Build An Ark in Amsterdam – Interview with Carlos Niño
If you’ve missed our recent Carlos Niño podcast, here’s a quick introduction to Build An Ark. The Los Angeles based music ensemble was formed during the hysteria after the events of 9/11 by Carlos Niño as an immediate action to promote peace and calm in the world. Band members include vocalist Dwight Trible, Tribe Records founder Phil Ranelin, Gaby Hernandez, Mia Doi Todd, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and many more.
Last wednesday they played the first of two concerts they did in Europe to promote their freshly released third lp Love Part 1, which is again a beautiful lp full of soulful folk-jazz. After the concert we had the chance to meet with Carlos Niño to talk about the new lp, their label and Carlos’ own radioshow.
Christopher: Carlos, glad to be back in Europe?
Carlos: Yes, I’m glad to be back. Today was a little hectic, flying in from London, but we’ve just come from playing at Paradiso. There’s eight of us who came over. Actually, there’s 4 to 5 times that many people in our ensemble, but we’re traveling with eight.
And I’m happy to be here, seeing some friends, making new friends, and sharing this high vibration.
“Love” studio sessions
Christopher: You’ve just released the third Build An Ark album LOVE part 1, on the Kindred Spirits label. How long did you spend in the studio?
Carlos: The recordings definitely were a process. We started the last couple of weekends of December 2008. It really was a weekends thing, which is very different than the way I usually record this band. Normally we rehearse for a few days, go over all the material and then get into the studio and record it in like two or three days.
This time we took our time more. We did a lot of improvs – which you’re going to hear on LOVE part 2 – and we recorded a lot of songs. We allowed the process to take on a life of its own, rather than being forced into that time period. We didn’t just record and whatever came out right, was going to be on the record; this time we had some things we knew we really wanted to do, so we allowed it to happen and take its own natural course.
We recorded during most of the weekends over the course of two and a half months. And then Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, our music director, wrote some really beautiful arrangements. We did some overdubs and we mixed the record.
“They sort of conspired – while we were recording the rest of the piece – to go into this thing at the end of it. That was not intended whatsoever.”
Christopher: Were there any highlights? Moments you knew something special was happening when recording?
Carlos: There’s a song on the record called In The Park and at the end of it, there’s this amazing drum, high energy, rhythmic improvisation. That came about when djembe player Leon Mobley and conga player Derf Reklaw sort of conspired – while we were recording the rest of the piece – to go into this thing at the end of it. That was not intended whatsoever. They were actually in the studio that day, to do an intro to the piece. We tried that a couple of times and it didn’t totally work, and then, all of a sudden, when this song is done, they immediately go into this drum thing. I was right there with them and started cueing one musician at a time to join this improv. That was a really wonderful moment.
There was another session we did, that the song World Music came out of, that featured sitar, violin, viola, cello, harp, upright bass and percussion. Violinist Michael White and his wife, vocalist Leisei Chen, joined us that day, together with Kamau Daaood, a poet. That was a really wonderfull session. Maybe three or four pieces from LOVE part 2 (which will be coming out in 2010), came from that day. That one day only, which – I just have to say – was a magical day.
Christopher: You’re surrounded by musicians some of them twice your age. Is that intimidating? Or how does it feel like working with people like Phil Ranelin and Dwight Trible?
Carlos: It’s great. There’s a lot to learn from everyone, actually. We have some youngsters in the band, people from all sorts of ages. Late teens as well as our kids. My son’s ten and a half, there’s other people in the band that have kids that are younger and come around too.
There’s something to learn from everyone and a lot of really wonderful wisdom and experience and insight from a lot of the elders, but equally from everybody. Everybody from the ensemble is in a place in their life, where they’re open to contribute and collaborate and communicate and be part of the collective spirit. The elders are definitely revered and welcomed in the band. It’s very diverse.
Christopher: I guess that’s why Build An Ark works, and makes it special, because of the collaborations. On the liner notes, Jurriaan noticed Azul Niño, and we wondered; that’s your son, right?
Carlos: Exactly, he’s singing on the chorus of one of the songs, as well as a couple of the other kids. That was really nice. It was great to have them there. Azul is also on the cover of the second Build An Ark record Dawn.
Kindred Spirits in Europe and beyond
Christopher: The album’s been released on a Dutch record label. How important is it for you to have a European audience for this kind of music?
