Meeting and recording musicians is always a joy, and two wonderful artists – both local to us in east London – that we’d met through separate projects but only now got to record for Orchestra of Samples are multi-instrumentalist Layil Barr and clarinettist František Holčík.
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.
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.
London based ‘Fordey’ Forde, who’s actually now performed with us a number of times, especially as part of our Dhol Addiction project with east London’s Dhol Academy, is an incredibly talented percussionist we’d met through our old friend Paul Gunter from Stomp.
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!
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.
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).
In early 2021, with the pandemic and resulting lockdowns continuing, we were fortunate to receive funding from Arts Council England to further develop Orchestra of Samples, so began organising recording sessions with musicians in the UK, starting in London while lockdown limited our travel.
June 2020 and we were to perform Orchestra of Samples at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris for the launch of their new magazine Humanities Arts and Society, the event was unfortunately cancelled due to the pandemic.
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.
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!
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!
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.
As Midge Ure from Ultravox once famously sang “ohhhhh Vienna”… well, what a beautiful city. We hadn’t been for quite a few years, but last week we were in Vienna, performing Orchestra of Samples at the Playground Festival there, we were joined on stage by percussionist Simon Neuwirth, who really knew how to get rhythms out of his djembe!
One of the occasions in Orchestra of Samples where lyrics have been especially written for a track created from improvised samples, Joe Publik – who’s travelled almost as much as we have – instantly understood and… connected with the project and it was great working with him.
Time to record some more vocals! Last year in East London we supported afrobeat group Yaaba Funk and their friends, including the incredible trumpet player Byron Wallen and singer Helen McDonald.
We first saw South African artist Anna Alcock’s beautiful artwork in 2014 in an art exhibition at her Inky Cuttlefish Studios in East London. We immediately thought her style of artwork would be great for an Orchestra of Samples album cover.
It’s not often you get asked to perform in a cathedral!
This year, events at Coventry’s Festival of Imagineers took place in the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral, heavily bombed during Word War 2. We were scheduled to perform Orchestra of Samples outdoors in the ruins but due to rain the festival had to move many of the days events inside the new cathedral right next door. Alejandro de Valera, our long time French guitarist, came over from Paris to join us on this one, playing his self-built fretless guitar.
In July 2015 we headed to Poland to perform Orchestra of Samples at the Visegrad Wave Festival, which is also known as Festiwal Z Wiejskiego Podwórza (and roughly translates as the countryside or rural yard festival). It takes place in the beautiful town of Czeremcha in East Poland…,
June 2015 saw us play at the Sonidos Liquidos festival in Lanzarote, in the Spanish Canary Islands. While there we were introduced to Toñín Corujo, who plays timple (pronoucned timp-lay) – a traditional Canarian small guitar-like instrument from the ukulele family.
Awesome awesome night! Always great to play on home turf, not just the UK but the good old East End of London! Guesting with us were members of afrobeat/world/jazz/funk band Yaaba Funk – both percussionists Clive Wales and Paul Brett and the superb trumpet player Byron Wallen, often cited as one of the best trumpeters in the World.
An inspirational and innovative musical force to so many, including ourselves, Stereolab’s front woman Laetitia Sadier was a natural choice to approach to be part of Orchestra of Samples and working with her was a joy.