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)

Yilian Cañizares: Cuban colours on the Swiss musical landscape


Bringing a myriad of verve, elegance and exotic rhythms to the Swiss jazz scene is Havana-born Yilian Cañizares. Classically trained violinist, singer, songwriter, dancer, teacher – there are many feathers to her cap. With a highly acclaimed 2nd album, ‘Invocación’, recently released on Naïve Records and an anticipated live performance at this year’s Cully Jazz festival, Yilian talks about the music that has shaped her and the important role that Switzerland has played in her musical evolution.


How did the violin become part of your life?

Yilian Cañizares: I come from a sporty, musical family and a country where music, singing and dancing are a big part of the cultural identity. As a three year old, singing came first followed by dancing. At music school aged 7, I was directed towards the piano but the minute I saw the violin I felt such a pull towards it that I knew it had to be MY instrument, even though my family thought I was crazy. I still use the piano for composing but then transfer everything to the violin. I’ve had a very strong classical training, but thankfully through the songwriting I’ve been able to develop my own style. At 16, I went to Caracas, Venezuela, to study with the ‘El Sistema’ youth orchestra where violin tuition was more developed than in Cuba. There I had a French violin teacher who told me that Europe was the epicenter for classical violin studies, so I came to Switzerland especially because of Gyula Stuller, (no.1 solo violinist with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra). The technical and musical level was just of another standard, I benefitted from all the rich musical heritage that had formed Gyula.

How has moving to Switzerland impacted your musical career?

Yilian Cañizares: The impact has been enormous! There is more cultural diversity happening in Switzerland than people think. Geographical centrality is a key element which means that all that’s happening musically and artistically in Europe is within easy reach. Cuba is culturally rich but is locked inwards, not many international artists go there to play, you can’t always hear or get immediate access to what’s happening musically in the world, the learning curve gets cut short. My 15 years in Switzerland have exposed me to so many different styles of playing, listening, learning and teaching. Being here has made me the musician I am today, my style of playing has grown in a way that would have been impossible to imagine in Cuba. There are so many gifted artists in this small country, I feel very lucky to be part of the dynamic Swiss jazz scene. My cultural heritage is respected and welcomed as a richness that can be ploughed back into this multicultural scene. I’m also touched that major Swiss institutions such as Pro Helvetia, La Ville de Lausanne and Swiss Music Export are helping me develop my career, taking me on as a newcomer and helping me transform into a headline act. They believe I am a good ambassador for the young Swiss scene, as well for Cuban music.

How has being in a Francophone environment affected you?

Yilian Cañizares: I once heard someone say that every time you learn a new language you gain a ‘new soul’. Becoming a French speaker has developed a new sensibility in me and a different aesthetic, it’s all part of the person I’ve become. I can now sing and write in French even if it’s harder for me compared to Spanish, but very much part of my musical direction. I feel an affinity with the language and would like to touch as much of the French-speaking audience as possible, so it’s no coincidence that I’ve signed to a French label, Naïve Records in Paris.

 Why did you go to Sweden to record your latest LP?

Yilian Cañizares: Compared to my first LP, I knew I wanted to go onto the next level with regards to my sound.  I noticed that a lot of great current music I’ve been listening to has been recorded in Sweden. They have such great studios, such savoir faire, their culture of sound is really unique. So I was very clear about wanting to use Lars Nilsson at Nilento Studios.

 What are the musical genres that have shaped you and your style?

Yilian Cañizares: I come from a very classical background where Santería music was coming from next door and Cuban jazz from down the street. Then here in Europe I discovered Stéphane Grapelli and what can be done with the violin especially in the jazz context. I’d say that jazz, as opposed to ‘world music’, is what defines me best because of its power of rebirth, improvisation and freedom. I don’t want to be classified as strictly ‘Afro-Cuban’ since musical evolution and transformation is key to what I do and my aim is to be open to many different spheres.

 How would you describe your latest LP, ‘Invocacion’?

Yilian Cañizares: This is my most honest work to date, a real portrait of myself, my lived experiences and all that has shaped me. Above all it’s a homage to loved ones no longer here: my grandfather, family friends, slave ancestors, singers and poets who have taught me so much.  Clearly it’s a very personal, heart-felt work with lots of different influences ranging from a Yoruba traditional prayer to Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. I hope people can feel the Cuban influence in my work, but also all the other important musical journeys that have helped me evolve. I feel a certain responsibility to represent the ‘new Cuba’, a country with a fragmented population struggling to open up to the world. I am so very Cuban, but for now my place is in Europe.

Band line up:

David Brito (double bass)

Daniel Stawinski (piano)

Cyril Regamey (drums)

Inor Sotolongo (Brasilian percussion)

Forthcoming gigs:

11/04/15 – Cully Jazz (CH)

06/05/15 – Schaffhauser Jazzfestival (CH)

24/06/15 – Basel Off Beat (CH)

25/06/15 – Sunside Sunset (FR)

24/07/15 – Marseille Jazz des Cinq Continents (FR)

15/08/15 – Jazz en Baie (FR)


Swiss No Swiss

Jazz no jazz, Swiss no Swiss… Les genres musicaux et les frontières géographiques sont parfois élastiques. Swiss Vibes dit “tant mieux”!

Ils sont Suisses ou ils résident en Suisse; ils aiment les musiques des quatre coins de la planète et ils aiment les traiter à leur manière. Pour la plupart, ils n’aiment pas l’étiquette de world music. Ils, ce sont ces nombreux artistes-musiciens, qui s’inspirent des traditions et des courants musicaux étrangers pour mieux les reformuler à leur manière.

Cuivres à l’unisson

Dans cette playlist, découvrez donc la Fanfare Molotow Brass Orkestar, qui glisse des répertoires balkaniques à la musique suisse avec une fluidité étonnante, le big band de Professor Wouassa et des Faranas qui déclinent l’afrobeat en version helvétique et cuivrées avec des chanteurs sénégalais ou maliens de Suisse.

Hors des sentiers battus latino

Partant des musiques afro-cubaines, la chanteuse et violoniste Yilian Canizares donne à sa voix une nouvelle ampleur de diva latino. L’Argentine Maria de la Paz s’est associée au guitariste espagnol Ignacio Lamas au sein du combo Barrio Oscuro pour y développer un répertoire de chansons et de rock latino qui ne sont pas sans rappeler l’univers de la trop tôt disparue Lhasa. Sa compatriote, Malena Sardi explore quant à elle les possibilités infinies de sa guitare électrique entre autres à l’aide du live sampling et son nom de groupe s’est imposé de lui-même: One Guitar Woman Orchestra (OGWO).

Afrique improvisée

Jeroen Visser et un saxophoniste hollando-suisse qui s’est associé à deux musiciens éthiopiens (Endris Hassen au masenko et le chanteur Mesele Asmamaw) pour créer le Trio Kazanchis.  Ensemble ils pratiquent, selon leur propres dires, de “l’Ethiopian Traditional Impro Punk”.

Swiss Vaudou

Enfin T’Doz, digne rejeton de Lolo et Manze du groupe Boukman Eksperyans, martèle son vaudou-pop avec puissance.

En concert prochainement

OGWO, Lausanne, Bourg, jeudi 19 mars
Barrio Oscuro, Nyon, l’Usine à Gaz de Nyon, samedi 21 mars
Professor Wouassa, Carouge (Genève), Le Chat Noir, samedi 21 mars.
Molotow Brass Orchestar Zurich, Provitreff, samedi 27 mars.


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