Auntie Flo is continually reaching outwards.
Real name Brian d'Souza, the Glasgow producer has released two sterling albums, with 'Future Rhythm Machine' and 'Theory Of Flo' displaying a clear internationalist streak.
New album 'Radio Highlife' is perhaps the purest, most potent distillation of this methodology, a record that flits from Cape Town to Cuba, Scotland to the Arctic Circle, all bound by a desire to explore each idea to its furthest reach.
With Auntie Flo taking his music on tour across the UK Clash caught up with the ever-inventive producer to find out a little more...
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To what extent is this record a reaction to your first two albums? Do you feel as though you’re building on those achievements, or does this occupy a different realm?
I feel like it’s a nice continuation from the previous albums. When I did 'Future Rhythm Machine' I didn’t have any way to travel and collaborate as much as I could do in the 'Theory...' or 'Radio Highlife' so used a lot of samples.
Releasing it helped give me the keys to collaborate and avoid sampling altogether in 'Theory...', and 'Radio Highlife' takes that to another level by bringing together seven years worth of recording on my travels together under one banner. Being afforded opportunities to travel with music was something I never took lightly, so it feels good to be able to ‘give something back’ (if you can call it that), or at least to have a work that documents those travels.
One of the starting points for ‘Radio Highlife’ was a visit to Cuba in 2014 – what is it about that country which resonated with you so strongly?
The political system there is an obvious starting point, and it was fascinating to observe first-hand how that affects the culture and the people there. On top of that, you have a deeply rooted musical culture, which has been successfully exported in parts, but interesting to learn that it doesn’t end with Rhumba and Buena Vista – there are tons of pioneering musicians covering all sorts of styles, and a variety of influences.
I recorded at the Laboratory For Electro-Acoustic Music set up in the 80s by Juan Blanco who made some pioneering electro-acoustic music. Hearing about Juan’s music left a big impression on me, and helped reinforce my view that we too often look at music from a too western-centric perspective in the UK.
‘Havana Rhythm Dance’ connects to this, how did you piece that group of musicians together? From a production sense, how structured was the session – was it tightly defined, or more of a jam?
We played at the first ever Havana World Music festival and met a lot of musicians over the course of the weekend. Fuelled by a lot of rum, we invited them down to the sessions due to take place the following week, and were pleasantly surprised to find a small queue of super talented people had come down to work with us.
The 'Havana Rhythm Dance' beat was recorded there, but then taken back to the UK. I then added vocals from istnabul DJ Zozo, talking drum from Sengalese Mame n’Diack and had what I thought was the finished track. However, two weeks before the album was due to be mastered, I bumped into Andrew Ashong in the street and spoke to him about doing something. I sent him this track and he came back with the vocal and guitar parts within a few days – a day before the album was mastered!
You met Mame nDiack Seck Thiam in Uganda, and he’s a key collaborator on the record. What does he bring to your music?
Mame has an amazing energy and positive spirit. He’s also a killer drummer and I love the sound of the talking drum that he’s used on a few of the tracks.
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‘Magic Stones Skit’ feels like an extremely personal track, linked to your mum’s garden. What prompted this song?
Like most of the songs on the album, it’s very impromptu. We were chilling at my parents house before Glasgow show we were doing a couple of years ago. To anyone else, they might have seen bunch of stones and some plant pots but to Mame they had a spiritual quality that drew him into creating a rhythm with them, that I promptly recorded and put on the record. ‘These stones are magical!” he pronounced.
‘Mame’s Story’ discusses the difficulty in Mame being granted a visa to live, work in the UK. There seems to be a political backdrop to some aspects of the record, did you feel this, even subconsciously, during recording?
Absolutely. You could call this an anti-Brexit, anti-nationalist album if you like! What I came to realise is having a British passport gives you this special pass where you can travel pretty much anywhere in the world with minimum hassle. For others, including Mame, they are nowhere near as lucky and have so many hoops to jump through for every place they want to visit, where they are treated like a criminal and charged a ton of money for the privilege.
'Mame’s Story' was written the day after Mame came to the UK for the first time and a day after his UK visa was granted for the first time! We got super lucky as up until the afternoon of our performance we didn’t know if he was going to get the visa and it was only really Mame’s positive spirit that saw it get over the line in the end…
'Mame’s Story' is his story of trying to be allowed into our little island just to play some music for a day or two then leave!
‘Western Princes’ is very atmospheric, and features Laurie Pitt from Golden Teacher. Was this a difficult song to get right?
This song came together pretty quickly actually! I’ve no idea if it’s ‘right’ but a lot of the stuff I do I try to do in one or two takes and then leave it as is. Laurie and I were preparing for our Sun Ritual live show and he made the basis of the track using a loop pedal and little synth he had. I then built the track around it and asked Mame to finish it off with the talking drum.
Also, it seems warming that Glasgow’s music scene still fascinates you, despite your travels. In part it’s your home, but what is it about the city’s music community that retains that hold on you?
Glasgow is a unique place!! Having travelled the world I really believe Glasgow has a unique character that is very special. I miss walking down the street, bumping into someone and having a chat.
In the press note you mention a “a global umbrella of cross-pollinated new sounds” and this is very successful on the album. How do you avoid becoming too focussed on Western perspectives? How do you step outside of those preconceived notions to settle on a more balanced creative conversation?
I don’t know if you can fully to be honest. You will always have your own perspective but I’m always try to be as open minded and inquisitive as possible to get an insight into another culture. Without knowing different languages to converse in, music seems like the best next option!
Your experiences in Tromso also mark several songs, notably ‘Lights From The Northern Sky’. What is it about this area in particular that left such a deep impression?
I love cold countries! There is something about the wilderness and bleak beauty that draws me to them. Tromso is so beautiful but also fascinating how its situation in the Arctic circle really changes the people there and forges a really strong community.
Finally, given such a disparate cast and international set of influences, what gathers ‘Radio Highlife’ into a coherent document? Is it due to the composition, or do you just feel a one-ness, or kinship between several different types of music?
I guess that’s my role, ultimately this is my story and everything is from my perspective. My job as the producer is to make this into an album that you can listen to from start to finish, and hopefully enjoy the experience in doing so!
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'Radio Highlife' is out now - LINK.
For tickets to the latest Auntie Flo shows click HERE.
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