Category Archives: Interview

A Call to Action with Rising Appalachia

Rising Appalachia Interview and Special Feature

We are incredibly excited to offer this very special Thanksgiving artist interview and Breaking Borders feature with the highly acclaimed deeply soulful, southern world-folk duo Rising Appalachia!

The incredible collective voice of sisters Leah Song And Chloe Smith have resonated with us deeply over the last years and continue to inspire us through their passion and spirit for world culture both old and new. By bridging folk tradition with contemporary relevance, their songs speak with intention to reconnect to cultural roots, social justice and harmony as a people. They show a strong commitment to working creatively at a grass roots level keeping them accessible to all. Through the power of sound, story and song Rising Appalachia raises the bar in music today, empowering woman world wide and representing joy, simplicity and meaning in all they have to offer.

We were honored to have the opportunity to connect with the sisters a month ago as they embarked on their current “Resilience Tour” up and down the Western USA. The tour reaches many small towns and every major city on the West Coast including a very a special show in our hometown of San Francisco at The Great American Music Hall on November 26th.  Here is the FB Event and tickets.

They will be joined by their beloved bandmates Biko Casini (percussion) and David Brown (bassist/guitarist) with whom they have been performing, since their last album tour in 2015. The current “Resilience” movement for the band is a powerful response to the current state of the world, acknowledging the challenging times we face today and encouraging personal empowerment for ourselves and local communities to take action from the ground up.

“We are a resilient people in challenging times! And now more than ever we need to be making music.”

For the last five years, the music and ethos put forth by Rising Appalachia has greatly influenced our pursuits for the cross-cultural work we do here at Breaking Borders and has given us meaningful intent to keep our spirits high. In our interview, we ask the two songstresses Leah and Chloe to speak in depth about certain characteristics that make Rising Appalachia unique and truly stand out today as international musicians for change.img_0894

Breaking Borders: How did Rising Appalachia come into being? What was your intention behind the project? What were some of the driving forces that helped form your identity?? 

Leah: Rising Appalachia was born out of our long term immersion into southern roots music. We were raised in a family that kept Duke Ellington vinyl playing, and both our mother and father got very involved in Southern folk music traditions … so our whole childhood was steeped in music. When we decided to record an album we were mostly wanting to document the peculiar and rich soundtrack of our lives. There were so many different influences that created the bedrock of our musical tastes. From Old Appalachian mountain tunes, to the early days of Outkast, the South was our soundtrack. We wanted to create a platform to showcase all those influences, and at that time those genres didn’t historically mix. We wanted to make music that referenced all those sounds as much as they had influenced us. And there was born Rising Appalachia.

Can you describe the connection you both have to the American South? How does your love and admiration of the Southern soul translate into your music and message? What kind of story are you telling about the South that you want to express to the rest of the world?

Chloe: Well, we are sisters so we of course have the birth connection to the south and to our blood family there.  But beyond that, we have the same fluctuating emotions for the south that most people do that are from there.  Its love, its hate, its sort of a moving body of opinions depending on the times and the seasons and your neighbors.  However, the love comes from the cultural heritage of the place… the songs we were brought up singing, our foods and crazy salty rich recipes, the feeling of front porch talks and hot summer breezes, fireflies on the mountain, and the hospitality and sweetness of many southern folk.  Its sweaty and sticky and complicated sort of region.  But we want to express in our music the importance of having a sense of place, of belonging to somewhere or something, and of singing the songs of ones ancestors and family members which we all have access to with a little bit of digging.a4037627462_10

Rising Appalachia’s unique incorporation of international folk tradition seems to reflect an intention of bringing people back to the roots in contemporary time. In your words, what is the significance of folk tradition today? It what ways do indigenous worldviews impact your own lifestyles, music and visions?

