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first published: August 2009

Demachena Trio – Music, Mbira & More…

Interview by Imran Mirza

‘C’est Fou’ marks the debut album from a unique and exceptional trio of musicians, collectively known as Demachena. Incorporating elements of African, Latin and Arabic music, the trio beautifully fuse the aforementioned genres, creating their own sumptuous blend of music that’s as warm and refreshing as the summer sun itself gracing the smile on your lips.

The almost limitless talent of the Demachena trio is comprised of members Luis Gimenez – the band’s creative force – who has a résumé that reads ethnomusicologist, composer, mbira player and Spanish guitarist; Rugare Musikavanhu, the group’s vocalist and an accomplished instrumentalist; and, Antonio Prats – the group’s percussionist and founder of the Spanish percussive orchestra, ‘Batukem Takada’.

The group-name itself means ‘black and white’ and is taken from the Shona people – Shona being the name given to several groups of people in Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique and Zambia. The Shona’s music has been most noted for its vocals, drums, ‘hosho’ (rattle), and its use of the featured instrument, a mbira, which could most accurately be described as a ‘thumb piano’ – a wooden board with staggered metal keys attached – which has gone on to influence much of Demachena’s music, along with other ethnic instruments, including the ngoni, udu and the didgeridoo, all of which shape the acoustic foundations that the band’s music is built on.

The Demachena trio’s talents have been recognised by headlining Spanish music festivals, Locas Artes 2006 and Etnomusic 2007, along with being nominated for the ‘Fundacion Canal de Isabel II’ 2008 awards in Madrid. A touring schedule currently sees them touring Malawi, Johannesburg and Cape Town with the UK in their sights for summer 2009.

Liberation Frequency were thrilled we were able to secure time with Rugare Musikavanhu for a discussion about who the Demachena trio are, where they’ve been and where they’re going…

Which artists have had a big effect on the music of the Demachena Trio?

Wow, this is a tough question to kick off with, especially when you consider that we are three individuals with widely differing tastes and perspectives. We often like to use the analogy that we combine a lot of different colours, textures and taste … Our musical influences do, however, find some common ground in icons such as Ali Farka Toure, Thomas Mapfumo, Oliver Mtukudzi, Ephat Mujuru, Tinariwen, Mwenda Bosco, Toumani Diabate, Mariem Hassan, Lee Perry, Fela Kuti, Kanda Bongo Man, Silvio Rodriguez. As you can see, artists from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities who, dare we say, come under the wider umbrella of ‘world music’.

How did the three of you come together to form the group?

Luis and I first met in 1999, in Southampton, while he was in his last year of college and I was in my first year of university. Despite the fact that, at the time, neither of us could speak the other’s language, we somehow struck a chord, and the very next day, Luis agreed to lay down an improvised track with two other musicians to help me complete a sound recording deadline on a project. It was only after many years, when I moved to Luis’s home town of Villena in Southern Spain (after a momentous period of living in the Sahara desert amongst the Saharaui refugees in Southern Algeria), that Luis decided that we should form a duo – he would teach me mbira and we’d play concerts together, which we were doing within months.

Toni was already well known to Luis within the close-knit artistic scene of Villena. He had actually also taken part in an mbira workshop that Luis had run in the summer of 2003 and thus had a good grounding in mbira music. Our assimilation there after was pretty much seamless. The inspiration and music diversified, but the roots of the band have remained unchanged since.

What does each member bring to the group?

Luis is no doubt the main creative muscle within the group. He is incessantly concocting ideas and bringing together other styles – always pushing the boundaries of his own creativity and challenging the norms of fusion and synthesis. It’s quite impressive how much material he is able to create across a range of styles and genres. Toni has been in the music game so long it’s impressive that he still musters up so much effervescent energy. He is truly a master at musical arrangement – besides his percussive sense, he has a good perspective on what fits together instrumentally, especially given the wide range of instruments we have at our disposal.

