SWAHILI

7 Sep

SWAHILI

One of the most unexpectedly uplifting surprises of the year has been becoming fluent in the language of Swahili – being in this case the extraordinary band of altered-state enthusiasts from the Pacific Northwest.

Learning the language of Swahili – as spoken through synth, drum, drone and the occasional well-placed moan on their spectacular, self-assured, self-titled debut album – requires little advance notice from the listener. Rather, if you are at all interested in visiting the place where rhythm and radicalism (in both the musical and spiritual sense) intersect, you are likely to be captivated from the spine-straightening start of Swahili’s forty-six minute language immersion ceremony.

With our highest possible recommendation, we encourage you to take a language lesson from Swahili in the immediate future, and read the advanced course materials graciously provided below, by band member Troy.

Preview the self-titled debut of Swahili on Bandcamp.

The name Swahili seems as if it could be easily misconstrued or, at the very least, send some would-be listeners down a path of Google frustration. What does the name mean to you?

Swahili is one of the world’s oldest living languages. To us, all communication, whether visual, aural, touch, etc., is language. To paraphrase Terence McKenna, everything we experience is made up of language. The word Swahili can also evoke the archaic, the return to tribal living, and music as the center of communal spirituality. We also considered it a nod to This Heat; one of the big early influences on this band was their album “Deceit.” It’s an album looking back on western civilization’s mistakes and the noise that accompanies such a fall. As a band, we hope to be witness to this decline and provide a soundtrack that inspires people to look inwardly as our society fails outwardly.

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Is there a single album or live performance that revealed itself to you as illuminating an until-then hidden path of personal musical exploration? Have esoteric sounds always made such an impact on you? How has your impression of music changed over the years for you, as you’ve transitioned from a music listener to a music creator?

One single experience? No. There are those sweaty basement shows that will always have a special place in our hearts. We’ve all been creating and playing music for a long time. What’s different for us with this band is our creative process. We collectively decided to stop “writing” songs, choosing instead to improvise over grooves and letting the material write itself. This way, there is a sixth, ever-present member of the band making itself known through the language of spontaneous sound. Can made music this way and they remain one of our main influences. The entire latter 20th century move toward minimalist composition is something that fascinates us. Cage, James Brown, Eno, The Velvet Underground, Fela Kuti, and the way their ideas were integrated so effectively into the rock and roll experience have helped shape us.

But these ideas have always been essential ingredients in what we collectively call “ethnic” or “world” music. Our taste for the esoteric I think is a search for something genuine. Your hear those Sublime Frequencies compilations and at first they sound otherworldly and cosmic. We are so accustomed to pre-packaged, fully glossed and ready-to-print music in the modern world, when we hear something so pure it might sound alien but it is real folk making folk music.

What led to the formation of Swahili? What experience did you have playing in other bands before this one? Did you have any experience playing with the other members prior to Swahili?

I guess Swahili started as a home recording project with a different name in the strange and frustrating era of Bush. This project would be the roots of Swahili. Troy and Ryan were in a hardcore band in high school. I had been performing experimental music around Reno. Ryan showed up to one of the shows and then we started making music soon after. A few months later Troy showed up and joined the project. After that record was completed it was another year or two before the line-up gelled into our family of five. Once that happened, we all opted to throw that project away, along with the material, in favor of the more communal and alchemical Swahili.

The extent of our knowledge in regard to topics like traditional African music and poly-rhythms begins and ends with once reading about Ginger Baker playing with Fela Kuti. How do these things factor in to the music you create with Swahili? Do you have a sense of translating the rhythms associated with music from Africa or Germany toward a result that connects more immediately with your current surroundings? Meaning that in the face of these influences, Swahili does not sound like a band “trying” to sound like a Krautrock band – and this is meant to be a compliment (and perhaps the longest path toward one).

