Interview: Bokanté at Jazz Café 18th July

Malika –  “It is a mix of delta blues and West African music”

Snarky Puppy’s Michael League fuses his groove-driven world with international influences featuring band members who have played with everyone from Paul Simon through Yo-Yo Ma to The Lee Boys.

Bokanté is a band conceived by Snarky Puppy founder and GroundUP Music creator Michael League, the process of formation was all but conventional. The music and some of the melodies were written by League, demoed while on tour with other bands, and then sent to vocalist Malika Tirolien with lyrical concepts attached. Tirolien then wrote lyrics and melodies, demoing and ping-ponging the new content back to League. Ahead of their much anticipated Jazz Cafe performance Michael told us why the band works.

 1.             What are the benefits of having an cross generational, multi-cultural group?

Michael – “There’s so much to learn from each individual. Jamey Haddad grew up playing with my jazz and pop heroes, from Joe Lovano to Paul Simon to Sting and everyone in between. His knowledge of global rhythmic traditions is profound, and he’s so eager to share it. Malika, on the other hand, is in her early 30’s, grew up on a small Caribbean island (Guadeloupe), and really deep into hip-hop and prog rock, actually. It’s so funny… we’re a very motley crew. I feel like I’m in a sit-com sometimes. But the really beautiful thing is that everyone is interested in learning from each other. We don’t just stay in our little corners. And that’s why the music works”.

2.            With a primary focus on making good music what are the highlights so far when you knew you had met that objective?

Michael – “I really love watching the process of a song coming to life. Most of them start as little voice notes in my phone, often just a melody or bassline being hummed as I’m walking from one place to another or sitting on an airplane. Then it gets developed on an instrument, recorded on my computer, emailed to Malika, emailed back to me with vocals, recorded with everyone in the studio, mixed, mastered… and then you have this fully-grown adult where once there was just a fragment of an idea. This new record we just made, What Heat, had an extra step in that process. Sitting in the studio hearing the Metropole Orkest record on it was one of the most fulfilling moments in the life of the band for me. Jules Buckley (the conductor of the orchestra and a Londoner) never ceases to amaze me”.

3.            How easy is it it for the group gain global appeal?

Michael -“The funny thing about this group is that I really feel like the music is well taken care of. There’s always limitless room to develop, improve, and evolve, but I find the primary challenge with Bokanté is getting people to hear it. One would think that because the band consists of some well-known musicians, it would be easy to gain a global audience. But the truth is that it’s almost like starting from scratch. Building the infrastructure, the momentum, the content, the interest from the general public- it’s really tough. But the pure joy of playing this music with these people makes the whole journey worth it”.

4.            Tell us about the album Strange Circles?

Michael – “It’s our debut album, and I think it does a nice job of showing where we come from as individuals, and where we’re going as a band. Everyone is expressing themselves in their own ways, but there’s definitely a cohesiveness in approaching a common concept. Musically, I think of this group as a reflection of the journey which the blues has taken through the African diaspora. Each of us has felt the influence of that journey in some kind of way. Lyrically, it examines the state of play in the world today, socially and politically. Malika is great at making point or raising a question through story. She covers a lot of ground on that album as a lyricist”.

5.            Why the title strange circles?

Michael – “Many of the songs on the record deal with the idea of karma, or at least, action and consequence. In the world right now, we’re seeing things flare up that we thought would disappear forever after World War II, or after the American civil rights movement in the 60’s, or Vietnam… the list goes on. But it’s apparent that human events are cyclical. It’s as if we move in circles as a society. Malika speaks to this throughout the record”.

6.            Why is it important to try and connect with society and the problems we face, and how does that translate in the music?

Michael – “From the beginning, the band was designed to address human, social issues. I don’t want to use the word political for fear that we get associated with partisan platforms. The music speaks about ideals that should not be limited to political parties… equality, respect, compassion, and cooperation are universal”.

7.            For a Bokanté novice how would you describe your musical genre?

Malika –  “It is a mix of delta blues and West African music”.

8.            What can we look forward to at the up-coming show?

Michael – “We’ll be playing a combination of music from Strange Circles and the new album, What Heat. We may have a special guest or two join us as well. I can’t wait. London is always so ahead of the curve in terms of listening to new artists. The first show Snarky Puppy ever sold out was at Cargo in Shoreditch. We were selling 30 tickets in Atlanta and 450 in London, thousands of miles away from home. It’s a beautiful thing, to feel that appreciation for your passion when you’re halfway across the globe”.

Get you tickets here  tickets are selling fast!  Where: Jazz Cafe London When: 18 July 2018.  Nearby Cottons: A taste of one of the best Caribbean eating out places in the UK. http://cottons-restaurant.co.uk/

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