Sonic Sanctuary: noaccordion Turns South Indian Chant into Blissed-Out, Minimal Trap on Gurukula

It took years for noaccordion’s Onah Indigo to realize that the crickets chirped at just the right BPM for a great trap track.

The Oakland-based electronic musician and accordion maverick had made a slew of recordings during an extended trip around South India. Her journey took her to several schools and to Gurukula, the nature preserve that gave her latest album its name. Balancing trap’s gritty edge with serene vocals and dubbed-out accordion licks, Gurukula ripples with energy, yet radiates calm, as the sound of bhajans and songs in Kannada entwine with the atmosphere of an untouched paradise, with its organic beat.

“I love juxtaposition,” explains Onah, “whether it’s the accordion and club music, or children’s voices and 808 bass. When you put these samples into a trap framework, it changes both and says something new, something that’s both raw and contemplative.”

Onah has spent a creative lifetime working in juxtaposition. She wrangled with the awkward but fascinating potential of the accordion, leading to her project’s quirky name. She’s made electronic beats in service and praise of nature, and explored bass music as a way of coping with complex, tragic circumstances in her life as a mother.

Gurukula flows from that same impulse, but with the trip shaping the overall vibe of the tracks. Onah taught at Oak Grove, the school in Ojai founded by philosopher and spiritual teacher Krishnamurti. The school’s student-centered approach was decades ahead of its time, and art, Onah’s subject, was a central part of the curriculum. So was an annual trip for seniors to India, to visit sister schools, also founded by Krishnamurti. “We stayed in 3 different schools, all boarding schools,” recalls Onah. “We’d live with the students for a week, in a very contained environment. I recorded a lot of the voice lessons and the chants the students sang in assemblies.”

The natural world, one of noaccordion’s guiding inspirations, wound up on Onah’s recording device as well, especially as the group moved to pick coffee and tea in the botanical sanctuary of Gurukula. She recorded the wonderful cacophony of the Kerala forest, home to orchids and air ferns–and lots of buzz, hum, and song. “Rainforests are SO loud,” she laughs. “I got a lot of amazing birdsongs and, in one track, crickets. When I got back, I realized they had a perfect BPM! I created all these samples, and used them a bit, but then I shelved them for years.”

When Onah went back through the samples, she hear something unexpected: Trap. “What’s happening with trap has happened with a lot of club music styles, like dubstep,” she explains. “It was a very specific sound at first, very grimy and edgy, without a lot of vocals. Now it’s an underlying approach that’s being embraced by more of the electronic music scene. A lot of us musicians producing electronic stuff love some of the sounds trap have to offer, but don’t hear all the intense elements on every track.”

Onah did like the style’s lower BPM, with its double and triple-time potentials, its crescendos. She stripped the style down to what she connected to most, added lush choral samples, and salted the tracks with live percussion, tambura and electric sitar, thanks to Benny Langfur. (“Response”)

She also heard how, in her sleeker, gentler version, trap overlapped with another favorite sound: Jamaican dub. It was the perfect approach for adding accordion. “I have a lot of dub influence, especially producers like Augustus Pablo,” she notes. “Melodica and accordion are similar and have a similar sound. I’m doing those offbeat skanks that you might hear on one of Pablo’s dub tracks.” (“Mellow”)

The effect renders trap in a beautifully minimal, organic way, something akin to what Cologne’s producers did to the roar of techno, especially on tracks like “Tampani.” “I’ve worked with all sorts of sounds and ideas, but I never expected to create something this soothing. There’s something undeniably uplifting about the sound of children singing and chanting together. It was lovely to record such a large group of people singing. It ended up being one of the calmest albums I’ve created,” with the perfect grounding of dynamic beats.

The Album “Gurukula” releases this October 19 with a Celebration Party happening at The Kava Lounge SF.

http://www.kavaloungesf.com/kava/

The story behind the Title of noaccordion’s latest upcoming LP “Gurukula”

 

by Onah Indigo

For a month during December 2009 to January 2010 I traveled to Southern India accompanying 12 highschool seniors from Krishnamurti’s Oak Grove School based in Ojai, California. I had been a highschool art teacher there for 8 years and was chosen to lead the annual sister school senior trip to India.

