by Gus Marshall
On a cozy Sunday evening in November, The Columbia City Theater hosted a bill of beautiful world music. The Pangea Concert, presented by Giordano Productions, showcased two wonderful acts of world-class talent and taste.
Hailing from Barcelona, multiple instrumentalist Marina Albero began the evening with a solo recital of one of her more introspective compositions.
She was then joined by master tabla player Anil Prasad, whose expressive rhythms created a musical discourse of melody and percussion.
After this dynamic duet of accomplished musicianship and spirited improvisation, Indian Classical vocalist Srivani Jade completed the trio. Jade’s deliberate vibrato-filled delivery took the Marina Albero Trio to a place of purposeful beauty as her sparse and forlorn voice drew the attention of the crowd like a siren’s song.
Following the Marina Albero Trio, the Portland based Seffarine brought a passionate blend of flamenco, Moroccan, and Middle Eastern music, culture, and language to the stage.
Seffarine, led by Nat Hulskamp and Lamiae Naki, sang traditional and original songs in a variety of languages and performative styles, weaving an intricate quilt of international rhythms and melodies.
After their performances, band leaders from both groups spoke with the South Seattle Emerald about the cultures and traditions present in their music.
Interview with Marina Albero
Gus Marshall: Where were you born and where do you currently live?
Marina Albero: I was born in Barcelona and have been living in Seattle for the last four years.
GM: How did you get involved with music?
MA: I was born in a musician’s family. I’ve been performing with them since I was three years old.
GM: How do you prefer to write your material?
MA: Depending what it is. On the hammered dulcimer I don’t really like writing it down as I usually play it solo or with percussion, so it changes every time I play it. On the piano I usually write simple charts to be able to share and play it with my band.
GM: How much of it is planned compared to improvised?
MA: I improvise a lot. The percentage of improvisation can go from 50 percent to 80 percent. My last recording, there are many improvisations. And then on the regular tunes there’s always space to improvise as well. To me, composing and improvising is vital as a musician. Being creative and expressing myself is what gives sense to my music.
GM: What do you look for in a collaborative musical relationship?
MA: Listening, inspiration, create a dialogue to tell a story together.
GM: What cultures and traditions are represented in your music?
MA: I’ve been involved in many musical situations as a professional, such as: early music, classical, flamenco, jazz, Latin, Mediterranean.
GM: How did you meet and begin to work with Srivani Jade and Anil Prasad?
MA: I invited Anil to join me last May at the Ballard Jazz Festival, and I loved the interaction we have in music. With Srivani, we met recently when I was playing a concert with the great bansuri master player Deepak Ram and decided to get together and make music. So that was our first concert as a trio ever.
GM: What do you feel is important about live performance?
MA: It’s important being true so the audience can relate to the music and trust you while you take them on a journey. It’s not about how much you know but how much you experienced in life and how you share that. Music is just a human language to relate to each other and connect.
GM: What messages do you hope to convey through your music?
MA: I’d love for my audience just feeling that we’re all connected. Spreading the empathy that makes us understand each other. That we all have much more in common than differences. Love, pain, hope, joy, and sorrow are universal feelings, and music is the best way to express them under my opinion.
Interview with Nat Hulskamp
Gus Marshall: Where are you from?
Nat Hulskamp: I am from Portland, Oregon and have studied in Spain, Morocco, Turkey, and around the US. Lamiae is from Fez, Morocco. Manuel, our flamenco dancer and percussionist, is from Cordoba, Spain. Bobak, who plays several Persian instruments and violin with us, is originally from Iran and a long-time resident of Portland, OR. And our bassist Damian Erskine is from New Jersey, but has lived all over the States and spends a lot of time on the road teaching and performing all over the world.
GM: Where do you currently reside?
NH: All of us live in Portland at the moment, except for Manuel, who lives in Los Angeles. When I first started working with him, he still lived in Europe, so we are glad to have him closer and be able to include him in our tours.
GM: How did you learn to play music?
NH: Because of the different backgrounds of each of our members, it varies quite a bit between all of us. I learned flamenco from many teachers – too many to list – but among them are José Solano, Diego del Morao, Manuel Parrilla, José Antonio Rodríguez, Dani de Morón, Pepe del Morao, and Marcos Carmona.
We spend a lot of time in Spain and have had the great opportunity to study and eventually work with all of those great artists. Flamenco is still very much an oral tradition, and most of what I learned was in private study and then eventually learning “on the job” by accompanying dancers and singers, other instrumentalists. I also studied Arabic and Andalusi music at a school in Morocco. Lamiae studied Arabic Muwashshahat and Andalusi music in Morocco. After moving to the States, she received a grant to study classical Turkish singing in Istanbul with Aylin Şengün Taşçı and continued study with Eugene Lewis. And we are still always working on new things, from traditional pieces and techniques in our own backgrounds to new ideas informed by our backgrounds in those traditions.
