Text: Ilpo Jauhiainen
Photos: Ilpo Jauhiainen, Taru Itälinna ja Emeka Ogboh
I travelled to Villa Karo in February 2013 as a resident to work on my new album Arrival City and possibly in collaboration with local musicians. The album had its origins two years earlier when I was working on Another Africa online publication with Nigerian-American visual artist Odili Donald Oditan. I had found a landscape where electronic composition combined with West-African musical influences intrigued me ( a place that I already at the age of six had longed for with my electric organ after watching a documentary on some African village).
The first opportunity for a collaboration was already found on my visit to Victor’s place beach bar: when Leea Pienimäki-Amoussou heard that I was a “sound artist”, she immediately introduced me to “literary artist” John Follas and the idea of combining sounds and words was formed. Victor’s (or Simon’s, who runs the bar) bar became my creative retreat, where I travelled almost every night along the beach, perplexed by the equator’s starry sky and moonlight. We initially worked on our material for a Finnish-African night at Cotonou Yes bar where we would perform along with a grandpopolese World of Music and Clan bands as well as with realiser of the event Gil Gnonnas and his band. John had gotten the wrong information from our player, he was late and I ended up playing without any lyrics, though with the rescue of CLAN musicians and their improvisation skills. Later on we developed a mini album (always at Victor’s wooden chairs under the palm trees, with the Milky Way and moonlight as our roof). However, due to my travel and John's errands, the planned studio recording in Cotonou did not materialise in the end, and I only returned to Finland with a collection of John's improvisations. However, one of these found its place on the title track of my album.
I also recorded George, Adjadohou and Abdoulaye artists from the CLAN ensemble as well as Bobolese musicians in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. These samples are awaiting application to be fit in my works. I also visited Lagos, Nigeria, where I continued my collaboration with sound artist Emeka Ogboh; at Kiasma’s ARS11 exhibition her soundscapes in Lagos form their own layer for my album. We are also releasing a joint album LOS-HEL, in which Helsinki and Lagos meet in the form of thoughts, sounds and compositions. One of the featuring singers on my album comes from Lagos, Diana Bada: we finally met face to face, and she took me deeper into the music world of the city.
As I sat at sunset on the upstairs porch of Villa Karo, very enticing drumming and downright enchanting vocals began to carry through the air. In the end, I had to give up and run to see where the music came from. It was a local trio of Juliette, Gabriel Teko and Gustave Dylamour rehearsing in the adjacent Lissa Gbassa, and their music an original combination of present and traditional. I suggested a collaboration, and already a couple of days later, Gustave and Gabriel had written the lyrics and vocal melodies for two of my songs. We recorded children, dogs, birds, and the sea as background sounds in one of Lissa Gbassa’s studios (however, in the final mix, I had to fade these out), and the speed and ease with which their fine words, melodies, and samples seemed to emerge was confusing. Although the problems were not completely resolved, there were disagreements about the money or mainly about what stage of the project it should cost and what it would cover. However, we came to an agreement, and Gustave’s vocals ended up improving the album’s title track.
An amazing incident happened with the song Wild At Dusk worked on by Gabriel: the song was originally written by a Kenyan artist Wanja Kimani, and told of his girlfriend who had taken her own life, without warning anyone of her problems, without opening up to anyone. However, Wanja’s touching poem didn’t seem to fit my rhythmic background, and Gabriel knew nothing of the words when I gave him the instrumental version. After recording, he then translated his song in Fon for me; it told of a young woman who could have found happiness if she would have just waited to see beyond. I was taken aback. The decision to combine these two different vowels on top of the same work came from that sitting.