The walking musical encyclopedia, the party-maker, the great raider of tropical bass has accepted to answer a few of our questions. So here you go guys ! Second part of our “Portraits” series with Dj Zhao !
GenBass : Can you tell us about your personal history and how you got into music?
i think people generally either enter into a close relationship, form a strong emotional bond, with music during their formative, teenage years, or remain relatively indifferent to it for the rest of their lives. And with people who are into music, for some it is about partying, for some it is about relaxation, for some it’s a spiritual thing, for some it’s an intellectual thing, and for others it’s an emotional outlet, etc. For people like me, music has to be about all of these things, as much of them at the same time as possible. Like in many African traditions: music is not music. Music is much more than just music: it is play, it is mathematics, it is magic, it is politics, it is get-your-freak-on, it is spirituality, astronomy, sports, theater, intoxication, sensuality… Music embodies all of these, and performs all of these functions, often at the same time.
GenBass : You’re really keen onto African beats – speaking of Africa has a continent with its different cultures, ranging from traditional Arabic music
to modern beats from Angola -, what got you into this?
One morning 10 years ago i threw a dart at a world map, it incidentally landed on Africa, and that’s how i decided to largely devote my life to music from that continent. lol that is exactly opposite of the truth: my steady, ongoing search for the best arranged patterns, most beautiful melodies, and most party rocking sounds lead me, step by step, slowly but surely, to Africa. Now i realize that a lot of my favorite music from the time before i found my way had heavy pseudo African elements: Kraut Rock like Can or Klaus Schultz with plenty of Bongos in their psychedelic rock, Electronica like Aphex Twin or Autechre with all these polyrhythmic electronic percussion, Techno like Jeff Mills and Thomas Brinkmann and even Surgeon, who all work with stylized and abstract Africanized rhythms. It was only a matter of time that i realized that music straight from the source, front the motherland, is of course often, in many ways, much more rich, interesting, and banging than the music it inspired and gave birth to. Eventually, if we live that long, history will understand that Jazz, Soul, Funk, Rock, Disco, Hiphop, House, all of these are but tiny little weird mutant branches stemming from the gigantic, ancient oak of African musical heritage. This tree has roots that reach to the beginning of our species, and one thousand other branches unfamiliar to the impoverished Western ear.
GenBass : Your music is fairly learned compared to many clubbing sounds, your approach to music in general is quite close to what a music-expert would do. How have you managed to find the balance between this and the necessity of rocking a party?
i’m not interested in 1 dimensional club music, because the party experience is more intense when there are other layers going on, of musicality, of sonic substance, of melody, of narrative, of history, of cultural context. The practice of “Partying” and “Clubbing” as we know it today is only a consumerist, which is to say reduced and watered down, version of forms of dance and musical gathering from older cultures. For instance Indonesians “party” for many days straight in traditional ceremonies, with rotating metal percussion orchestras playing non-stop ecstatic rhythms, getting much higher, and going into much deeper trance, than us only visiting the club on Saturday night for a few hours at a time and eating MDMA. Morocco, Uganda, India, Iran, Peru, all of these ancient cultures have forms of dance and ritual which are more intense, more intelligent, more interesting, and more rewarding than the electronic dance music of today. Today’s dance music is only the child born of these much older traditions, which thinks it knows everything, the way only an ignorant child can.
GenBass : Can you tell us more about Ngoma Soundsystem project ?
The sound system connects electronic rhythms and acoustic sound in real time: musicians with various backgrounds in African, Afro-Latin, Jazz and other disciplines interacting with urban rhythms and bass. It is super thrilling for us as well as the audience every time. here is a video from 2011 featuring percussionist from Mozambique Matchume and Cuban trumpet man El Congo.
And here is our official recording from 2012, featuring German percussionist Marcel and Austrian trombonist Werner Puntigam.
GenBass : You’ve been living in Berlin for a while now. Is the city an important step in your musical career ?
yes, Berlin allowed me to live without a full time job for nearly 6 years, concentrating on music. I travel to perform in other parts of the world more than here, because Rhythm culture from Africa and the diaspora, as well as Asia and Middle East, it is all still very unfamiliar in these cold climates, and producing events can be sometimes difficult. it’s funny i used to be super into Minimal and Electro, but after i moved to Berlin i become completely bored to fucking tears with the whole scene: people here eat exactly the same meal every single day of the year with hardly any variation. it’s completely insane. Also it doesn’t help that the quality of Minimal Techno has really, objectively speaking, gone down hill from the exciting and amazing time of Thomas Brinkmann. Now bland and formulaic bullshit like Paul Kalkbrenner rules the clubs… but i digress.
GenBass : This summer you toured into South Africa, can you share your feelings with us about the country ?
You know, people sometimes tell me that I’m “open minded”. I guess because i’m a Chinese dj who works with African music. But no. Fuck that. I’m not “open minded”. I only recognize quality where ever i find it, and don’t allow myself to be restricted by bullshit boundaries, by incidental, meaningless, senseless borders. South Africa is producing some of the best dance music on the planet right now, and it takes a moron to not see that. Since the early days of new urban music, South Africa has steadily embraced more and more of their own rhythmic and sonic heritage, so that now the deep and funky tribal tech house they are producing has completely become its own thing, distantly related to, but having not much at all to do with Chicago anymore. More about Kwaito and SA House HERE ! And here are observations from the tour:
Listen, download&enjoy Dj Zhao’s work ! Mash-ups, edits, mixtapes&remixes
Noura – رقصي يا يمّا (Roqsi Ya Hama) + Chong x – war face by Dj Zhao
“this one dedicated to all women of the world in the struggle against apartheid and domination. ” Dj Zhao
Kevin Mfinka – Mbote + Geenius – Crackish [Short Version] by Dj Zhao
Mama Elisa-Kwela Lumba Composition + Solo-Congaloid by Dj Zhao
Platoon Rhythm Alliance mixtape by Dj Zhao
Magnificient intro, magnificient mixtape. you can listen and download it from the SC link or HERE !
Dj Zhao on Soundcloud : http://soundcloud.com/djzhao
Dj Zhao on Mixcloud : http://www.mixcloud.com/djzhao/
Ngoma SoundSystem’s blog : http://ngomasound.wordpress.com/