Highschool Seniors plus two teachers

We visited 3 Krishnamurti boarding schools each for a week and then we finished up our trip at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary in the rainforests of the far southern state of Kerala.

Oak Grove and Rishi Valley students
Oak Grove students performing at a school Mela

At the sanctuary I was entranced by this paradise, enticed by the concept behind saving plant diversity and during my visit I took many pictures and recorded bird and insect sounds.

air ferns

The name and place have always stuck with me and when I had finished the new LP this Spring I began to search for it’s name and the sanctuary came to mind so I decided to research what Gurukula meant.

Supi Seshan, co-director at Gurukula Botanical Santuary

I discovered that gurukula (teacher/family) was a type of residential schooling system in ancient India with shishya (students) living near or with the guru, in the same house and that this was the common form of education in India before British rule. For centuries India had been scattered with small intimate gurukuls. I thought the meaning of the word tied into my educational experiences at Oak Grove School and its sister schools in India so I decided to take it on as my newest LP title. I will give any profits made from the selling of this new music to the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary.

 

This is the beginning passage of Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary’s Story:

For forty years we have been observing how habitats and species of this mountain biome can be nurtured to health from conditions of devastation. It is clear to us that forests and grasslands and other habitats of the Western Ghats can return.

Our story is a simple one. There are two strands to it: a why and a how.

Briefly, the Sanctuary is a small community that nurtures rainforest beings.

This requires first of all: a living rainforest (living habitat). There can be no rainforest beings – plants, animals and fungi – without an actual rainforest, be it large or small. Furthermore, there can be no sweet water, rain or cloud, without primary rainforest (primary habitat).

Second, because rainforests have been so horrifically and massively destroyed, it is those very same rainforest beings that can help to heal decimated areas around standing forest, so that the whole forest can grow outwards again.

Forests need their beings. Beings need their forests. Our work, as ecosystem gardeners, forest restorers, plant protectors and educators, draws its inspiration from this conversation between living beings and their environments, and the fact that they are inseparable. Moreover, gardening, anywhere in the world where it is practiced as a conversation, works with the seemingly dual nature of life: its fragility and its resilience.

Third, there can be no human life without the forests of the planet. There can be no atmosphere or biosphere or hydrocycle or steady state climate without the great forests of this earth. Despite this incontrovertible fact, more forests have been destroyed than ever before, since the dawn of the new millennium. Soon there will be no forests if human beings continue with their destructive ways.

This is where people like us come in: gardeners. Because of what we have seen (on a very small scale), forests can return – in fact they do return. But they will do so only if certain conditions are met and only with the right kind of help. This is critical: with the right kind of help, the whole forest, and all its beings, grows outwards again.

We are gardeners who have worked for forty years in the Western Ghat mountains, protecting primary forest on a small piece of land, and restoring bit by bit, adjacent areas that had been completely devastated, to forest cover. Where there used to be one or two species of exotic crop plants, or barren hillside, there are now several hundred plant species growing in abundance. In fact there are over two thousand species growing here, an example of how a small part of the biosphere can be nurtured with a magnificent diversity of native plants……..  

 

Visit http://www.gbsanctuary.org/ourstory.html to learn more.

 

Listen to Music from Noaccordion’s latest LP out now, distributed worldwide

Noaccordion’s LP “Love Warrior” just came out and is available at online stores worldwide.  One of the best ways to support this LP is to purchase the music thru Bandcamp because they take very little commission and most of the money goes directly to the artists.

Support Us with Bandcamp

love warrior pre release party

Freak in C: noaccordion’s Polyrhythmic Dance Tracks, Goddess-Loving Hip Hop, and Beautiful Contradictions New album Love Warrior releases Aug 18, 2016

Love Warrior LP cover
Love Warrior LP art

 

Freak in C: noaccordion’s Polyrhythmic Dance Tracks, Goddess-Loving Hip Hop, and Beautiful Contradictions

New album Love Warrior releases Aug 18, 2016

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.

 

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 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 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.

 

Mia Mor gives artwork to noaccordion

web mia mor-onah edit