Chloe: Folk music and folk practices ( Im thinking specifically of craft work, medicine, cooking and preparing, storytelling, dance, and other forms of expression and gathering) are simple, and that is why we hold on so dearly to them in contemporary times.  That simplicity is peaceful and historic and full of information to pass down.  I was raised in folk music and so I saw first hand the community it sprouted and the relationships it formed and in many ways a lot of young people I know now don’t have those sorts of things to grasp on to.  Nothing passed down from the family necessarily.  Its a great malnourishment of our country and I think people are awakening to that and doing the work to recreate it in their own lives.

What inspired you to start following this path of studying traditional cultures and world wide travel? Do you have a favorite moment(s) of encountering indigenous traditions or culture during your travels?

Chloe: Our father traveled around the world before Leah and I were born, and that gave him a lot of very interesting fodder for our dinner table conversations.  We learned about different cultures and communities through his stories at an early age, and thus the seed was planted.  Additionally, our mother was an international flight attendant for 30 years… so that travel bug was strong in the Smiths.

We knew that music was a glue in our lives, and we both wanted to explore other countries folk traditions pretty soon out of high school so as to broaden that scope.  One of our favorite memories was visiting Bulgaria on a cultural tour that a good friend of ours set up for us years back.  He was Bulgarian and loved our Appalachian styled music and wanted us to experience the rich mountain singing traditions of his country.  We went to the Pirin Mountains together to a small village of mostly women farmers ripe with songs and laughter and shared songs and music and cherry liquor for a few days with very little language exchange, only the music to hold on to.  There were no young people in the village and all the singers we met were 65 and older, so they were thrilled and tickled to have young somewhat weird looking ( tattooed/pierced) foreigners visiting and swooning over their intricate and haunting harmonies.  Its still one of most visceral moments of song catching.

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Rising Appalachia performs at both small local and large festival venues, always spreading messages of unity and creating positive social change through music and action. What inspired you to begin walking this path towards social and environmental justice?

Leah: We walked that path before we began the band, so it has always felt like a natural fusion of interests.

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“We have always wanted to use music literally as a vehicle to connect to people- to place and to culture.”

 

What is your perspective on using music as a tool of activism for creating change in the world? Can you explain this parallel of activism and art in reflection to Rising Appalachia? Do you believe this has driving force for your success? If so, how?

Leah: It is a concept and an intention for us to be touring sustainably, and to be creating music with a purpose. We have always wanted to use music literally as a vehicle to connect to people- to place and to culture. And the music industry itself is such a FAST paced machine. We began to feel really disconnected from the pulse of our work. We started a project this year called the Slow music is a way to remind us to take the time to tour in a way that is sustainable- both physically and environmentally as well as emotionally (which might actually be the most important part). So it means challenging the status quo of touring: physically slowing down and staying in regions for longer amounts of time, staying locally and eating local food from the places where we are making music, taking days off in between shows to get into wild places and learn about the nature of each place, connecting each show to local non-profits that are doing direct action work in their communities so that our impact can create longer relationships than just a few hours at a show, exploring alternative travel options (like train, recycled fuel, sail boat, horse back, eat).
We also bring in local non-profits to each show to allow our audience to have more of a relationship with the place that THEY live and create those connections that last long beyond the show. Each night we hope that there are components of celebration, components of local activism, a dance party, and a place for us to encourage more direct action. Everyones path into activism is different and everyones voice is important. We try and create a place where all walks of life are welcome to come be a part of our experience.

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A more recent conceptual movement of Rising Appalachia is the idea of “Wider Circles” and expanding yourselves to work with more people and musicians as well as reach wider audiences and cultural backgrounds. What was your intention behind this movement and album? Why do you believe it is an important concept today? How has this movement of “Wider Circles” manifested within your recent projects and performances?

