Ozy “Distant Present” (exclusive)

13 Apr 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Thirteen years after his debut release, Tokei, Icelandic producer Ozy has come out with a new 12-track LP titled Distant Present. As a producer, at least upon first listen, Ozy’s vision is straightforward. The record sticks close to its name, conveying nostalgic dreamscapes that seem to hark back to a more remote era. The tracks are a slow-building arrangement of anthemic strings, glitchy bass-lines, and the occasional sensuous vocal sample (sometimes recalling Balam Acab’s 2010 See Birds).

During the album’s less intricate moments, tracks like "Drama Club" and "Dis-en-gaged" provide uncomplicated downtempo listening; however, something interesting happens about two-thirds through Distant Present. Its sleepy rhythms are replaced by stranger and more irregular percussive arrangements as the vocals become less sensuous and more atonal. The relative absence of strings, which facilitated a sort of dream-state, begins to feel quite jarring, in a beautiful way. The tracks become sparse – and the dissipation of background layers reveals a more intriguing landscape. These are the sounds of waking life. A track like "Chrome-drip", for example, demonstrates a simultaneously harsher and brighter reality. The sounds of Space Age radio signals and difficult-to-place percussion samples interact in unexpected configurations.

In essence, Ozy spends the first part of Distant Present constructing a dream-world which he later methodically and gradually destroys. The distant present comes into sharp relief as the songs themselves begin to signal awakening. The waking world turns out to be even more unusual than the land of dream, recalling Twain’s expression: “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Then, in a perhaps self-conscious move, the final track “Atonement” makes an attempt to return to the ethereal peace of former half of Distant Present. Nonetheless, it is clear that something has shifted in the overall sound. If “Atonement” is a peace offering for having disrupted our sleep-state, it is only an incomplete apology. The eery and aggressive (eerily aggressive) glitch of waking life is still present, if subdued. We never dream in quite the same way again.

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Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk “Bombchu Girl” (exclusive)

13 Apr 2015 — Zachary Taube

After parting ways with a band member and relocating to New York City, Kansas natives Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk have marked the turning point with the release of their first ever studio-recorded (mini) album, Kill The Fuzz, recorded by Ava Luna’s Carlos and Julian at the Silent Barn. Kill The Fuzz is a departure from BBDDM’s earlier work, and while their lush reverb-soaked incantations that were so present in 2013’s Think Tone still remain, Fuzz appends tight structural punch to the glorious aura. Check out "Bombchu Girl", an aural ode to the eponymous Zelda vixen that combines ethereal harmonies with hypnotic rhythmic drive before descending into gorgeous chaos, streaming below. 

BBDDM’s Kill The Fuzz is out April 21 on Fire Talk Records. Preorder the digital and cassette versions on their bandcamp, and be sure to catch them on their short April tour in support of the release (see dates below), where hopefully you’ll be able to snag a very limited 10” copy of the album – handmade artwork included.

4/18 Cold Spring, NY, Mountain Show
4/21 Brooklyn, NY, Silent Barn (Record Release)
4/22 Philadelphia, PA, Eris Temple Arts
4/23 Athens, OH, Lobster Fest
4/24 Lawrence, KS, Pizzapalooza - The Replay Lounge
4/25 Kansas City, MO, Minibar: Middle of the Map After Party
4/26 Des Moines, IA, The Fremont
4/28 Chicago, IL, Slow Pony

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Moving As One: An Update on Gender Equality in Electronic Music

08 Apr 2015 — Evelyn Malinowski

In geology, a fault line is caused by tension which refuses to move harmoniously with the neighboring sections of crust. Subduction zones and transforms are aspects of these geological breaches that influence where the rock is going and pressure other areas to move in ways against their normal flow. Prior to the rift, all the rock was connected and moving as one. 

Social and cultural interaction operates the same way, really. You have a cluster of likeminded people, some of whom end up on the edge of the group, eventually acting as an overlapper or shifter, torn between two movements, pressured into choosing a side. Influencing all the movement are their respective subduction zones (ulterior motifs) and transform fractures (self-important leadership). A rift, then, must be a result of a disagreement or a series of accusations, actions that intimidate others. It has ripped the plane so wide open that magma is spewing out. A movement led by such subduction and transform eventually focuses on separating from the greater block and appropriates other people's low-self esteem or greenness in order gain backing. They join the ranks because they don't want to be melted. With thus, the deviating or rifting movement begins to browbeat other portions, triggering even more aggression, harsh differentiation, brash collision, and eventually prejudice.