We consider poly-rhythms a form of communication more ancient than speech patterns. The trance state that accompanies repetitive rhythms is a gift. We think the exploration of this gift is a sacred and inspirational thing. Jaki Leibziet, Ginger Baker, Fela, and Klaus Dinger are all incredible explorers of this tradition. The high altered states that we experience in repetitive trance rhythms are a spiritual wonder that is part of being human. These are nebulous, undefinable places and as our songs write themselves, they become a sort of map to these territories. The Germans were the first and greatest cartographers in rock and roll. But archaic cultures have been making maps for years – i.e. the “icaros” of South American shamanic culture are capable of guiding the listener directly into places where psycho-spiritual healing is more likely to happen. This is deeply strange, spiritual work all possible through trance music.

Your self-titled album contains titles like “Invocation” and “Chapel.” Are there distinct spiritual experiences or ideas that you are trying to reference in your music? Is the connection between the spiritual and the musical one that you spend much time contemplating, either in direct relation to the music of Swahili or in your life as a whole?

This album is meant to evoke ceremony. This record thematically is about the search for the direct mystical experience. “Ok, show me what you got.” Taking the approach of history’s mystics, the most astonishing form of this appears to be the out-of-body experience. Some ancient guy will have an out-of-body episode and return to his society screaming and proselytizing about seeing and and talking to GOD and within a century a whole religion is born. We have little interest in being religious, but for the last few years we have been searching for direct communication through music, meditation and medicine. There is a great deal of healing and self-work one must go through to achieve such high states of consciousness and this record is about our growth, not about the altered states themselves. This is why the album ends with with “Contact,” a song about meeting angelic beings while under the influence of strong tryptamine medicines. The album beings with entrance into the “Chapel,” a reference to Robert Anton Wilson’s take on the existential/spiritual crisis he refers to as “Chapel Perilous.” Once you enter the chapel, the only way out is through the other side. Otherwise you must create a life of denial and ignorance of truth. I found that after entering into Chapel Perilous, the ego became essentially worthless. “Invocation” is about the breakdown of the ego and the awakening of the third eye. “Into One” is a song about the powerful “all life is connected” thing that presents itself within the mystical state. As a modern human, it’s hard not to be apprehensive or suspicious of such worlds, because they are so strange and different than our own relative reality. So a song like “Fallout” is about the repercussions of opting for the search and the fear that you might never make it out of the Chapel. The good news is that we all seem to have come out the other side, as healthier and kinder monkeys. The next record will be about the excited exploration of our new neuro-space. There will be funk.

What music have you been listening to lately? Push comes to shove, what’s your favorite Can song of all time?

A lot of newer electronic bass, house. This guy Perc is killing me. Always lots of dub, reggae, Cambodian rock and exotica. Errrr … who is this “Can” you speak of?

Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor I am attempting the start right now) that you will soon record a tribute to the late Marvin Gaye, to be released on an upcoming picture-disc seven-inch, entitled “Sexual Swahili-ing”?

When 2Pac approached us with this idea, we were like, sheeeeeet – aighiiight man. For you, dogg … for you.

Even among an album of ear-crushing sounds and unforgettable moods, the song “Agni” stands out as notable, with a beat that approaches grindcore velocity, yet maintaining cohesion with the rest of the album. What can you tell us about the creation of this track? How do you feel the music created by Swahili differs in the live performance setting from what we hear recorded?

“Soma” and “Agni” were written together as a representation of the water/fire mythos. Side A represents the long journey to the gates of understanding. Side B, however, is the beginning stages to the path of enlightenment. Being that they are the most aggressive songs on the album, we wanted them to represent the darker arch of the path/journey. Psychedelics, music, painting, travel … the great things in our lives are rewarding on the spiritual level, but are often hard, stressful work on the physical monkey mind and body. This dichotomy is so overwhelming, so strange, it often feels like a permanent condition. “Agni” is a reflection of that burden, the force that the individual must will in order to reach contact and understand that her soul’s “permanent condition” is more of an impermanent situation.