Chloe: We have grown so much the past few years and there were so many people on board helping us to do so that we wanted to write a song capturing the value of those  expanding circles.  Rising Appalachia has always been a sort of “all hands on deck” type project with countless supporters behind the scenes and we feel very much that a large amount of our success is due to some of those people.  The song is a sort of thank you to them, as well as a anthem to encourage people to widen their own circles and invite more people in.  We see so much shutting down, separating off, and divisive language in our main stream media these days that can really isolate the human heart into feeling pretty alone and conflicted with “different” people.  Wider Circles is a song about going to the center of those hard conversations and committing to the work that will unify.  Its about showing up at the table.  Its about marching.  Its about walking the path of kindness in that work and being humble in knowing whom has come before you.

“I think that in order to enact change we have to keep showing up at the table over and over again.”

 

A big platform for Rising Appalachia to reach people is through the the global festival culture. What is your stance on festivals being a catalyst for change? Do you see festival culture functioning in a way that “breaks down” social norms? And if so, in what way?

Leah: To be honest we have a lot of critique of the festival culture. We are invited to be a part of a lot of events that boast change-making principles, but they often feel like they are disconnected from some of the action that is needed to create a shift. I think its ok to throw a party, but call a spade a spade. Transformation is a bigger task than just a party. It takes some discomfort, and some hard work, ad reaching people who don’t look, think talk or act like you. Some of the most profound events that we have been a part of are some of the smaller gatherings that are directly working to impact change (and not just a big party with a few workshops and classes on the side) like : Alternate Roots, The South Eastern Women’s Herbalist Conference, Jungle Camp, the Permaculture Action Network events, The Lake Eden Arts Festival, Honor the Earth events, Benefit shows, ect. I think that in order to enact change we have to keep showing up at the table over and over again. I am thankful that the festival culture exists and creates spaces for young people to show up and question the social norms, but i hope that it is only the first step and many people learn how to go much deeper to challenge the status quo.

After performing throughout the summer at many festivals and gatherings across the U.S and Internationally, you have now embarked on a new journey dubbed the Resilience Tour throughout the Western States. The tour is also coinciding with a documentary release shot in New Orleans during Jazz Fest early this year. What is the significance of both the tour and documentary being done at the same time? In your opinion, what is the concept of ‘resilience” responding to in this time period? What is your intention behind this movement?

Chloe: We felt like the word Resiliency is perfect for this season because in its essence it evokes a sense of toughness, levity, and positivity that we all NEED right now.  It has also been a great spark in dialogue about how people are being resilient in their own communities, how people will be resilient after the elections, and how art and community can help in those processes.  We hope to create a container at our concerts for both action as well as release/relief from the constant batter of the daily grind, providing local nonprofit and outreach information that encourages direct involvement as well as singing songs that soothe.

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What does the future look like for Rising Appalachia? What is the next step for you as a band as well as an active force for change in the community? Any new tours, music, collaborations on the horizon?

Chloe: We can only ever guess about the future, as planning it too tightly can constrict the spontaneity of growth.  However, we are of course writing, learning new songs with teachers, planning action days and furthering our ideas of “The Slow Music Movement”, refining our voices and meditating what we want to be saying out there, collaborating with mentors, and generally keeping one foot at home and one eye out on the horizon… hoping to strike that perfect balance of pushing ourselves while remaining rooted.  2017 will put us abroad much more, which we are very very excited about after touring all over the States for the past few years.  We hope to do some horse-tours as well as a Seed to Sail tour raising awareness about Permaculture.  All sorts of good things coming… 😉

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In conjunction with their show in SF on 11/26, the band will be hosting a very special Bay Area Permaculture Action Day on Sunday 11/27 with City of Dreams, a local non-profit dedicated to youth leadership for low-income residence. The Action Day will be held at the non-profit’s youth-run community garden at the Oakdale Community Center in San Francisco. The one-day festival will be an active family-friendly outing which will include a variety of hands-on permaculture projects, live-music and artistic activities as well as a garden fresh community pot-luck!