Although differentiated movements produce cataclysms such as landslides, earthquakes, and eruptions, they generate fresh and wholesome land in doing so, all on the same hunk of rock floating through space. Cultural rifts along the enormous, so-enormous-there's-room-for-unbelievable-diversity planetary plane, occur in patterns of assertions which normally divide people, and those rifting patterns begin with stress and strain built up undernearth the surface. What we need are ways to assert without dividing.

The gender imbalance and women in electronic music issue, which I now consciously deem a “topic” (in order to encourage open debate and to avoid offense), has permeated the greater EDM scene, as it has due right. With the effort, pathos, and censure afforded by several journalists and artists, we are now talking about this “topic” more than ever, and it has even shaken the mainstream. For example, Robyn, the relatively mellow and agreeably talented pop singer, has stepped in on the issue and plans to organize a festival where female producers will gain fair exposure and promotion. The young touring collective Discwoman has been getting a lot of attention for their out-of-nowhere leadership and forward thinking business model, where significant percentages of their event profits are donated to places like the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, and local Girls Rock Camp groups. Their vibe seems to be one where, they don't only want to spread the word about sexism, but are proceeding in the creation of an all female or female-identifying scene completely independent of the more central one(s).

Undoubtedly, there is a feeling of movement under our feet; yet, it is proving to be a movement of stress which inspires rifting and fractioning off rather than convergence. Over the last few years, we here at NFOP have been collaborating with artists, journalists, and festivals alike to help promote discussion of this topic. Our interviews with Jessy Lanza and Natasha Kmeto in particular hit home for advocates of equality. After reading Tone Deaf's recent bulletin which offers a clever visual example of gender imbalance within festival booking mentality, I realized, whoa, there absolutely is a present and emergent series of related articles appearing one after another. They evidence the issue - or topic - but latently, some of them are adding stress to the rift in our music culture. Yes, we are talking about it more and more, which was part of the collective fight; however, in doing so, we sometimes resort to language that decries rather than proposes solutions. How can we host dialogue without nourishing dispute? A saunter through some of these recent publications might facilitate a release of the preexisting strain as well as new subterranean rifting, and deliver us to a platform where we can discuss without accusation. 

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Well-reputed Philip Sherburne has received a decent amount of flak in regard to his not long past Pitchfork diatribe against Skrillex. While the overarching concern is overtly more about visual objectification of women rather than inequality when it comes to booking and promotion, Sherburne seems sure of himself in countering the alleged offense that the Skrillex/OWSLA aesthetic has caused him. This is precisely where underlying, rifting stress can be spotted. At once we are hit with aggressive blame that Skrillex is personally doing Sherburne harm because the EDM producer "keeps putting butts in [Sherburne's] Twitter feed." Shortly thereafter, we again come across accusatory, victimizing language which is somewhat upsetting: "[consider], too, the way the viewer is treated to both back and front views of the woman's nether regions: it's like she's been put on a spit and left to rotate for our visual pleasure." A graphic analogy to be sure, Sherburne establishes the viewer as the victim by saying he or she is "treated," i.e. the object, sight of sexualized areas of the female body. If anybody has an issue with these types of "treats," shouldn't he or she look away? Shouldn't a pesky Twitter user simply be unfollowed? These problematic images and attitudes aren't being done to any of us per se, for they certainly are meeting some kind of demand. Nevertheless, it is vital to criticize such pressing matters in healthier, pacifistic ways. 

Indeed, the language throughout Sherburne's piece is pseudo and incriminating, and that only sparks more accusation. Agata Alexander, director of Destructo's very explicit video, was centrally scrutinized by Sherburne. She backfired publicly, haranguing him for “not doing [his] homework," as it originally appeared that Sherburne assumed the video was envisioned by a man. In a slightly more friendly response, Zel McCarthy, Editor-in-Chief of THUMP, jumps into the surge of disapproval by pointing out that Sherburne's article is problematic specifically because of the language implemented. By naming his piece EDM Doesn’t Have a Women Problem, It Has a Straight White Guy Problem, McCarthy subverts Sherburne's assessment entitled EDM Has a Problem with Women, and It's Getting Worse, before wandering off into broader territory. Sherburne's title undeniably reads as if the problem is women, although that is not what he acutally meant. Alas, McCarthy also slips into inaccurate language out of good intention by stating that it "isn't merely the representation of female bodies that is at issue: it's the sheer lack of women in the dance music industry."

