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.
June 2020 and we were to perform Orchestra of Samples at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris this month for the launch of their new online magazine Humanities Arts and Society, the event was unfortunately postponed because of the Coronavirus situation. If you’re unfamiliar, UNESCO are an agency for the United Nations, and their name is an acronym for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, they encourage international peace and collaborations among nations.
For over a year, working with East London community music project Stow-lab, we’ve been co-organising a series of music events and workshops called Plugged, with the ethos of connecting people through music. We were also successful in receiving funding from Arts Council England to organise a whole programme of events.
After just over a week in the Indonesian city of Solo – aka Surakarta – working with Indonesian artist Tesla Manaf as part of the British Council’s Connections Through Culture initiative, we travelled over night by train to Bandung, a city few hours south of the capital Jakarta. While there, as well as meeting up with the British Council, Tesla also arranged a recording session with the supremely talented multi-instrumentalist Manshur Praditya who plays (and built his own) Angklung.
Rumah Banjarsari – or Banjarsari House in English – is a fantastic independent arts centre run by artists for artists, and was first set-up in 2017 in the grounds of the former home of the extended family of the Mangkunegaran royals, the house itself is now a museum (Mangkunegaran is a small Javanese state located within Surakarta, in a similar way to Monaco or The Vatican). Quite a number of international artists come here to perform, practice and hold workshops – particularly in the field of ethnomusicology.
In a week of meeting so many great musicians in Surakarta (locally known as the city of Solo) and hearing so much about the ISI – Institut Seni Indonesia (the Institute of the Arts Indonesia), where many of those we recorded studied, we actually had the opportunity to visit the ISI and record a section of gamelan there. So one evening Indonesian artist Tesla Manaf, who we’re working with as part of the British Council’s Connections Through Culture programme, introduced us to ISI lecturer Mukhlis Anton Nugroho, who allowed us to attend a gamelan rehearsal of his students.
We’d timed our week in the Indonesian city of Surakarta, known locally as Solo, to coincide with its week-long festivities celebrating the 275th anniversary of the founding of the city, which was on the 18th February 1745. One of the week’s opening events was an outdoor concert by traditional local band Barona, and intrigued by their surprisingly Latin-sounding music we decided to speak to the group after their performance.
It’s February 2020 and we’re working on a different project recording traditional instruments in Indonesia supported by The British Council’s Connections Through Culture programme, collaborating with Indonesian artist Tesla Manaf (aka Kuntari – who’ll we host next month in London at Plugged, the event we’re involved with). The artists we recorded in Indonesia were all fascinated by the concept of Orchestra of Samples and were also happy to be part of the project too, which was great as we hadn’t recorded in Indonesia, although have performed in Jakarta some years ago.
During our Tamil Nadu trip in India, we decided to visit neighbouring Auroville – the experimental township founded in the late 1960s, when back then a roughly 5000 acre site of wasteland was chosen to build a future community on. In February 2018 Auroville celebrated its 50th anniversary and Indian President Ram Nath Kovind called it “a unique symbol of human unity.”
January 2020, and while taking a holiday in Tamil Nadu, in South India, to visit our musician friend Perumal Varudaraj, we decided to travel to Pondicherry.
While there we took the opportunity to meet up with Yatra Arts – a film, theatre and photography studio who produce media projects but also, through their Yatra Art and Culture Foundation…
Selected to join hundreds of artists from across mainly Africa and the Middle East and some from Europe and Latin America, we headed to Morocco’s capital Rabat to perform at music industry showcase event Visa For Music – the largest of its kind on the African continent.
July 2019 and we were asked to once again play at the amazing Timitar Festival in Agadir, Morocco, so took the opportunity to record that most Moroccan of instruments – the Rebab (which we didn’t record last time we were here in 2014).
Croatia… a wonderful country we had wanted to record in for a long time, particularly with its traditional instruments from bagpipes to long-necked tamburica lutes. For info, a number of tamburicas were developed in Croatia and Serbia near the end of the 19th century and took their name from the Persian tanbur, which we happened to have recorded in Turkey – see here.
Having become the first musician to ever achieve world respected solo-percussionist status, awarded an OBE in 1993 and then made a Dame in 2007, we’re not sure where to start with Dame Evelyn, apart from saying it’s an absolute honour to have her as part of Orchestra of Samples!
