One of the greatest electronic musicians of the moment grants rare interview to Juno on his experiences in the Congo.
Actress is one of the most interesting and absorbing electronic artists working in London or anywhere else at the moment, but, as is customary, he rarely grants interviews. One of those rare occasions came yesterday, when Juno asked him about his experiences in the Congo with Kwes, Richard Russell and Damon Albarn for DRC Music, an Oxfam-fronted initiative that paired British musicians with Congolese players to jam. Here’s a few great answers, read the rest here.
So what was the clubbing experience like?
I spent a lot of my time trying to figure out what the fuck was going on, really. It was a completely mad environment, and I just tried to take it all in and keep my head together. The clubbing experience was one of the best I’ve had in a long time, to be honest with you. The clubs were incredible, the music they were playing was incredible; it was a cross between R&B and Kiss FM in its heyday, it had a commercial rawness that I like, and lots of cut-ups and bootlegs, crazy hyper DJs adding their own voodoo sounds to the mix, it was just all going off. I think Damon said recently that it’s strange that people look down on Africa culturally, and with the parts of the Congo I saw, particularly the club scene, the vitality was stronger than anything I’ve experienced in London or anywhere in Europe. It was so different.
Was that from watching the Congolese musicians in action, the way they moved, they way the went about things?
All of that, yes. When you’re put in a situation where someone’s drum kit is a couple of buckets, the hi-hats are made from coke bottle tops, when you’re confronted with that kind of ingenuity in terms of putting instruments together, it’s a bit like, OK, so anything can be an instrument. It makes you realise how industrious these musicians are in terms of making equipment because they simply don’t have the finances to buy these things. They make their own. As a result, there’s a unique identity to their music – it becomes completely different to anything else out there, instantly. I was going and meeting different families, and it’s almost an expectation for you to demonstrate your drumming skills. From that they can determine what kind of character you are, what kind of person you are…a lot of trust develops from your drumming skills, and I did have to build trust with the locals I met, so they felt satisfied that there was no exploitation going on or anything like that. So as much as it was a great cultural experience, it was very serious proposition for anyone. I found myself in the middle of a ghetto, with people I’d never met before… it was something I was told not to do by Oxfam, but when you’re out there, it’s almost out of your control, so you go along with it. I found myself in situations, meeting families, being completely out of my comfort zone, and I met some amazing people and had a great experience because of that.
So, that musical element, building trust through music, was something you were experiencing in random households? Were these the families of the musicians you were working with on the album project?
Yes. There were two guys in particular that I hung out with, and they introduced me to a lot of their younger friends, who they played football with or went to school with. I met a few of their grandparents too. It’s a respect thing, a courtesy thing – well it certainly was for me anyway. I think if you meet anybody’s family, you want to show courtesy and respect, but certainly in that instance, I felt, because my French isn’t very good, and they didn’t speak any English, the only way for me to communicate was through my body language and sounds. The best way to express my body language was through drum patterns; whether it was tapping a drum pattern on a table, on a chair, on my lap or my chest. These were the barriers that were in front of me personally, and I actually found that we communicated on a much deeper level through the language of our bodies. I used my voice to – singing “la la la”, or whatever – showing different Lingala patterns in terms of pronunciation.