Take Four Musicians (part 2)

Yael Miller “It was very difficult at the beginning, very upsetting”
As Orioxy’s key composer and vocalist, Yael says, “We did amazing things, were in amazing places and had crazy experiences – it is why it’s good that it finished now before it became bitter…” Like bandmate Julie Campiche, Yael was re-assured about the decision to split up, at Take Five Switzerland & South Africa, even though it affected others, “It was very difficult at the beginning, very upsetting.”

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Photo Gerald Langer

Yael has faced tough challenges before. From Tel Aviv, she spoke of a childhood almost lost to shouldering heavy responsibilities. So it’s unsurprising when she says it was a feeling of duty to compose for a whole band that caused her writing block. Her desire was to go more deeply into personal expression, like a singer-songwriter, where lyrics lead. “This is not so acceptable in the mainstream jazz world, so I’m shifting it a bit…not feeling obliged to fit in.” It’s as if Yael is finding the freedom that was compromised as a child.

Orioxy’s drummer, Roland Merlinc will be part of her new trio, “We want the same things,” she explains, and Baptiste Germser, a bassist and French horn player who has a Paris studio. “We close ourselves away for three or four days and just rehearse and record from morning to evening, then we go and drink beers, and then continue.” It’s time for Orioxy to explore who they are now and I’m excited to hear their individual projects.

Mandla Mlengeni: “I was a troubled child and I was always in trouble”
Screenshot 2016-04-04 19.40.09Someone else shaped by a dramatic early life is trumpeter Mandla. Brought up in a turbulent Soweto by a young, single mother after his lawyer father was murdered, he admits, “I had to find coping mechanisms. I went to see psychologists, but I didn’t know how to deal with it, I was a troubled child and I was always in trouble.” His childhood is hazy but he remembers sitting on his dad’s shoulders, hearing music at political rallies, and a small, blue piano he brought Mandla from London when working on a case concerning South Africa’s ‘hit squads’.

Listening to Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men on the radio, he says, “I thought composing was a sacred gift and being a musician was something bestowed upon you, like being a ‘sangoma’, it was a calling.” An exchange to Norway introduced him to composing in a simple way, but he left the first piece he wrote for a couple of years, then, “One drunken night, I was with a friend and we were jamming and I started playing this song and he asked, ‘Hey man, whose song is that?’” This encouragement eventually led to his 2015 debut, Bhekisizwe.

It was a long process but the recording fell fatefully into place: finding a studio and having saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings (UK) and Ganesh Geymeier (CH) in town to guest. And now, Mandla says, “I’ve sold all the albums so I have to re-print and strategise as to how to get into markets other than South Africa.” With a tenacity that secured him gigs even before the album’s release, he’s one to watch for.

Joel Graf: “We have to find new strategies”
PommelHORSE’s sax player is also thinking about a game plan. This quintet met studying in Bern and are good buddies but says Joel, “We have to find new strategies, new ways and that includes a new label…and better ways to market the band.” I can’t help chuckling when Joel explains they took an actual pommel horse on their early tours. “When we first played shows, audiences in Germany thought we were a music and gymnastics show…they were kind of disappointed.”

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Photo Peter Tümmers

My favourite track on their last album was Joel’s ‘Drunk on Christmas Eve’, and I’m intrigued to see them play live at jazzahead! this month. “There’s always big competition,” he says of this music fair, “…selling yourself and your music, it’s hard work.” He talks of feeling overwhelmed by everything a band should be doing and how you can lose sight of why you ever went into music.
Joel actually studied IT first despite coming from a sort of ‘Partridge Family‘ with the six musical siblings all playing instruments. In a way pommelHORSE are his new musical family and although each of them play various styles e.g. classical and heavy rock, they gel together. “I love our combination of music, but really we have to move on, make our music better and move forward.”

Yilian Cañizares “You know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it”

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With Ibrahim Maalouf                                    Photo Marc Bertolazzi

Yilian is looking at how to progress too. “When you are trying to build something, sometimes you can feel,” she searches for the right word, “…lost, because you know what you want, but you don’t know how to get it.” She is often invited to play with others after they see her perform, such as Richard Bona, Ibrahim Maalouf and Omar Sosa (with whom she’s just recorded an album) but she wants more exposure.

In fact Yilian sums up a major issue in Europe, “Right now it’s quite difficult because culture [representation] in all media is getting smaller and smaller and sometimes they just speak about pop music or celebrities. It’s quite frustrating.” That’s an understatement – don’t get me started on UK press coverage of this music, but Yilian knows there’s more she can do, “I believe it’s very important to always be in the creative process, I like to see it as an everyday process…maybe we are sure about that as musicians, but we don’t apply the same concept to other areas of our career.”

I suggest that she must get homesick and Yilian graciously replies that she’s blessed to be able to pursue music at this level, but does want to see her Cuban family more often, “I am split into two feelings…and I try to transform this into my music and creativity, that’s how I manage it.”

Take Four Musicians (part 1)

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