From collaborating with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bjork and Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler to performing with Underworld at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, world class virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie isn’t an artist to be easily pigeonholed.
Inspired by the thirty year old concept of the European Capital of Culture and the more recent UK City of Culture programmes, London Mayor Sadiq Khan in early 2017 announced the brand new initiative of London Borough of Culture. And with London being the size it is, what a great idea! 22 out of London’s 32 boroughs entered their bids and in February 2018 it was announced that Waltham Forest was the winner to become London’s first ever Borough of Culture. And this just happens to be where we’re based!
November 2018 and our UK tour is finished! The almost year-long set of dates, kindly supported by Arts Council England, took us all over the country and after the summer, the autumn tour dates took in the likes of Cambridge, Liverpool and Belfast amongst others, with interviews on Sue Marchant’s BBC Cambridgeshire show (main photo at the top) and you can listen to her interview above, but the highlight of interviews was being grilled on BBC News (below) on BBC Music Day in late September where we were given the HARDtalk treatment by presenter Stephen Sackur, who’s more used to interviewing heads of state and difficult politicians!
September saw us perform at the Soundtrack Festival in the Czech Republic in the spa town of Poděbrady, about 50km east of Prague. Headlining the festival was French composer and soundtrack megastar Eric Serra, who’s composed the scores for films incuding The Fifth Element, Nikita and James Bond movie Golden Eye – it was an absolute pleasure to meet him and see him perform live.
We’re in France, taking the opportunity to meet and record the incredible multi-instrumentalist Nicolas Bras from the website Rare and Strange Instruments. We’d both become aware of each other and our respective projects in the last couple of years, realising we also know a lot of people in common… so heading over to Paris seemed the natural thing to do! His rather well known Facebook page now has over half a million followers and (in his words) is “dedicated to every unusual, creative, traditional, forgotten, experimental and original musical instrument”. You’ll no doubt know someone who follows his page and a short video posted there of someone on a mountain playing a bizarre instrument has surely turned up in your feed at some point!
It’s the summer of the long heatwave! The last 2018 UK tour gigs before the summer break saw us perform Orchestra of Samples in the UK towns of Milton Keynes at the IF: Milton Keynes International Festival with Dame Evelyn Glennie, in Horsham where 2018 BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist Toril Azzalini-Machecler joined us and in Harwich at the Harwich Festival of the Arts, performing in one of the oldest cinemas in the world, the beautiful Electric Palace built in 1911 (we also happen to be the last artists to perform there, as it’s now undergoing a huge restoration).
With a great start to our 2018 UK tour, the first date in London at Splice Festival was chosen as Pick of the Week by the Metro Newspaper (photo above). Then to top it off, a journalist from Sweden’s Release Magazine was there reviewing the whole festival and gave us this glowing quote…!
March 2018 and we were in Germany, performing at the MicroB Festival in Mannheim (did you know Mannheim is where both the very first bicycle and very first car were invented? Bet you didn’t!). We hadn’t been back to Germany for quite some time and so hadn’t recorded anyone there for Orchestra of Samples, so took the opportunity to hook up with Germany’s only school for rappers and it’s boss, rapper Likkle T aka Tobias Schirneck.
We’ve just performed Orchestra of Samples in Paris at the world famous Musée du Quai Branly, the prestigious museum of world cultures by the Eiffel Tower! The night was part of their weekend L’Afrique des Routes (Africa on the Road), closing the museum’s year long Africa exhibition.
Having played together countless times and knowing France’s premiere mashup DJ for well over a decade, DJ Zebra is finally part of Orchestra of Samples! DJ Zebra is singer-songwriter and musician Antoine Minnie. He’s most famous for being France’s leading mashup artist and one of the pillars of the bootleg / mashup scene worldwide – alongside DJs like Partyben, DJ Earworm and Addictive TV’s own Mark Vidler aka Go Home Productions.
Our final date at Musicport festival 2017 ends our UK tour! We took Orchestra of Samples up and down the United Kingdom, from Wiltshire to Whitby, via London, Sheffield, Hull, Norwich and many other towns and cities.
We were joined on our performances by both guest and regular musicians, including fretless guitar virtuoso Alejandro de Valera…