style: world, roots, electro,
Umoja, the sunshine duo from the rainy Netherlands, set off for a single musical trip somewhere in 2011.
Unaware of the magnitude of this trip, the guys have been exploring rhythm, sound and culture from all over the globe. Ever since, they are dedicated to combine electronic production techniques with an ever-growing understanding of the variety of roots music our world has to offer.
Umoja has managed to stay innovative with their sound, while continuously showcasing their live DJ sets all over Europe. Since their debut in Kenya, December 2016, they have made plans to go back september this year to go into the studio with local heroes and punch the envelope of African dance music.
Just before their first gig in Greece @ Baobab, SKG -curated by Tania Vlachomitrou- the amazing duo Umoja stopped at Amateur Radio to give a small Interview about their music, their style, their everyday life, upcoming productions and more. Chatting with 1/2 UMOJA’s Jeff and Tania lents a helping hand to break the ice:
_thanx a lot for joining AMATEUR RADIO’s INTERVIEWs and before we start our little chat, we can definitely say that we can't hardly wait to see you perform live this Saturday at Baobab, SKg. Where have you guys met and what are your common plans?
J: We'll have to mention Samy from Analog Africa…
T: Ahhhh that's a cool summer story! We met this summer, when we both visited another cool guy, Samy (Analog Africa) in Tunisia. I was there visiting Samy for the holidays and those cool guys were invited by Samy for a gig. So, we spent a few days and nights in Tunisia together and we had a greeeeat time. I was very excited to meet these guys; I had been listening to their music for a long time, but getting to know them is something else! hahaha
J: We're still recharging and meeting Tania was a two double excitement.
_Jeff, it is your first time visiting Greece? Do you tend to travel a lot around the world for music and gigs?
J: Actually, for both of us it will be the first time visiting Greece and ,well, we have been fortunate enough to be able to play our music abroad in the past years, mostly for DJ gigs, but since this year also for recording music, which we are very passionate about connecting with different musicians and learning about the music we've been digging from our homeland.
_and i am sure you guys keep wondering around the world performing and diggin some nice stuff. Can you tell us a bit about your name? What does it mean, what's the story behind it.
J: UMOJA means 'unity' in the Swahili language, which is the most common language used in East Africa and stretches out even to the central and south. To be honest, we found the name by the use of google translate -haha. We wanted to do something with 'unity' and noticed we really liked the sounds of the language and funny enough, our first gig was in Kenya, AFRICA. So, you could say the name more or less picked us :) And Umoja is also a village in Kenya! An all-female matriarch village actually.
T: So Kenya is Umoja's place.
J: Yes, Tania, thanks for mentioning. You can actually watch a little documentary about it here.
_in a world full of so many different and beautiful cultures, how important is the role of music in building connections among people. Do you think your music is capable of building bridges, connecting people, expanding human relationships?
J: Good question. Well, we are no scientists on that matter, but personally we definitely feel that music can build bridges between cultures. Because sound perception enters the brain before logic, therefore spoken language is not necessary to understand each other and that's as far as our scientific knowledge reaches -haha.
_taking for granded that you enjoy travelling around the world. How is your musical style accepted in different parts of the world. Some interesting stories or reactions? How does that reflect on your work?
J: Well it's a complex question, but the internet has played a big part. As we have been exposed to all these different kinds of music from over the world, so have many other people. And we're happy that there are enough people who are just as excited about discovering new sounds as we are. Over the years, we've been invited by different cities and scenes who have build there own audiences, so one party might focus more on Latin music while the other is more 'tropical' music in general etc. The biggest difference we've encountered was playing in local places in Kenya and Uganda. We've had a lot of confused people coming up to us asking why were playing their parents music or how we found out about their local latest hits.
_we can imagine the controversy. You as a duo are as well characterised by controversies (sun/rain, root/electro, etc). How do you balance moving from one edge to another and how this ‘game’ translates into your music?
J: I mean, Africans are exposed to poly rhythms since childhood, so it feels natural to them. Where as in Europe, four to the floor beats still rule the dancefloor. Finding a nice balance between the two worlds has been our main motivation the past time.
_producing, mixing, playing and digging music. How much part does music hold into your everyday life and how it affects other aspects of your life?
J: You basically summed up our daily schedule. There is a lot of trial and error, that's also why we haven't released a proper record for some time now. We do a lot of listening to different styes and try and find the sweet spot in them, elements we want to incorporate in our music. But it takes some time to take all these foreign things in our DNA. We've been fortunate to do enough gigs to sustain in our daily needs. Well, there are sacrifices to be made, but hey, nobody said love is easy.
_planning on releasing soon?
J: There are things in the pipeline for sure. April this year, we were invited by Santuri to record a music album in Kenya, focusing on their musical heritage called Benga. It's a high energy dance music which resembles a bit of Congolese Soukous because of the use of electric guitars, but then it incorporates melodies from their tribes and fuses it with 'Western instruments'. We've just finished the arrangements and we are now entering the mixing stage. The plan is to be released in the beginning of 2019 and we are still looking for a label. The actual aim is to start off with a single release before next year.
Also, we've been working with Ghanian vocalist KOG who's living in London that will come out on Wormfood Records and we’ve been working on music for the Mauritian label Babani Records, really cool guys from the island Mauritius, who are doing nice work in reshaping their local sound. Hopefully, this will result in visiting the island and finishing our songs with the musicians.
_and for the 'finale', what is your message to the people? What is your mark -if any- that you would like to leave to the world?
J: First of all, we hope to see all the listeners on Saturday and have a dance together. Second, wear nice socks, it helps you feel better. And third, hit us up with nice Greek music, i've been hearing some really nice stuff lately on Dutch dancefloors actually.
_we promise to dance with you wearing great socks, sharing tunes, music and cool vibes here, there and all over the world. Thank you so much for this small chat.
J: Sawa, sawa! It was a pleasure guys n gals.