To us, recording and playing live are totally different art forms, because … well, they are. Is art a process or it is the product? We’d rather not make that distinction, but the studio is certainly a mechanism for totally different result than a theatre. We have all had intensely beautiful experiences on live music and recorded music. Live, no song is ever performed the same way twice, and the way we use echo, live looping and improv guarantees that no song will ever be “finished” as long as we play it live. We love treating the material as jumping off points for spontaneous live composition and as we grow as artists together we have been challenging ourselves to get more loose and to reevaluate the possibilities in our work. This helps keep it fresh. Most of the songs on this album were written in ’08 and ’09 and now they are just being released, so there is an added element of freedom when messing with the older stuff live. We want to be good parents to our babies and let them grow on their own. “Agni” is a song that started off as a fun, high-octane live thing for months, only to blossom in a totally different direction once we got creative with some studio trickery. Now she’s a very important lady.

Recording is a wonderful but frustrating beast to undertake. To me, it’s more like painting a large mural. You have to make decisions and stick with them to progress. This is the fifth record I’ve self-produced and it was the most challenging by far. Troy did an outstanding job as co-producer and make it feel less overwhelming as a whole. Still, it took over a year to complete. Being a DIY band has limitations that are hard to ignore as a producer. You think, “I need a Neve or a Mellotron to get this right,” but you have zero dollars and instantly your imagination has to get creative or just go suck it. We went through a lot of effort to get a well mic’d “surround” kind of drum sound. Ultimately, we found a lot of this record worked better in the mud, with cheaper gear and ugly spaces. There are many sounds that come from hub caps, contact mics,  fuzz pedals and reverb. I’m obsessed with juxtaposing these harsh rhythmic sounds with lush electronic environments and will probably be for most of my career. We love the ideals of electronic music and often times turning to those ideas saved us from lusting over expensive gear and a “tight” mix. The environment we wanted to make – we got there anyway.

In the book “Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles,” author Richard Dowden says the following:

“Westerners arriving in Africa for the first time are always struck by its beauty and size – even the sky seems higher. And they often find themselves suddenly cracked open. They lose inhibitions, feel more alive, more themselves, and they start to understand why, until then, they have only half-lived. In Africa, the essentials of existence – light, earth,water, food, birth, family, love, sickness, death – are more immediate, more intense. Visitors suddenly realize what life is for. To risk a huge generalization: amid our wasteful wealth and time-pressed lives, we have lost human values that still abound in Africa.”

Your thoughts?

Though all of us would like to visit Africa one day, none of us have been to the mother continent. The pilgrimage seems to draw direct parallels between the psychedelic experience. The magickal medicines allow the user to make a direct connection with a spiritual plane where the essentials of life become much more real and important, leaving the daily cultural norm feeling silly.

As Swahili transformed from a band to a family over the last few years, our collective worldview has become much more based in the teachings of that direct experience. It doesn’t rely much on the expectations of our current culture. For us, success is defined by the ability to make the art that we desire and to make it without compromise. This is the most essential thing to Swahili and we are reminded daily how lucky we are to be able to take part in the creation of something bigger than ourselves.

What’s next for Swahili?

First there will be a house-heavy three or four song EP that we are getting ready to record later this month. We want to release that as a more traditional DJ-oriented club 12″ with remixes. But we are fully ready to record the next album. It will be a totally different experience. The first one ends with contact, so this one will deal with the implications of such a breakthrough. The vocal narrative will be nearly all female. The whole experience will be much sexier, groovier, pulsing. The songs seems to be requesting an album of psychonautic baby-making music magick. Ultimately the songs will always make the album known through the process. We just need to be there as alchemists, ready to receive instruction.

Swahili

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One Response to “SWAHILI”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. BAND OF THE WEEK: SWAHILI | Revolt of the Apes - May 14, 2015

    […] and Swahili’s previous full-length, their self-titled debut (an album that led directly to our initial cross-examination of all things Swahili, nearly four years ago). We could note that Swahili seems not to have abandoned the wild abandon […]

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