Interview with Hejira

Spirits were lifted last week at the Arches in Haggerston. Not through gospel soul but from Hejira, the four-piece London band, who brought their raw sound spanning Afro-soul to guitar funk. Having seen them a couple years back at the 100 Club, I was curious to hear their new style on the EP ‘The Lima Limo Ceremony’, inspired by time spent in Ethiopia. Opening up was ‘Welcome’ which immediately transported you to the highlands of Ethiopia - overlaid with field recordings from Addis Ababa. Lead vocalist, Rahel, brought shivers when she sang ‘Ribs’ - a reflection of our existence sung in the purest form. The journey of the night swayed as the band reflected a more acoustic side, jamming with a baby grand piano through to ending the evening with one of their funk numbers ‘I don’t belong to anyone.’ There’s a special synergy with the band and wherever they go next, however they evolve - that synergy will no doubt follow.

After the gig I caught up with band-member Sam on their beginnings, inspirations and what next..

 

When and why did you start playing music?

The story goes that my Dad saw me playing a toy drum kit at the age of 3 and he thought I had rhythm so went on a quest to find me a drum kit. But they were too expensive so he bought a really cheap piano off a friend instead which me and my sister started playing on. I didn't take it seriously though until I changed piano teacher at the age of 11. I started having piano lessons with a jazz guitar player called Phil Dawson after my Dad saw his advert up in our local music shop. In my first lesson Phil taught me the pentatonic scale and encouraged me to start improvising and I fell in love with music at that very moment.

How did you guys as a band meet?

Me and Alex met when we were teenagers playing in a youth jazz band in Hackney run by the legendary educator Phil Revens who sadly passed away recently. We lost contact for a few years but re-connected in 2009 and discovered that we had a similar compositional path that we wanted to pursue and so we started writing music together. We were soon joined by Rahel who I had also been writing with after meeting her through the Goldsmiths Vocal Ensemble. Me and Rahel realised through our writing sessions that we felt encouraged when we sang together, like a super mini choir! :) And so we wanted to do this more. The combination of mine and Alex's compositional connection and mine and Rahel's melodic/vocal connection formed the foundation of Hejira's beginnings back in 2009.

Hejira is an unusual name...what does it mean?

Our favourite definition of Hejira is "mass migration away from danger towards a safer environment". The name feels increasingly poignant given that we find ourselves in an era where so many people are on the move.

Across the band you've worked with everyone from Nithin sawhney, Amy winehouse to Matthew Herbert...how have they played a role in your development as performers?

We've been very fortunate to work with a diverse spread of talented artists, each of which has influenced us in different ways, providing us with insights and experience that has informed not only how we make music, but also what we prioritise in our creative process. One of the most important things for us is to endeavour to maintain a supportive and open communicative environment, not only amongst ourselves but also with those in our extending circle of friends and collaborators.

In the 8 years you've been together what's your fondest musical memory?

This is a tough one! So many memories shoot through my mind as I'm trying to answer this question! There have been many special moments. One of my fondest memories is spontaneously deciding to jump on a train to Eastbourne in order to soak up a certain travelling spirit whilst writing the lyrics for our song 'Fields of Rooftops'. The entire lyric for that song was written on that train journey and I remember having this warm, melancholic, alive hum in me for that whole trip.

Musically eclectic in the truest sense - how have your styles evolved over time? And who are your influences?

It seems to me that transformation is a very integral force in music... music cannot help but re-invent itself as we engage with it anew each day. This is very true of Hejira's relationship to music, as it feels like it is in a constant state of evolution. The great jazz composer Wayne Shorter once said that compositions are never finished, and this statement definitely resonates with my experience so far. I think if we didn't decide to have a deadline for releasing our recordings they would just continue to evolve ceaselessly. Once released in a fixed recorded form, the evolution continues, this time in the context of live performance.

And how do you describe your style now?

We've always been pathetically hopeless at describing our music. I would say that there is a soulful spine that runs through a lot of our current material.

Moving to your latest EP, you mentioned it was inspired by a trip to Ethiopia - can you tell me more about why it inspired?

