With Covid restrictions in the UK easing more and more, we headed north to the city of Manchester for our first trip outside London since the pandemic began! Just east of the city, in the foothills of the Pennines is the small town of Ashton-Under-Lyne, where we were recording Sufi singer/songwriter, musician and peace activist Sarah Yaseen.

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Originally from Sri Lanka and blind from birth, percussionist Ghow Ratnarajah is an expert with mridangam and kanjira drums – the primary rhythmic accompaniment in Carnatic music ensembles – he also sings in both Tamil and occasionally Hindi.  We’ve both performed and worked with Ghow a number of times, including on shows in the UK and in India, and last year on our documentary project Our Journeys for the London Borough of Culture 2020, so it was great to finally recorded him for Orchestra of Samples.

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Originally from Italy and now living in the UK, Alex Akal is an experimental musician who connects traditional instruments with contemporary music. A multi-instrumentalist with a taste for progressive and psychedelic rock, he blends instruments and sounds from around the world, creating his own unique style of music. As well as singing, he plays didgeridoo, drums, electric guitar, bass guitar, fujara (a Slovak flute), dan moi (a Vietnamese mouth harp) and both Native American flute and dvojnice (a flute played in many parts of the Balkans); as it happens, we previously recorded dvojnice in Croatia and then very recently a fujara too, with its beautiful deep bassy sound.

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With east London’s Big Creative Academy supporting Orchestra of Samples with the use of their recording studios, we organised a filming and recording session with Saul Eisenberg aka The Junk Orchestra.  From performing, teaching and workshopping to appearing on numerous television shows, The Junk Orchestra rock ‘n’ recycle a huge collection of re-invented objects all salvaged from “the industries of the sprawling metropolis” as he puts it!

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Having set-up recording sessions with both multi-instrumentalist Andrew Cronshaw and duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan, both introduced us to their fellow musician friend Ian Blake.  A talented composer and producer himself, Ian plays woodwinds, keyboards and bass, and we recorded him improvising on bass clarinet and soprano sax.

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We were incredibly pleased to be introduced to British multi-instrumentalist Andrew Cronshaw, who plays a wonderful range of non-mainstream instruments, and we recorded him playing three: a 74-stringed electrified chord zither; then a fujara (a nearly 2 metre long 3-hole overtone vertical whistle from central Slovakia); and a marovantele (a double sided 44-stringed hybrid of Finnish kantele and Madagascan marovany which Andrew designed himself).

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Continuing with our 2021 UK recordings, particularly looking for lesser known instruments, we read about Armenian duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan, so decided to get in touch.  He’s one of few people in the UK who’s a master of the ancient Armenian instrument, which is a double reeded oboe-like woodwind hollowed out of apricot wood; it has a beautifully melancholic sound. We also recorded him playing pku, the single-reeded horn.

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As pandemic lockdowns around the world began to ease and outdoor events began to slowly happen, one area of London decided to have a whole weekend of online only events, celebrating the London Borough of Newham and its incredible cultural diversity for audiences to watch worldwide. From 14 – 16 August 2020, Newham Unlocked streamed a live programme of arts and music, including circus, cabaret and theatre performances.

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Last week, during our current tour, we played a wonderful date in the small UK town of Borden at their Phoenix Arts Centre, where rapper Matt Malone and long-time collaborator and percussionist Paul Gunter joined us for the performance.  After rehearsals we took the opportunity to record a session with Paul, who’s played so many times with us but still hadn’t been recorded for sampling!

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