Carlos: The European audience have been very supportive. Of course, I’d be happy to have an audience anywhere, as long as people are conscious, and listening, and interested in some sort of exchange and in growing.
I definitely feel there’s a culture, not only of record labels, but of music fans, based here in Europe, and also in Japan – throughout the world in fact, but concentrated in these areas – that really does support the music.
Kindred Spirits is a great name, for a group that is interested in actually supporting music that they love and by people that they feel close and related to.
Christopher: The majority of musicians you’re working with are based in the US. Is there any temptation to work with European or Japanese artists and musicians?
Carlos: I’d love work with Donovan. I got the chance to meet him recently, and that was a great joy. I know for sure, that we’re also interested in presenting Build An Ark in it’s full form. With 30 to 40 pieces, and additional orchestral pieces. It would be great if we could pick up musicians from all over the world and play with them in their hometowns.
“I can’t believe it they’ve done it again. A brilliant selection for the body, the soul and the mind.” – Gilles Peterson
Christopher: The lp just got released in Europe this week. What about the States?
Carlos: Back in the States it’s on Dusty Groove. And we made it available at this concert we just did on November 12th, which is also Neil Young’s birthday. We opened for the McCoy Tyner Trio featuring Gary Bartz. That was a really wonderful concert.
Other than that, it’s not available in the US yet, apart from Dusty Groove, based out of Chicago; they’re very supportive.
Christopher: Can we expect any remixes from the first part?
Carlos: Sure, yeah. Who d’you think should do ’em? I know some people that I’ve always wanted to do a remix.
Christopher: Such as?
Carlos: I’d love to get one from Broadcast (Warp Records ~ Jurriaan) and collaborate with them in some way.
Christopher: You mentioned part two will be coming out in 2010. Is all the material finished for that? Or is there more to come?
Carlos: It’s not 100% mixed. And there’s one very interesting arrangement that will be put on top of the whole thing, but it’s very very close to being finished.
Christopher: You’re doing the Spaceways radioshow. Beyondjazz celebrated it’s 350th show this year, that’s seven years of radio, and we wondered how many years the spaceways radioshow has been going.
Carlos: Well, I just celebrated my 700th show then. I come from celebrating 14 years, just recently. The show is still going great, since fall 1995. The last episode was a Neil Young special, two hours of Neil Young, which was great, great fun.
I feel blessed being able to continue doing radio. It’s been a major part of my life and of my projects, and I value it, greatly.
Christopher: You’ve been doing that since your late teens then? How did you get into that?
Carlos: I started volunteering when I was 16 and got my first show when I was 18. I got into it just because I love radio. Radio in Los Angeles in the early nineties was really good. There were lots of great shows and I knew from early on I wanted to get involved, so I did.
Christopher: How does the show differ now, from the way it was when you started?
Carlos: When I started my tagline was “Hip Hop, Soul, Jazz and World Rhythms” and now it’s “Your sure shot for psychedelic love music, classic and rare recordings from around the world”. So it’s pretty different. A lot of the stuff I played back then, I could still play, but I’ve kind of moved on. I’m in a different part of my life.
I still revisit things that I would consider to be timeless and classic from when I first started. There’s some recordings that I think will always be with me, things that I was right about back then.
“Radio is just a wonderful way of having real intimate moments and sharing, in a really direct way.”
Christopher: Our station Urgent.fm is a youth student radio station where we see a lot of young people who want to get into radio. What would your tips for future radio makers be?
Carlos: My advice, I think, is universal. When you’re getting involved in radio, you should be sure that your content and your energy are good. That you’re ultimately writing about things, reporting about things, broadcasting things that are actually beneficial. And that’s kind of up to a person to decide, what exactly is of benefit and is of worth. But I feel like there’s an ultimate awareness, that we should all be a part of, that will lead us in the right direction, that will advise us. And that awareness is in our heart, it’s a vibration of love. Radio is just a wonderful way of amplifying that, and being immediately in touch with the listener, of having real intimate moments and sharing, in a really direct way.
I would just say, I hope people’s intentions and energies are for the best.
Interview by Christopher of the World Service radioshow and podcast, and close Beyondjazz friend. Pictures by Jurriaan Persyn (more here).
Thanks to Boye ‘t Lam, Antal, Kees Heus and the whole Kindred Spirits and Rushhour family for making this concert and interview happen.