When multi-instrumentalist Onah Indigo first picked up the accordion, she had to put it down. It was heavy, awkward, annoying.
Yet eventually, she found an idiosyncratic stance that puts the instrument center stage, while defying its limitations. Like the push and pull of bellows, this tension generates a quirky blast of energy. Add club beats, underground MCs, freaky variations on deceptively familiar keys, a bit of surrealist wit, and a rebellious fight for greater openness, and you have noaccordion.
Onah Indigo is a woman warrior, producer, songwriter and performer who isn’t afraid to face an audience armed with only her accordion, Bella, and a heart full of song. The music she makes as noaccordion blends hints of classical, folk, downtempo, trap, crunk, glitch hop, drum ‘n’ bass, electro swing and house, but Indigo puts her own singular spin on the dizzying, electronic storm she creates with her jazzy vocals and lively accordion vamps.
“Since I’ve been playing accordion, everybody loves me,” Indigo says. “The instrument reminds them of their cultural heritage, especially if they’re from Europe. Something about the accordion makes people smile. They call me The Accordion Lady, even though a lot of the songs I create don’t have any accordion on them.”
On stage, Indigo is a colorful whirlwind of new music and motion, incorporating elements of cabaret, circus-like antics and uplifting, transformational lyrics. “I call it Sacred Irreverence, a conscious choice to embrace the dark and the light, the positive and negative, the yin and the yang. Our current situation demands a shift in consciousness that will rebalance our relationship with other people, our planet, our universe and ourselves.”
Since starting the noaccordion project, Indigo has released five EPs and one LP. 2010’s Noaccordion, co-produced by Sean Ingoldsby, with a sound that suggests the B52s playing with Portishead; 2013’s Almostallaccordion, a collection that featured Latin percussion, gypsy music, hip-hop, punk, tango, electronic beats and guest artists, 2014’s Community, a mash up of vocal effects, peculiar harmonies, local MCs and elements of EDM. On her latest EPs, Wake Up and Mentals, she continues to explore new directions as a producer, songwriter and singer. 2016 saw the release of her first full length album, Love Warrior, which featured trap beats and more collaborators than previous projects.
“I’ve been an artist, painter, sculptor, musician and songwriter since I was a girl. I’ve trained as a classical pianist and jazz vocalist and play Latin percussion, but the music really took off after I discovered the accordion. I sat next to Sean when he was producing my first EP and really paid attention. After Noaccordion, I got some good mikes and pre-amps and started doing it all myself. I like collaborating, so on Almostallaccordion, I worked with percussionist Evan Fraser, beatboxer Mastahlock, trumpet player Danny Cao, electronic producer Abai and MCs Taj Angelo and Chatter, who also joined me on Community.
“For the latest two EPs, I used Ableton Live as my main DAW (digital audio workstation) and got better at looping, sampling, engineering and editing. I made all of the sounds and played most of the instruments on Wake Up and Mentals – percussion, keys, accordion – live in my studio. Cello Joe helped out on cello and Taj Angelo added harmonies to one song.”
The centerpiece of Wake Up is “MFLS (Mutha Fuckin Love Song),” a vibrant blend of pop, hip-hop and electro that rides a simple bass line, punctuated with playful keyboard effects. The lyrics are sexually positive and uplifting, while Indigo’s singing is strong and confident, without any hint of coyness. “MFLS” is the second noaccordion music video. It was written, produced and directed by Indigo and the Belgian video artist Oliver de Lantsheere.
“Never Grow Up” is a conscious hip-hop track that praises the child-like joys of creativity. A mellow piano track supports the vocals of Indigo and Taj Angelo, an Oakland singer and producer who adds his soulful harmonies to the proceedings. “We use our a cappella-like moments to frame my white girl rapping,” Indigo says with a smile. Sci-fi keyboards and spacey background textures create a huge sonic space for “Give it All Away,” an impressive mash up of electro, dub step, synth pop and 90s dance music that urges listeners to pare their lives down to the essentials. It’s a prayer for sustainability in a time of massive overconsumption. “If we give all of our unnecessary belongings away, we’d have room for the things that would help us regain our balance in the world.” The EP also includes the dark, subliminal funk of “You Caught Me,” the jittery call to arms “Wake Up” and “Mama Nature,” a buoyant house track that actually features the accordion.
