yoga Class. She was helpful in getting the album to a larger audience by using it in classes and DVD workshops. -VM
16/ Vir, you and Ian Herman played in the Mickey Hart band… what were the highlights ?
One time in rehearsals we got into a particularly trancy groove (I was on the Moroccan Sintir) and we went into that zone….Mickey took a cymbal and threw it across the entire room like a frisbee to hit a gong on the other side (He hit it) and then shouted “now this is REAL trance music!!” Also meeting Robert Hunter - the great lyricist for the Greatful Dead. RIP.
17/ Ask each other a music related question…
Evan to Vir: What’s your relationship to music in ceremony? Could you speak about your spiritual connection to sound?
As a child I remember sounds on the radio had feeling in the instruments (or not) I remember thinking I could tell if someone was really putting in some feeling in a particular song or instrument track. So Tonality and feeling has always played a big part in my music and crossed into my love for world music and ceremonial or shamanic instruments. All around the world, most cultures have a pentatonic scale and simple form of repetivive music and singing that’s often played for hours, In my opinion it’s really designed to cross into the spiritual realms and get one out of their head. So we cross into the sensing rather than thinking realms.
Vir to Evan: What’s the future of new music sound like?
Stretchy and elastic with blurred borders. Probably multiple futures happening in many directions just like now… new paths can be forged by not being afraid of your own taste, following your ears and heart, mixing and matching old music traditions with new styles, languages, new instruments, and new music technology. -EF