FB Event – San Francisco Concert on 11/26  and Tickets

FB Event – Bay Area Action Day on 11/27

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Bringing ‘Andes-Step’ to the USA

An Interview with Nicola Cruz

Nicola Cruz is an eclectic international producer born in France of South American descent.  He has established himself as an underground icon of South America’s electronic music movement. By bridging local soundscapes from the mountains and jungles with deep latin flavored rhythms and bass heavy beats, Nicola Cruz is bringing the Andean soundscape to dance floors worldwide.

This summer Nicola performed at several popular West Coast musical festivals, including Beloved Festival in Oregon and Symbiosis Gathering in California. We were fortunate enough to meet with Nicola before his set at Symbiosis.  We delved right into his thoughts on why the South American sound has caught our attention in the U.S. and abroad.

He thinks that the “American music scene has lots of different crowds but [he] feels the response has been nice. The American listeners always show [him] a lot of love at shows, which always feels good.” His music “lacks talking but emphasizes unique samples and rhythms from [his] South American roots,” which he believes is becoming more popular in the US.

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Nicola Cruz’s music offers a beautiful balance of sounds, drawing from a verity of sources that reflect his passion for Andean culture and the landscapes, rituals and rhythms that raised him.  His vibrant mix of organic samples and deep rhythms, topped with smooth seamless melodies creates a soundscape for listeners to simultaneously journey into and move the body through.

He feels that the sonic qualities of his music is not just deeply reflective of the world he comes from, but also a personal practice of self-expression.  Thus his music is an example of his own personality, the greater identity of Andean culture and South America at large.

Ultimately, his sound and practice “came natural for [him] while living in Quito. Living there, you are really exposed to music from the mountains (Andes), the coast and the jungle. The mix of environments in Ecuador creates an interesting contrast of sub-cultures and through their soundscapes takes listeners on a whole trip from the jungle to the coast to the mountains.”

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He explained, “I really like to take music from around the country that I find through parties I attend or on vinyl records as well as natural environments, etc. Whatever I can sample from really, At the same time however, I love to record live instruments to create more sounds that I compose organically.”

We wondered if any traditional Andean Music or indigenous instruments inspired his music, but he responded, “not really, only some percussion“. Furthermore, “for me, studying the folklore and folk music is kind of a new thing. When I say that I mean in last 5 years but still I find it to be a new addition in my production. “

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The defining theme for us at Breaking Borders during our Symbiosis coverage was whether festival culture functions as a was to ‘break down borders,’ by bringing people together as one, regardless of cultural differences.  His response was simply, “yeah, well, several years I’ve been playing festivals world-wide so that’s integration right there.”  He symbolizes a new wave of artists who are breaking borders and defying cultural boxes and is the perfect example of an artist who does not fit into a single genre and is difficult to label.

He continued, “I’m known for playing everywhere from large disco clubs to smaller spaces that are more rustic and traditional, there are no limits.” This resonated with us and validated our understanding that the music of Nicola Cruz is an essential reflection of himself and his culture. A reflection which should be heard as personal musical expression, one that blurs genre lines, and returns the focus to the celebration of diversity without judgement of difference.

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We were curious what the future holds for Nicola Cruz and if any new tours, projects or any collabs are on the horizon. He replied, “I will continue to be active internationally with shows coming up in Mexico, Brazil and then back to the U.S for New Years in Los Angeles.” Additionally, “there will also be new compositions since if I don’t have that, I don’t have anything. As for upcoming  collaborations, they are secret right now but I can tell you that I am always working with others.”

As a final question, we asked Nicola if he recommended any global festivals in South America that are similar to Symbiosis. He told us that “Nomad festival in Chile is a good one coming up next year. It contains a strong global fusion element and is always looking to collaborate with people from around the world through volunteering, performance, etc.

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Globalizing Soundscapes Through Live-tronic Experiences

As part of our preview coverage for Symbiosis Gathering 2016, we are delighted to offer our international artist interview series. Our aim is to bring a personalized addition to our visual coverage by asking questions that align with Breaking Borders’ focus on uncovering untold stories and examining cross cultural exploration in music.