Our trip to Ethiopia symbolises a kind of pivotal shift in the process of making our current body of work. Before the trip we had lots of fragmented ideas that were refusing to settle into a cohesive collection of music. But something happened in Ethiopia that meant that upon our return a new imagining of what our next record would look like began to emerge. I think there are many reasons for this. First and foremost, the trip was of life changing importance to our singer Rahel, whose late father is buried in Addis Ababa after sadly passing away in 2012 after a long battle with cancer. Rahel travelled the breadth of the country, reconnecting with distant relatives and soaking up the landscape and culture of a country that is integral to her family history. Alex and myself joined her in Addis Ababa for the last 10 days of her month long trip and we had a beautifully intense time together checking out local music, writing new material, meeting family and eating injera! Upon our return to London we entered into a prolific phase of creativity where we consolidated our ideas and a record began to surface.

Looking at the London scene, you're all from here - which artists/groups are you really feeling right now?

I think we all feel very lucky to call London home. There are so many incredibly talented and inspiring people surrounding us you just have to count your lucky stars! I have been deeply inspired by our friend Tawiah recently who I have had the great privilege of working with closely on her debut album. She is a beautiful soul and a stunning performer who has created a really unique UK soul album which will be arriving on your eardrums soon! We also love Micachu & The Shapes, The Invisible, Gwilym Gold, Lay, Coby Sey, Fran & Flora and so many other musicians making the London music scene the vibrant inspiring place it is.

And what's next for Hejira?

We're close to completing our second full length LP which we're really excited about. We've also got some shows coming up including The Great Escape festival and an EU cultural festival in Algeria we were invited to play at by the British Council.

More from Hejira on bandcamp.

RADAR RADIO: MARCH

Celebrating some of the great female artists past and present who have inspired and continue to because of their lyrical honesty, musical integrity, productions in a male-dominated industry, support as philanthropists and by being true to themselves - featuring Erykah Badu, Grace Jones, Fatima Al Qadiri, Fatoumata Diawara, Elis Regina, Asha Bhosle, Etta James + more

Who's inspired you?

Women who aren’t afraid to express themselves, use their creativity and power to positively make a difference and be true to themselves with the utmost musical integrity. This is what International Women's Day means to me for women in music - and to share selections I asked a few of lady friends doing awesome things in the industry to recommend female artists that have inspired them. 

 

Emily Moxon, MD at Brownswood Recordings

Eska: ‘At one point it seemed like she would never actually release a record. I love the fact she took the time to get her sound and her record how she wanted it. She also took on that dominant narrative that women can only have success in music in their teens and 20s.’ - Emily

 

Georgia Taglietti, SheSaidSo Barcelona Director

Bjork - ‘I was the translator at a press conference she gave back in the days at Sonar, we were sitting at the same table and it was a light in the dark She made me think: I am proud to be a woman in the music industry. Will never forget.’ - Georgia

Cora Novoa - ‘A fantastic DJ with an amazing career who manages to do so many things, a self-entrepreneur who probably is one of the most important figures in Dance Music in Spain, and very much devoted to women causes.’ - Georgia

Mira Calix - 'A friend, an eclectic artist, a great musician, composer inspiring in many ways.’ Georgia


Vidhi Gandhi, AR at Ninja Tune

Angel Olsen - My Women (Album)

Grouper - Ruins (Album)

Umfang - Ok

 

Sarah Chawla, Co-founder of The WildCity

PJ Harvey

Beth Gibbons from Portishead

Karin Dreijer Andersson from Fever Ray and The Knife

RADAR RADIO: FEBRUARY

It’s session ten of A Worldwide Thing on Radar Radio and I’ve got newness crossing Brazilian jazz classics to spoken word neo-soul. Artists include Bonobo, Run the Jewels, Thundercat, Ivan Conti and more.

*Playlist*
Lost Midas ft Kalispell - Kayla’s lullaby (Tru thoughts)
Sweet Maya - Surround me (Ubiquity)
Bonobo - Outlier (Ninja tune)
Peanut Holmes - Bodi Nasaka Haki (Beatservice records)
Karriem Riggins - 4EsJ (The other hand)
Thundercat ft Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins) - Show you the way (Brainfeeder)
Ideaz - Lines (Cold busted)
The Seshen - Colors collide (Tru thoughts)
Nick Monaco - Dan izo remix - For some reason (Crew love)
Max Graef & Glenn Astro - Bryan Aquarius live mix - Magic Johnson (Ninja tune)
Ivan Conti - Reginald Omas Mamode IV remix - Ah que legal (Far out)
Dayme Arocena - Valentine (Brownswood)
Bosq ft Temo Alomar - Auntie flo remix - Tumbala (Ubiquity)
Rumpistol - Carry me (Project mooncircle)
Jacaszek - Soft music (Ghostly)
Run the Jewels - Call Ticketron (The Other Hand)
Ivan Conti - IG culture remix - Mamao’s Brake (Far Out)
Geotic - Actually smiling (Ghostly)
Barnaby Carter - Yugen (Project mooncircle)
Mop Mop ft Wayne snow - Azaxx remix - Lunar love (Agogo)
Philippe Baden Powell - Notes over poetry (Far Out)
Philippe Baden Powell - For you to know (Far Out)
Button eyes - Burn it down (Project mooncircle)
Victor Assis Brasil - Wave (Far Out)