The Mentals EP is more contemplative, with a classical flair in the melodies and improvisations. “These songs were inspired by Eric Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes,” Indigo says. “Some are abstract and only use Satie as a guideline, some are easily recognizable. This is as close as I’ve gotten to playing a cover.” Stand out tracks are “Gnoss,” based on “Gnossiene #1,” with the familiar melody played on glockenspiel-like keys against a background of warm, synthesizer effects and “Canter,” which uses accordion and loops of hands clapping for a contemplative take on the changes of “Gymnopedie #2.”
“Music is my form of meditation, my religious practice. It’s how I process my emotions. The Bay Area has a large musical community and I want to continue to collaborate with visual artists, video makers and other writers and performers to create my own self-governing, non-violent economy.”
On Love Warrior (release date: Aug 18, 2016), noaccordion’s first full-length album in five years, Onah digs deep into the polyrhythms and quirky phases of the heart. She taps MCs (Sunru, Chatterbox, Delwin G), beatboxers (Mastah Lock), and musical mavericks (guitar wizard Eenor) to get the party started–and to celebrate the glories of womanhood, from the elevated to the sensual.
“The tracks on this album mark a major milestone in my movement toward greater confidence and joy, something I think a lot of women can relate to,” muses Onah, speaking of her journey through motherhood, divorce, renewed sexuality, and artistic transformation. “I feel I’ve grown musically stronger and set aside all my obsessions as an audio engineer. I’ve become a lot more open and playful. For me now, it’s about juxtaposition, yin and yang. It’s the light and the dark. We need to embrace both.”
Embracing wide ranging influences comes naturally to noaccordion. Onah got hooked on club music during the first big wave of techno, drum ‘n’ bass, and jungle that swept Europe in the early 90s. She later turned to beatmaking after the death of her second child, as a way to cope with the grief. It became a musical fascination, one she honed over the years, in response to changing sounds on the electronic new music scene, sounds that come through loud and clear on the trap-inspired instrumental “Frey”.
Rhythmic experiences from other traditions and genres, from samba to jazz, have infiltrated her beats, expanding the 4/4 tendencies of many club tracks. “I want to feel the internal pulse in my body,” Onah explains. “When you’re in a samba band, you dance as you walk to the beat. You internalize the pulse and then lay your polyrhythms on top,” an approach that creates intriguing tracks.
Like the club music and hip hop that inspired the album, noaccordion’s music is made to get people moving, while delivering a message of liberation, self-love, and sheer delight. “I’ve got a huge connection with movement and sound,” she says. “I can’t sit still when I’m playing. I’m going to embody that pulse in some form of movement.”
Hence the accordion, which, despite the project’s name, pops up on several tracks (“Trouble” and “Mama Nature”): It allows a keyboard player to move. But the instrument has a charisma all its own, one that Onah does not want to overshadow her work.
“I call my project noaccordion for a reason. People have strong reactions to the instrument. Most people love it; it often reminds them of their cultural past. But some people can’t stand to listen to music coming from it. It’s a particular sound, designed to be played outdoors and loudly,” she says. “I may not play it a few years from now. It may not appear in my repertoire. I don’t want to be defined by it.” But of course, sometimes noaccordion includes accordion: “I like to break rules,” laughs Onah. “Even my own.”
Though Onah’s songs, performances, and engineering are the heart of noaccordion, she brings friends and kindred spirits into the mix, fellow musicians from the Oakland underground with distinct voices and visions. They include vocalists like Sunru, featured on Love Warrior’s opening track. “He’s phenomenal. I needed someone who could pull off a Rick James-style vocal. He was the only one I could think of. We had a blast. He has to be one of the most unique guys, and his freestyle ability is amazing, hip hop meets metal.” Or Chatterbox, a puppeteer, MC, and environmental activist who connected instantly with Onah, thanks to his love of accordion. (He shines on “Mama Nature.”)