The first interview in our series is with UK world-electronica producer Kaya Project! Seb Taylor, the master behind Kaya Project, has been active for over a decade with 8 released albums. He is known for his collaboration with a wide range of musicians and vocalists from various ethnic backgrounds. He has created an iconic “Live” experience where many of his collaborators play with him on stage fusing live acoustic soundscapes with his beautiful electronic production. This year at Symbiosis, Seb Taylor will be playing a electronic DJ set on Friday night and then join Kaya Project for a very special “Live” set on Saturday morning.
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Breaking Borders: Symbiosis is a unique global gathering, what makes it special to you and how does it stand out among other similar events?

Kaya Project: Well, I guess the most special thing for me is that this is actually my first ever Symbiosis! Having heard so many good things from my musician friends I’m finally going to be able to experience it first hand. Pretty excited I have to say. I’ve also been told it is affectionately known as ‘Swimbiosis’ due to the current location, So I’m glad to have an opportunity to splash around this year (I love swimming) before it moves to a different location next time around. Perhaps you will need to ask me this question after I’ve actually been there, ha ha… then I’ll have a better personal perspective on the true nature of the festival. But suffice to say, I’m expecting some special moments for sure.

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We are very excited for your “live” performance of Kaya Project, do you have anything special in store us?

Coming fresh from a European leg of the tour, I’ve had the great pleasure of Performing alongside some of my favorite musicians, & this California show will be the first time Kaya Project has performed within the home territory of the lead vocalist, Irina Mikhailova (as most of you know) is the Kazakhstani Singer who has been part of the project since it’s inception. She has spent many years living in San Francisco, with frequent annual trips over to Europe, but this will be the debut Kaya Project gig in her own backyard so to speak. So from that point of view I consider it a pretty special show. We shall also be joined by Montreal based Guitarist Israel Galipeau who most recently played with us at BOOM festival (Portugal) & Whirl-Y-Fayre (U.K.) Also, in keeping with the California Vibe, We have prepared a couple of exclusive reworkings of Remixes that I did for David Starfire, looking forward to playing those ones out.

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You are a artist who travels the world and creates a “world soundscape” through music production. What drew you to this work, and what inspires you to keep going?

From a musical perspective I could say that hearing the album “Songs From The Victorious City’ by Jaz Coleman & Anne Dudley was a huge inspirational moment for me. Back in 1991 & I hadn’t really started to produce music properly. I remember experiencing major goosebumps & thinking how amazing it was, this fusion of Moroccan music with Western Electronic production. Who can really say what inspires an artist to keep going, I just know that as long as I feel the music inside of me I hope I’ll always have an opportunity to be making it!

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https://sebtaylor.bandcamp.com/album/walking-through

4. We’ve seen you collaborate both on records and on stage with talented musicians from around the world like Randolph Matthews and Irina Mikhailova. What’s your favourite part about working with such diverse talent, representing different cultural and music backgrounds?

Its an honour to work with Irina & Randolph, & I still vividly recall the exact moment I heard both of their voices for the first time. Strangely enough both times were during Soundchecks for events I was also booked to perform at. Irina was singing for Medicine Drum in Mexico (close to the pyramids of Teotihuacan) & Randolph in the slightly less mystical setting of the legendary Turnmills Bar in east London., ha ha! But the effect on me in both instances was identical, I was transported. One of the Joys of working on Kaya Project material is the ability to fuse as many different cultures as sonically reasonable. As long as they sound harmonious & part of a coherent greater sonic picture to me then that is the sole requirement. Besides the amazing Randolph & Irina, I have to mention Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Shahin Badar, Natasha Chamberlain, Flo Comment, Deepak Pandit & numerous other incredible international players I’ve had the great fortune to collaborate with.