It seems that what he means is that there's a sheer lack of representation of women in the industry. There is by no means a lack of women in the industry, whether they be recognized artists or not. More importantly, stating this dubious observation offhandedly turns the blame back onto the women, as if they're (we're) guilty of not producing music, even if the statement is designed to be a helpful attempt at admission of the sad truth. It is similar to Sherburne's attempt to stand up against objectification of women and demonstrate that viewers of OWSLA compilation covers and fliers are innocent bystanders with grotesque images being shoved into their faces: it's not their fault for looking.

Much to his credit, McCarthy takes his listing of the media's gender imbalance discussion into a bigger context of race, orientation, and class, reflecting on how dance music culture started out as a safe place, undividedly diverse. This ties easily into THUMP's coverage of Discwoman's go at discussing sexism on a panel, which lauds the collective for being a most diverse and not-yet-bitter start-up, reminding us of the real root of our music culture: "Considering that all of the panelists identify with non-white cultural backgrounds, the topic of diversity hit particularly close to home."

While things have changed, it's interesting to see efforts that reverse this rift, one that has been reversing a now forty five year old unifying investment. And while Sherburne's presumably empowered critique of EDM aesthetic offended an artist who happens to be a woman, it feeds the gender disparity most especially because of its combative, reactionary tone. Further, in publishing an article written in what can be called politically careless language, feet have certainly been stepped on. Some would argue that such tone has become necessary; but, it's a pattern we'e seen before, and like M.I.A. says, "if we only live once, why do we keep doing the same shit?"

Implementation of things like visual argument is wise and more incontrovertible. We've seen this from Tone Deaf and, quite famously, female:pressure with their statistical 2015 survey of female bookings. It offers pie chart after pie chart of concrete surveying without names (apart from club and placenames), blames, or shames. It neutrally displays the still existent imbalance and tends to leave critics unable to attack back, to counter-rift.

A certain secret Facebook group populated by empowered promoters, producers, and DJs has been steadily informing ideation in regard to collaborative resolution as well as new forms of leadership, promotion, and problem solving. It is an all-equality group, touching on more than just gear and techno. Even more recent than the Sherburne piece was shared in this group, an article by novelist Rebecca Solnit was posted. Solnit narrates her experience with what she avoids calling "mansplaining." Her purpose isn't to define or criticize such a meme; in fact, it plainly offers personal testimony. Still, she touches on how it seems that men "have a problem explaining things." Is part of this problem related to accusatory language? Or is it related to the problem with EDM's "problem with women?" Isn't the problem that there is a "shortage of women" and men talking about it aggressively, as if insulted? Coming across this piece within that sphere helped me contemplate the ways in which Sherburne and McCarthy both are and are not speaking for the Other. I don't necessarily think they are mansplaining; what I am concerned with is their language and unintentional (at least I hope so) aggression, how that feeds rifting. 

The purpose of this essay isn't to quarrel with these welcomed responses to the gender imbalance, nor is it to suggest new models with which we can effectively alter the imbalace (although we all have plenty of plausible ones, several in the works). Rather, I believe that a critique of the hasty and exacerbating language found within these critiques is in line, especially if we really want to make a change and slow the rifting down. The ways we can ask the right, unifying questions and make the right assertions are basically infinite, provided we don't set out to attack. In fact, it is quite easy to address concern on the matter without perpetuating the rift. For example, we can start off by discussing shared interests, like music. That's something we all have in common. Something else we share is a wish to have the matter solved. We are attacking each other, and yet we mutually express that none of us want the issue to exist. Even the oblivious, apolitical, stereotypical misogynistic EDM-heads who, when confronted by something that might spoil the beach party, hear of the issue, they have their own way of saying “I wish this didn't exist.” Meanwhile the campaigning, empowered side of the dichotomy likewise doesn't want it to exist. To this end, sexism and misogyny is archaic, cruel, ignorant, and, by this date and time, inexcusable. Some other individuals, who want to take a more radical stance, state things like, “I don't hear gender in music,” which quickly shrinks next to the grandiloquent rumor that one might be able to sometimes tell whether the producer of a track was a woman because of structure, because it's maybe somehow softer and more girly, even if it is hard techno. The fact is that the rift is very much so existent, and ignorance of its existence is worse than antagonization of it.