GM: How did Seffarine come to exist?
NH: Lamiae and I were in touch through the Moroccan and world music scene, since I had lived and studied in Morocco and she was already involved in music. The first day we spent together, we wrote our first song and decided to get married, so our relationship and the music all started together. She moved to Portland, and we continued writing, traveling to study music and play gigs – from all over the West to Turkey, Spain, Morocco, France, and Indonesia.
From the beginning, we wanted to write music that was informed by our diverse musical backgrounds, but not just another “world music” project where different traditions are represented in the group, but no effort is made to blend them in an artistic way. We work hard to creatively unify all the influences into one unique voice, rather than separate parts that happen to be playing together. The other members of the group fit into the picture very naturally.
My friend and long-time musical partner Bobak Salehi and I had been working on all sorts of music for years by the time Seffarine formed–from Persian to Latin. Although he has a strong background in classical Persian music, he is incredibly versatile and has an amazing gift for adding color and soulful ornamentation to the music. Damian Erskine is a world renowned bassist and has been a huge inspiration for me. We were happy to have him with us for the recording sessions in Spain, where he blew the flamencos away too.
And Manuel Gutierrez, who plays cajón with us and is also a renowned flamenco dancer, was also a natural fit. I first met him on a few gigs in Canada, and his dancing and versatility came to mind immediately as we organized our first concerts as a full group. As a great improviser and flamenco dancer with incredible footwork technique, he translates the tricky rhythms of flamenco onto cajón with a deep groove and dynamics. His dance pieces are amazing and always a high point of each concert.
We also work with a great percussionist named Mimy Manavihare Fiaindratovo, who over the years has added so much to our sound. He has been with us through all the diverse musical situations we get ourselves into – from collaborations with South Indian Carnatic musicians in a temple, to concerts in jazz clubs and traditional flamenco shows. They are a great group of guys, fun to travel with, and Lamiae and I are so grateful to have them with us.
GM: What cultures and languages are present in Seffarine’s music?
NH: Our main influences and instrumentation come from Spanish flamenco, Moroccan and Andalusi (which was the music played in Spain during Moorish rule–kept alive today mostly in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia), Persian classical, and jazz. Lamiae sings mostly in Arabic but also Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Turkish.
GM: How do you write your material?
NH: Lamiae and I always write together. Ideas for pieces have started in many different ways. For example, Lamiae may have an idea for a melody in one of the Arabic scales that are not usually harmonized, and I find a flamenco chord progression that gives it an interesting effect. Or I have a rhythm and a line that I think could be developed, and we work on it together. Then we usually start throwing tons of ideas out until we find something unique and expressive. Sometimes it has been a long process. One of our songs, “Awraq,” started with just one chord voicing that I liked while playing in Istanbul. I kicked it around for a long time, and we finally finished the song back in Portland, then arranged and recorded it in Spain! And some happen more spontaneously–like the song we wrote on the first day we spent together.
GM: What inspires you as musician?
NH: Inspiration can come from so many places. Of course the masters of the styles of music we play (like Paco de Lucia for flamenco music, Anouar Brahem for oud, Vince Mendoza for composition, to name just a few) continue to inspire us. But the musicians I play with are probably the biggest source of inspiration for me. I’ve been fortunate in that way. Traveling and getting into as many kinds of music as possible has put me in touch with so many great musicians. Constantly hearing new rhythms, new cadences, new melodies and ornamentation challenges you to do something unique in your own writing and playing.
GM: What do you feel is most important to you about music?
NH: It would be hard to name one aspect of music. Communication maybe, because it takes so many forms when playing and writing music.
GM: Can you tell me about how your album was conceived and recorded?
NH: Lamiae and I were awarded a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council to record our new pieces in collaboration with some of the flamenco musicians we had met on our travels to Spain. Once we got there, word got around and some of my long-time favorite artists came to the studio. These were musicians I had been listening to for years, such as Diego del Morao, La Macanita, and Luís de Perikín. They liked what we were doing and offered to collaborate. It was a dream come true. We recorded 10 of our originals and named the album “De Fez a Jerez”–Fez is Lamiae’s hometown and Jerez is the town in Spain where we recorded the album, where many of the great artists of flamenco are from.
Feature Photo: Srivani Jade, left, and Anil Prasad, right, react to each other, during the Pangea Concert at the Columbia City Theatre on Nov. 5, 2018 (Photo: Carolyn Bick)