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https://sebtaylor.bandcamp.com/album/sema-yaka

Your album …& So It Goes is primarily a world acoustic album, where as most of your projects contain an electronic element, hence the recent remix album of …&  So it Goes. Tell us about your experience with both sonic hemispheres and why you like to fuze global acoustic sounds with electronic music?

Yes indeed, “..& So It Goes” was the first entirely acoustic album from Kaya Project. It was a conscious decision for me to remove all electronic sounds from the project, & focus primarily on Live instrumentation. In a way this has made Kaya Project stand out from many other acts in the scene I guess, (the lack of electronic sounds I mean). It has also been a very useful in making the music more ‘timeless’ so to speak. The latest album “So It Was” is indeed fully electronic, I enlisted all my favorite producers to rework & remix the original tracks, people like Desert Dwellers, Gaudi, Bwoy De Bhajan, Kukan Dub Lagan, David Starfire & many others, all contributed to making a great & wide ranging electronic remix album. In fact I do love to have the two opposite sonic hemispheres of Kaya Project represented and in a way compartmentalized away from each other, The Organic original albums (& associated Live show), compared to the electronic remixes (& associated DJ sets).
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https://sebtaylor.bandcamp.com/album/so-it-was-so-it-goes-remixed

What’s your opinion on music production today, specifically the global festival culture becoming a strong global community and a means to “break down borders”? (cultural difference, societal norms, creative expression, etc.) What is the best part about being a key player in this artistic revolution?

Well, more than anything you could say the Internet has been the greatest means of breaking down cultural & geographic borders over the last ten years, although I do like to think music has had a strong part to play as well! I see my friends playing in places like Beirut & i think back to how I first heard of all those middle eastern places on the news throughout my childhood. Now music is truly bridging east & west in a way that was only dreamt about before. The Internet has made such connections & cultural pathways possible. It’s important to understand that you should be respectful of other people’s beliefs (whether or not you agree with them), & while I tend to steer clear of any direct religious connotations in Kaya Project, there are certain times where it can be a significant indicator of just how similar we all are. The track ‘One God Dub’ on our 2005 Album ‘Elixir’ for example has musicians from many different faiths all performing as one harmonious entity. Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Atheist & Shinto musicians all perform on that one track. That is another reason I’ve always been drawn to instrumental music, free from any lyrical dogma or doctrine, just a direct undeniable musical connection.

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https://sebtaylor.bandcamp.com/album/elixir

Many of your projects are compilations of field recordings you’ve recorded around the world. How much does the natural environment influence you and your music?

Regarding the environment, It’s not something I would say is intentional, however I have spent a lot of time recording in deserts and other strange exotic locations. But for me I have to say the focus is more on the music and musicians than the environment in which they are recorded. Having said that, there’s nothing I find more inspirational than rainfall! You could call me a Pluviophile for sure and I guess that is pretty useful when you live in England. It rains quite a lot of the time there, plenty of inspiration to be had for a rain freak like myself.

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https://sebtaylor.bandcamp.com/album/desert-phase

Any future projects, tours, collabs to look forward to?

Well, collabs are on the back burner as I’ve been on the road so much this year. Happy to say that USA is now on the agenda (having only played over here a handful of times before), So I hope to be performing on these shores quite a few times over the next two or three years. But on the immediate horizon are gigs in Canada (Vancouver & Toronto), Seattle, Israel, Australia, Spain, Guatemala, Mexico…. and a few more far flung places:) With any luck there will be some studio time to get creating some fresh Kaya Project and Hibernation music at some point, (I still have plenty of Inspiration for those particular projects)…. Just a lack of time to actually create the music due to all the traveling. But hey, patience is a virtue. I’m looking forward to seeing where my muse takes me next when the opportunity presents itself 🙂

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SYMBIOSIS SET TIMES:

  1. Seb Taylor (DJ Set) –  6:45-8pm (FRI) @ Family Circus
  2. Kaya Project (Live Set) – 6:30-8am (SAT) @ Silk Road