Music Freedom Day

Music freedom day was kickstarted by the international organisation Freemuse on the 3rd of March. It’s a day of advocacy for musicians and audiences to advance freedom of expression. Everyone has the right to music, both as a mechanism of expression and enjoyment - to carry out their craft without fear of oppression, imprisonment or censorship. More than 100 partners and 30 countries worldwide have joined the event which has been a flourishing tool to raise awareness for the rights of musicians in an increasingly polarized world.

This year, Music Freedom day is focusing on the protection of women’s voices. Did you know...

In Saudi Arabia and Iran, women performers are not allowed to sing solo or play instruments in public. In north-western Pakistan women singers have been killed and attacked, and in several countries women performers are socially, culturally and economically marginalised and even considered prostitutes.

Globally women musicians face especially difficult conditions and are often subject to industry discrimination, sexual objectification and significantly less bookings than male musicians. 

To drive awareness, Freemuse are encouraging audiences to share an article, censored song or make a statement on March 3rd - more information here.

And in light of this, I wanted to focus on Afghanistan and a couple of inspiring discoveries that women have made in music.

The Afghanistan music scene has suffered in the decades of the 20th Century due to war, musicians having been exiled and the Taliban policies of banning music entirely. Women’s education, employment and social rights were affected too. Moved by the critical state of music, Dr Ahmad Sarmast, managed to initiate the groundbreaking institute - ANIM - the National Institute of Music. This led to the first and only all-women orchestra in Afghanistan, Zohra, who are all students at ANIM and the first women in their families, community, and country to learn music in over 30 years - listen to Zohra here.

And one lady on the other spectrum of music is Paradise Sorouri, whose an Afgahni female rapper. A shocking ‘87% of women have endured physical or sexual violence’ and shes using her voice to express the gender inequality in post-Taliban Afgahnistan and spark change - read more here.

RADAR RADIO: DECEMBER

It's session eight of A Worldwide Thing on Radar Radio and there's plenty of winter warmers for you - newness from Bonobo, Coldcut, Pavel Dovgal, Silkie and more...!

*Playlist*

Midnight Magic - Dark Thunder (Soul Clap Records)

Peanut Holmes - Bodi Nasaka Haki (Beat service records)

Steve Spacek - If you want to find me (Eglo records)

Coldcut - Creative (Ahead of our time)

Gabriel Garzon-Montano - The Game (The Other hand)

Joyce Wrice - Rocket Science (Akashik records)

Tall Black Guy vs The Milk - Trouble gonna bring me down - TBG remix (Wah Wah 45s)

Rio Mira - Adios Morena - Midnight ravers remix (ZZK Records)

Silkie - Computer Sound (Deep Medi)

Nathan Fake - Now we know (Ninja tune)

Pavel Dovgal - Floating beams (Project Mooncircle)

Fakear ft Andrea Triyana - Bearcubs remix - Light bullet (Counter records)

Madeline Bell - Little ones - Scrimshire edit (Wah Wah 45s)

Moonchild - The Truth - DJ Jazzy Jeff / James Poyser remix (Tru thoughts)

Chip Wickham - Sling short (Lovemonk)

Azymuth - Neptunians (Far Out records)

Dexter story - Veggie wondem - Ras G African space program remix (Soundway records)

Greymatter ft Sophie Brown - Visions dub (Greymatter)

Havana Cultura Anthology - La Plaza - Poirier remix (Brownswood)

David August - The Spell (Counter records)

Yussef Kamaal - Low rider (Brownswood)

Bonobo ft Rhye - Break Apart (Ninja Tune)