Attentiveness to such a huge thing surely dictates that we look around a bit and recall that we all stand under the same banner, or, more appropriately, on the same hunk of rock. Yes, this is idealistic to say the least, but it does serve the global interest in minimizing our giant rift. How can we transform electronic music's transform fracture so that it becomes fuelled by creative, collaborative resolution, where the divided movements work back towards all-equality, where they move as one?

Let's altogether use our varying skill sets and lithospheric frictions to come up with a way to converge without losing anything other than what needs to be let go of, like hostile locution. Such large-scale seismic activity will certainly cause some tremors, maybe even one big earthquake; still, if it's for a new and all-inclusive platform, it'll probably be worth it because, if we act similarly to the way the earth does, fertile and bright landscapes await us and our different ways of speaking passionately. In order to make this new land, we have to blow up, and maybe all this hostility is just that. But I'm not a geologist. 

 

Psychic Reality “Harness” (exclusive)

07 Apr 2015 — Henning Lahmann

Back in 2011, when the Internet was still young and the blogosphere alive (not kicking though), and words such as "hazy" and prefixes such as "psych-" were employed without shame, Leyna Noel put out an album with then-unsurpassed and massively influential LA-based imprint Not Not Fun. Both the name of her project and the name of the album, Psychic Reality and Vibrant New Age, were children of their time, a time when longish elaborations on the differences and resemblances between hypnagogic pop and chillwave were considered the pinnacle of music journalism. Not that it mattered: Vibrant New Age, timely as it was, would have graced the zeitgeist of any artistic epoch. Dark, eerie, danceable and yes, psychedelic, we became obsessed with "Fruit" and "Expla", songs that for a while would become essential ingredients of all out DJ sets. Having worked with the unforgotten Pocahaunted, put out a split with Amanda Brown's LA Vampires, and generally being part of the scene around Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras, Noel was obviously influenced by Southern California's psychedelic underground while at the same time serving as a precursor of the take on contemporary dance tropes that some would start calling – please forgive me – 'hipster house' shortly afterwards, with Brown's 100% SILK label as its creative focal point.

It's been four years but it feels like a decade ago. The musical landscape has shifted and, if anything, has grown increasingly cynical and jaded. Musicians that offer escape by evoking images of sundrenched beaches or summer nights aimlessly spent with friends and blunts still exist, but if they get any attention at all then it usually comes from a decidedly distanced, piercingly ironic standpoint. "Psych" as in psychopath, not psychedelia. It is, in other words, an interesting moment to release the follow-up of Vibrant New Age. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly at all, Chassis takes up the debut's motifs without getting stuck in creative stasis, instead presenting a careful evolvement of Noel's artistry. The predecessor's defining house beat is absent, but the ethereal cues are as pronounced as ever. This is still "psych-pop": Without a hint of irony, already the first track "Life is Long" sports mild distortion, a shuffling rhythm reminiscent of mid-80s charts pop, and the word "hazy" proudly chanted into the blurry, dreamlike and simple melody. "Harness", premiered below, is this album's "Expla": melancholic and mysterious, the song gently emerges from a carefully woven carpet of expanding synth chords, floating into the warm August night before it fades out with a quiet sigh. Just this once again, for five delicate minutes, no cynicism, no irony. Only bliss.

Chassis will be out via Intercoastal Artists on May 5.