Toni is also great because he brings a bit of structure to the trio. Luis and I can tend to be quite free spirited and perhaps a bit wild, but it’s great having Toni around as he’s always on hand to bring us back down to earth.

I’m the fresh and happiest spirit of the band, bringing a strong sense of tight rhythms to my play, whatever the instrument. [I like to think my] voice has a flavour of those old bluegrass and blues singers while my lyrics can bring depth to the music.

Being in a trio makes for a really intimate experience and there exists a strong bond between us as band members, who are extremely dependant upon each other musically and socially. It’s the perfect scenario because when decisions have to be made there is always a majority vote of two-to-one, which makes light work of the habitual band politics, however decisions usually tend to pass with a unanimous vote :)

Can you describe the creative process of how you all work together and compose your music?

Well … Luis is the creative lynchpin of Demachena. What’s important though, within the creative process, is that there is a quasi-tangible trust amongst us as friends and a trust with something as personal as musical creation. Luis will create stuff, run it past me and Toni, and we give our heartfelt opinions about how it fits into the cosmos of Demachena. Whenever I can conjure up a song, the process is always the same, except I’m usually running it past Luis to give me tips on enhancing the basic idea.

What inspires the content of your music?

Without sounding completely self-inflated, I’m pretty right in saying that we are all altruists in varying degrees and our lyrics often reflect this. One can’t help assimilating what’s happening around them personally, or the world at large, and without having to try too hard, those sentiments easily translate into songs. Take a song like ‘Saharaui’, which pays tribute to the dignified Saharaui refugees, who have lived under decades of tyrannical rule; ‘Primer mundo’, which speaks of the hypochondriacal nature of modern day western life; ‘Dambudzo’, a lament for a wasted youth; or, ‘Amigos extraños’ which encourages one’s resolve to be individualistic against a tide of social conformatism. One thing’s for sure, between us we’ve never written any love songs, as it just doesn’t go with the territory.

What have been some of the highlights as a group so far?

The nominations for the Isabel II awards last year was a massive boost for us. It was encouraging because we really realised that people were out there listening to and appreciating what we were doing. Oh yes, and the sandwiches, “el bocadillo aventurero” we had on the trip up to Madrid were something we’ll remember for a lifetime :)

Our first appearance in London last year which coincided with the release of ‘C’est Fou’ was an incredible emotional and enjoyable experience. Our summer is consumed with appearances in Europe, some of them in the UK, like Limetree, Shambala and Secret Garden Party. Being invited to play at these venerated occasions is truly an honour.

How would you describe your live performances?

Wow, you have to be in the crowd to answer that one :) But on stage we are always just having a ball. For us, it often feels like we are just having a laugh, like we do when we are rehearsing in Toni’s studio in Villena. We’re a pretty fun loving bunch and I think we transmit that feeling to the crowd – we try to entertain, engage and mesmerise the crowd wherever possible. Each gig is naturally different, but we are always trying to impart a message too – something people can have a think about long after the fun and frolics are over.

What can people expect from Demachena in the future?

To be honest, we are such a restless bunch that we constantly feel like we ought to be engaging in some form of project or other. Spring/summer 2009 see us touring Africa kicking off in Malawi, through Zimbabwe and culminating in South Africa. Along the way, we will be collaborating with some local artists in the hope of recording some material. Then we have a number of festivals lined up in the UK over the summer and the possible release of a follow-up album to ‘C’est Fou’ in the autumn.

At the moment, we are going to record an album in Harare during May. This album, which will involve the collaboration of many African artists, is particularly special because the roots of Demachena lie in mbira music, and even though our music has blossomed since then into some other creature, the root is firmly grounded in this evocative and spiritual music from this corner of Africa.

Towards the end of 2009, we hope to see the completion of another album, the follow-up to ‘C’est Fou’, but will keep that one close to our chests :)

For more information on Demachena, please visit http://www.myspace.com/demachenaworld


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