This LP Release Party took place at the East Bay Community Space. About twenty people made up the production team and it was a few months in the making.
When noaccordion’s Onah Indigo threw herself into writing music for her new LP she was hurting, physically and emotionally. She titled one track “Nemesis,” then “Enemies.” As the balm of creating music and collaborating with friends healed her hurt, she gave the track a final title to signify her new state of mind: “Allies.”
The Oakland-based electronic musician and accordion maverick was reeling from a soured relationship and the lingering pain of a back injury when she created the music on Surrender (self-release May 18). “The best way for me to work with pain was to make the music,” she explains. “It was a dark, heavy winter, and I just had to plug myself into the studio and focus on songwriting. I’m driven to process my emotion, and music-making transforms it into beauty.”
Surrender is the result of this alchemical process: transmuting the emotional energy of that leaden winter into glitch hop-infused electronic tracks. At the heart of each track, eclectic beats are juxtaposed with the unexpected samples that are typical of noaccordion albums- if anything about noaccordion can be called typical.
For one thing, there is accordion on Surrender. Despite her initial ambivalence about the unwieldy instrument that gives her act its name, Onah has embraced the accordion in the studio and on stage. On the downtempo meditation “Another Way,” she spins a thread of melody with the accordion akin to how some other electronic artists use violin, while on “Mars,” it takes on an aggressive, distorted edge that Onah describes as angry “Aries energy” in response to the current political climate.
“Grow” encapsulates the mood of the album. Onah builds a lush undergrowth out of layers of piano, heart-thumping beats, and operatic vocals. After she created the achingly beautiful backing track, Onah invited Aleksandra Dubov to lend some extra sweetness with her classically trained voice. The sonic landscape has a range reminiscent of Phaeleh’s cinematic electronica, but it’s charged with feminine energy that testifies to Onah and Aleksandra’s close collaboration on the vocals and lyrics. “After rocky relationships, where is it safe enough to let my garden grow?” Onah asks. “We both related to that.”
Onah’s alchemical quest for transformation takes her through a spectrum of personas and moods. On “Ready,” Surrender’s first track, Onah twines her voice with other singers to celebrate femininity and many forms of love. Onah sampled her own voice and pitched it down to play with a male persona on “Lessons,” the glitch hop track that closes out the album.
This sonic and emotional range is extended further by the artists that allied with Onah on Surrender, many of whom are also part of the East Bay’s wildly creative, deeply weird, highly collaborative experimental music and art scene. Trumpeter Eric “eO” Oberthaler ties together the cumbia-flavored beat medley of “Quick Time,” the sweet-sounding flow of Michaelah Miraculah overlays the heavy beats of “The Cure,” and a Reggae chorus by Spencer Garret Burton of the Indubious duo funks up “Goodness Rise Again.” Under Onah’s guidance, all these elemental energies feel at home in Surrender’s amalgam of sounds.
“That word surrender is a big deal for me,” Onah muses. “I want to surrender into the feminine, but most of the time I don’t feel safe. I’m trying to look at surrender from a more powerful point of view. Surrender isn’t giving up, it’s learning about when to yield, being more mindful, and accepting the moment with grace. Surrendering can be empowering.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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