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Digital 21 + Stefan Olsdal “War”

06 Apr 2015 — Andrew Darley

Stefan Olsdal, co-founder of the band Placebo, has joined creative forces with fellow multi-instrumentalist, Miguel López Mora, better known as Digital 21. As Placebo celebrate their debut record's 20th anniversary this year, Olsdal seems to be nowhere near content in terms of what he wants to achieve. His passion for composition, particularly piano and classical music, can be heard throughout Placebo's discography on songs such as "Centrefolds" and "Black Market Blood". Whilst his earlier side-project, Hotel Persona, explored his love of electronica and synthpop. It seems a perfect match that he has teamed up with Digital 21 who in his 25 year career has crafted electronic music using live instruments such as guitar and ukulele over digital sounds. "War" is the first fruit of their work together – a swift six minute arrangement that combines lush strings and glitchy electronics over an unrelenting beat. It's a brooding and intense work, with a promising start of a union of two artists who share a fascination for sound and production. The pair are currently working on a full-length record together which is due out later this year.

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Motorama “Corona”

06 Apr 2015 — Ethan Jacobs

Considering how prolific the Russian post-punk outfit Motorama is, it’s slightly surprising they haven’t garnered more attention from major music outlets. Even so, over the course of three full-length LPs and several EPs and singles scattered in-between, Motorama’s discography boasts impressive consistency and palpable sentiment. On their newest release Poverty for Talitres Records, the shadowy Rostov-On-Donians aren’t concerned with delivering something new as much as they are with polishing their distinctive post-punk appeal. On the album’s opener "Corona", we get a comprehensive preview of what the rest of the record sounds like—twinkling guitar picking that keeps up with driving, propulsive bass lines, modest electronic contributions, and, perhaps the group’s most distinguishing quality, the lead singer’s pained vocals which round out the gray atmosphere that envelops Motorama. Bearing in mind the band’s unwavering pursuit of a specific post-punk aesthetic, Motorama could best be personified by a cold, steely robot—a robot that can feel deeply.

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Watch: IAN “If You’re Cryin”

30 Mar 2015 — Ethan Jacobs

For the Boston/LA-based fuzz rock trio IAN, this past year has been nothing short of action-packed. They went on three tours, played SXSW, released a self-titled cassette on Boston’s Bufu Records, and relocated to LA. To commemorate their journey to where they are now, they released a video for “If You’re Cryin”, a mixture of intimate footage from their live shows and beguiling scenes of being goofy over the last year. The track, a heart-felt upbeat pop gem about the inevitability of taking on the pain of the person you love, is a perfect showcase of IAN’s ability to craft impassioned and sincere pop music that still maintains a certain lightness. Even though the video celebrates the full year the band has been together, IAN’s future is more promising than their past is charming: they’ll be doing a few more shows in LA before they return to Boston to record an album and tour some more. If the year ahead turns out to be anything like the last one, you’ll definitely be hearing more about them soon.

IAN’s self-titled EP is available for streaming on bandcamp.

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Interview: Hama

27 Mar 2015 — Anaïs Duplan

Throughout our conversation, Hama referred to his synthesizer as a piano. This is telling. The Niamey-based musician insists that his music is, all in all, traditional Nigerien music – despite the futuristic quality that the vibrant synth tones and processed drum-kits lend to Hama’s latest album, Torodi. It’s perhaps this play on the ancient-future that has brought Hama such critical acclaim across The Republic of Niger and the countries that surround it; however, Hama’s music was virtually unheard of in the United States until Sahelsounds, a record label founded by ethnomusicologist Christopher Kirkley, which features the music of 50+ musicians whose music Kirkley came across during his travels in West Africa.

About the futurism of Hama’s Torodi, Kirley says, “I would say it's futuristic in the sense of the innovation, being the first person to do this – programming the traditional rhythms on the drum machine. I don't think he's necessarily composing with that in mind – the songs are really folk guitar songs that he has worked out versions of on the piano.” Hama’s thoughts are similar. He calls his compositions “modifications” on music he has heard and collected over the years, including traditional music, but ranging from contemporary American pop music to Detroit techno.

In many senses, my coming to hear the album at all was a matter of serendipity. “Sahelsounds became a record label by chance,” says Kirkley. “I had lived in West Africa for two years and was back home in Portland. I had a blog, but no intention to turn it into a label. I met the folks at Mississippi Records who suggested releasing a record. After time it's turned into a label, somewhat reluctantly. There's a demand for the music, people in West Africa can get exposure, get paid, and I can finance trips back to West Africa and have a part in releasing what I think is important and overlooked music.”