There’s a musical thread tying the tracks together, a harmonic choice that reinforces Onah’s call for self-discovery, for finding extraordinary strength and new insights in the ordinary. “Conceptually, these ten songs were all written in C, but the modes are each different,” she explains. “It adds to the strange harmonies that might sound a little unusual to some listeners. I’ve always had this weird relationship to C; I thought it was boring. But there are endless possibilities in each key. I’m finding the freak in the key of C.”
Finding the freak in plain sight is part of accepting freakiness and growing in love. “I had a huge heart opening a few years ago,” Onah recounts. “I’ve learned to that to keep my heart open I must maintain a fierceness. A warrior’s love. Even if people are knocking me down, I fight to stay in that place of love, starting first and foremost with myself.” It’s a fight worth fighting, and one that resonates beautifully on the dancefloor.
Onah Indigo grew up in Woodland Hills and started piano lessons at five. “When I told my teacher I wanted to play pop, she introduced me to ragtime and Scott Joplin.” When Indigo discovered punk and goth, she quit piano and took up guitar. “While I was studying music and architecture at UC Berkeley, I started singing songs by Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. When I went to Italy to study art, I never returned. I started doing sculpture, painting, drawing, installations and performance art. I met a British artist, got married, had a child and moved to Cornwall.”
When her second baby died in 1996, music became part of her grieving process. “I went back to school full time at Estover College. I studied sound engineering, songwriting, recording studio technique, sequencing and electronic music. I made my first electro beats and got into computers. At the same time, I was playing percussion with a samba band and a traditional Cuban music combo.”
In 2000, she moved to Ojai, California to teach art and design at an alternative high school founded by Krishnamurti. “I took jazz piano and voice lessons to break out of my box. I discovered I could improvise and started writing songs, but it took me a long time to find my own voice. I still wanted to sound like other people. Then I got my first accordion.
I played it everyday, but it was too heavy. When I found Bella, a small antique accordion with a versatile sound, people started calling me The Accordion Lady. I began writing songs that combined electronic beats and accordion and started performing.
“I’m comfortable on stage and can do shows solo, with self produced backing tracks, or up to a six piece band that can include a drummer/ beatboxer, two MCs, a DJ and other instruments – percussionist, trumpet, clarinet, cello. As the music of noaccordion has developed, I’ve learned not to judge anything that comes out of me. I let it flow and accept its unique, weird quality, because it’s me and who I am. I live for pure expression in a state of constant creative collaboration, embracing both the darkness and the light – delving into the Divine Paradox that I respond to with Sacred Irreverence.”
Onah Indigo-producer, keys, accordion, vocals, backing tracks, manager
Mastahlock-beatbox, drum kit
Jonathan Youtt- Puppet Plex
Jalua Dell- Stylist
Korise Big Tunes Jubert “Town Futurist”-documentation
world trap, eclectric, traphop, trap, west coast bass, time traveler, world, tribal, electronica, triphop, gypsy, hip hop, downtempo, punk, nu wave, house, tech house, glitch, lovehop, electropop, trap, crunk, electro, nineties dance music, happy house, minimal
2016 LP “Love Warrior”
2015 Seismic Seduction: The Sounds of Trapeze, Vol 2 Compilation (ft”Belladonah”-collab with Bellhop) Dirty Volt Records
2015 EP “Wake Up”
2015 EP “Mentals”
2015 Accordion Babes 2015 Compilation (ft “Stellar Transmission”)
2014 EP “Community”
2013 EP “Almostallaccordion”
2013 SG13 [Symbiosis Gathering Compilation Vol 1] (ft “Little Birdies”) Symbiosis
2013 Accordion Babes 2013 Compilation (ft “Bella”)
2010 EP “Noaccordion”
2016 “Mama Nature feat. Chatterbox”
2015 “MFLS(Mutha Fuckin Love Song)”
Dov Bruyns “Muti Music”-Co-Producer “Good Friday” EP Release Party 2015
Wendy Christensen-Assistant Producer “Good Friday” EP Release Party 2015
Wing Daniel-Dancer, Performance Artist
Third Eye Projections-Custom Visuals
Oliver de Lantshere “Supernatural Factory”-Visuals, Music video
Max Neuman-Stylist, Ambience
Evan Fraser-percussion, bass
Joel Elrod- drums
DJ Vader-backing tracks
Sean Ingoldsby-co-producer, guitar, bass