I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.
Pietro Aretino (1492 - 1556) Italian "poet, writer, dramatist"
worldbeatcanada radio: In the language of music there is no margin for lies. The musical conversation between British guitar ace, Justin Adams and Gambian spike fiddle player Juldeh Camara started with a jam over the phone, then journeyed to the heart of African music and the soul of rock ‘n roll. Tell No Lies is a raw, raunchy and refreshingly honest album, their second collaboration to date. We’re honoured to have Justin Adams online for a few minutes to share his impressions of the disc. Justin welcome to the show. It's good to have you here.
Justin Adams: Hi, well it's good to be here.
WBC: You’re quoted as saying you’ve never worked with a musician where you’ve talked so little and played so much. That kind of conversation through music must be very gratifying.
JA: It really is because sometimes you have to wade through a lot people's ideas. Somebody famously said, "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture." So, it's really nice that I can speak a kind of language with Juldeh. And, Juldeh is a born improviser.
Because I've spent a long time trying to figure out the rhythms and scales of West Africa, and how they relate to the blues and rock 'n roll and other kinds of music I love , like North African music, I feel I have a kind of musical language he can relate to very easily.
WBC: You mentioned that you've been doing this for some time. Can you tell us about your own path toward discovering African music?
JA: As a child I lived in the Middle East, in Jordan and then in Cairo. So, I think that opened my ears to foreign sounds. They were never a strange thing to me to hear music sung in a language I didn't understand. It was never a strange thing to me to hear quarter tones or the Islamic modes of music I heard as a young child, alongside the folk music and pop music that my parents and elder brothers and sisters were listening to by English and American popular artists. My childhood was a kind of mix up of cultures. And so, it was quite natural for me when I was playing in bands during the post-punk period, which was a very fertile period in London where one minute you'd be listening to heavy dub reggae and the next, to avant-garde jazz, next, some abrasive punk rock and then, it was very much in vogue to research rockabilly, the blues, old country and western, all these sort of things. And then, a lot of the great African artists started coming over, visiting England; Salif Keita, Youssou N'dour, Sheik Mohammed and I saw these people playing. So, all of these things came together to shape my musical influences. Then, I guess I actually started playing with people. When I played with Jah Wobble, we played with some great African artists and Middle Eastern artists. That sort of continued with Robert Plant and meeting Tinariwen, that great Tuareg band from the Sahara Desert.
WBC: As you mention, you demonstrate clearly on this album a reverence for the tenants of rock ‘n roll , the popular music of the past. Do you think global music will play a part in the popular music of the future?
JA: It's already there! If you listen to that soundtrack to the film, Slumdog Millionaire ... if you were a musicologist, sort of picking apart things, you'd find things from the Indian tradition, you'd find things from hip hop and you'd find things from reggae. But, it has a kind of edge to it that I really like. What worries me is when I feel music is being blended out, the rough edges taken off.
WBC: You bring up another really good point that I wanted to ask you about. Why do you think a lot of African music we hear has been dressed up? Is that for the benefit of Western consumption or their own desire to mimic the slick production of western pop?
JA: I can really understand wanting something new coming from a country that has been colonized and trodden upon by a western world that considers itself more sophisticated and in some way better. I can really understand why a culture like that might want to do everything it can not to be seen as primitive. I had a very interesting experience in Tunisia once. I was playing with Tunisian musicians and there was a particular sound that I've heard in Tunisian music which I wasn't hearing in the musicians that I was working with. So I said, "What about those great bagpipes? Can we not get a bagpipe player?" So, they got a bagpipe player in, but we playing in a very sophisticated club run by a very nice, westernized, groovy little Tunisian guy. When he heard the bagpipes playing this traditional Tunisian wedding music, he said, "I'm not having that music in my club!" He got really cross about it and I suddenly realized that to him, that bagpipe music which, to me was very exciting and raw and vibrant, to him, it represented everything that was conservative, backward-looking and bigoted perhaps.
WBC: Ask us no secrets and we’ll Tell No Lies. It’s the latest release from Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara on the Real World label. You’ll find our review at worldbeatcanada.com. Find out more about this fascinating collaboration under artists at realworldrecords.com. Anything you can share about that charming video for Kele Kele with the kids that you did?
JA: (laughs) I'm delighted to hear you even mention it because it's only just hot off the presses! The song is about immigration, which I think increasingly we all have to think about. It's a shame that African people feel they have to leave their country and turn their back on their culture. If I had a family in West Africa, I think I probably would try to encourage my family to get out and get to Europe because of simple things like bad medical care. You'd be worried that your daughter was going to die in child birth and things like this. So, I can understand why Africans feel they need to get out. On the other hand, if you're running a health service in the UK for instance, you think, "Well, we just can't afford to pay for thousand and thousands more people coming and needing health care in this country." All of these are terrible issues, but musicians, we just think that, "Well, we just want travel wherever we want and play wherever we want ..." We don't really recognize frontiers and borders. So, the song is offering no particular answers but it's just addressing all of these issues. My son is nearly nine years old and he really loves to dance and he's into sort of hit rhythms. And, Juldeh's children are in Gambia and he misses them a lot when he's here. So, we just thought it would be nice to make a video where we were performing, but it's also got glimpses of both of our kids.
WBC: It's great! Can you tell us about the third figure on the disc’s cover, Salah Dawson Miller?
JA: He was introduced to me by Jah Wobble, the bass player. It was a rare thing amongst English musicians to have an interest in Arabic and African music at that time, and he was one of the few people who were into all of that when I was getting interested in it. As so, he became a kind of teacher to me in rhythm. He's incredibly knowledgeable. He studied in Brazil, Cuba, Algeria and Morocco. If you want to know the name of a particular cow bell from Ghana, or if you want to know the ritual use of a particular drum in Cuba, or the relationship of New Orleans to Algeria from a rhythm point of view, he knows about all this incredible stuff. Plus, he's like this crazy rock 'n rollers as well!
WBC: I have to ask because he’s such an iconic figure, what’s Robert Plant like to hang around with?
JA: Just great. He's just been such a bonus in my life. Very, very funny ... very warm ... totally just about defines charisma from the point of view that if he walks into a room, the room sort of brightens itself, sparkling with energy. He expects a lot of energy back. For a musician, that's a great thing because it's a challenge to live up to him and to stand alongside. It's really helped my music so much. And, what I like about his musicality is that it's not based on technical virtuosity or that kind of frightened precision. He's not scared of spontaneity or rough edges or wildness. When I think about that I've stood next to him on stage for such a long time and become a great friend of his, I think, "Man, this guy knew Elvis!"
WBC: You talked about Kele, Kele (No Passport, No Visa). We're going to go out on that track. The one thing I really love about this song is the Bo Diddley beat. Ws he in the back of your mind when you put this together?
JA: Completely, ya. Funny enough, it wasn't the first time I had a Bo Diddley beat with Juldeh. The first time we actually did a piece based upon the traditional Fulani thing. We had all the drums and all the riti and all the vocals recorded and I was trying to find a good guitar part for it and I suddenly played the Bo Diddley beat and thought, "OK, that's it. That's clearly the guitar part for this song." So, then on the second album I thought, "Ya I can actually start the tune with that beat because I know Juldeh is going to feel comfortable with it." So ya, Bo Diddley as everybody knows or everybody should know, he didn't make up that rhythm, he transported it to the guitar in the most amazingly, electric, charismatic way. So, it's a tribute to Bo, but it points to the origins of that rhythm as well.
Justin Adams was interviewed by Cal Koat on June 10/09 for worldbeatcanada radio