When I first called Hama, he expressed being quite happy that I’d taken interest in Torodi. I, on the other hand, was surprised to find that no one had yet interviewed him about it. The compositions, to my ear, are significant insofar as they provide a point-of-reference for modern American Afrofuturism. Though I may be alone in drawing such comparisons, when I tune into Hama, I can’t help but hear the synth drums in the intro to Kelela’s track “Cut 4 Me” or certain elements of FlyLo’s “Turkey Dog Coma.” Or even, reaching in a slightly different direction, Phil Cohran’s “The Dogon” from the 2010 album, African Skies.

Hama and I spoke in a mix of French and English, each of us struggling to overcome the language barrier. (As a result, I’ve translated the parts of our conversation that occurred in French into English.) In many ways, it is a conversation I am still processing. I wonder, in particular, whether music can do the work of Afrofuturism without doing so deliberately. I wonder whether it is misguided to hear the future in something that insists that it is, in fact, traditional. Nonetheless, Torodi is an important release for its innovation, regardless of whether that innovation seats itself in the past or in the future.

Read the interview after the break. 

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When did you meet Christopher Kirkley?

It was around the month of November in 2014. Christopher asked me if I wanted to go on tour and I said no problem, because I’ve been playing music for a long time, since 1986. I was very young when I started composing. I’ve used mostly the piano, the synthesizer. I play the guitar a little, but I play the piano much more. I program everything on it. After creating the beat, I add the melody. But I don’t compose on paper because when I started playing music, it was just in my house. I didn’t have a teacher. So the music is very traditional; it’s not modern.

That’s interesting. It has a futurist quality –

Futurist? No. My music is 100% traditional.

And has it changed over time?

Yes, very much. When I first started playing music, I never thought it would reach the United States. And I have a lot more albums than Torodi, which are much better.

More albums?

I made Torodi a long time ago, around 2002. Since then, I’ve produced ten more albums. But Torodi is the album that everyone likes the most.

Why do you think that is?

Well, my music is for everyone. It’s reached Algeria, Libya, Mali – everywhere. In a sense, everyone hears the music but they don’t see me. They don’t know me as a person. They don’t know who Hama is.

Who is Hama?

I am Hama. I mean, for example, I have a friend in the States, who lives in Iowa. In 1992, he was here in Niamey. I learned a bit of English while he was here and I spent a lot of time with him. After six months, once he finished his work here, he went back to the United States. One day, I called him and asked him if he knew that I play the piano. He didn’t believe it. So I sent him my music and he said, “Wow, why didn’t you tell me this before?” So we’ll see what happens in the future. I hope my music goes far. I know how to compose all kinds of things – techno, rap, zouk, traditional. I have it all in my head.

Zouk? Do you have zouk in Niger?

You know about zouk?

Yes, I’m Haitian, so I’m familiar with Haitian zouk, but I don’t know anything about Nigerien zouk.

Oh, no. I use Haitian zouk. I make selections. Modifications.

So when you compose, you’re combining various genres –

No, not at all. I’m not combining; I’m modifying. For example, I might take a melody from Haitian zouk and then turn that into a completely traditional Nigerien song. I can do the same with techno and hip-hop, by changing the speeds of things.

All that on the piano?

There’s the piano, but also the computer. I make the melodies on the piano, but I use the computer to build the beats. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved European and American music. That’s where I pick up my melodies.

Did you come from a musical family?

No, I’m the only musician in my family. My little brother started making music when I did. He’s since stopped, but I continued.

Why did he stop?

He died.

Oh wow, I’m sorry.

It’s okay. It happens. One day, you might call asking for Hama and someone will say, “Hama’s dead.” It’s just like that. That’s life. My mother has died, my little brother died, my father has died. So now it’s just me and my two little sisters, who I live with here in Niamey.

Have you found a lot of support in Niamey?

My music is popular here, yes.

You said before that the music has changed over time –

Yes, the music is different, very different from Torodi, but I’m still using the same piano. Since I don’t have the piano in front of me, I can’t really show you the difference. I can’t play the piano with my mouth. I’m actually working on an album right now, but people have been making good music for a long time, for years, and hoping that it will change something. But we don’t know what will happen in life, what fate is reserved for each person.