‘Music needs to be political’: An interview with Aisha Devi
Laying her Kate Wax moniker to rest after releases on Trevor Jackson’s Output and James Holden’s Border Community, Aïsha Devi set out on a new adventure with Danse Noire, her own label, launched in 2013 with the Aura 4 Everyone EP. Rapidly followed by the Hakken Dub/Throat Dub 12″ in summer 2014 alongside EPs from boundary blurring artists Vaghe Stelle and El Mahdy Jr, Danse Noire established its dedication to exploring abstract techno/club structures. Devi’s own music combines her Tibetan and Nepalese heritage, using her machines to transmute deep meditation. She was nominated for SHAPE by Rokolectiv Festival.
Your record, Hakken Dub/Throat Dub, is guttural and shamanistic. In the Eastern traditions, music is connected to spirituality.
Music is part of the spiritual world and also has a huge influence on healing and well-being because it is all about frequencies. Every tone of the voice has a different impact on the body.
You were vocally trained. Is it hard to switch between various ways of singing such s more meditative chanting and the “classical” Western way? Did you research these different techniques?
When you make music, you’re learning constantly. You cannot say to yourself, ‘Now I’m complete’. For twenty years, I was trained the European way with the soprano technique, which is already based on breathing, but centered on the control of your voice. It is very demanding. The operatic voice has a lot of rules so you’re constantly singing as if you were restrained in a box. I was singing like that and tried to apply it in my music but the more I was doing music, the more I needed to make that constraint explode. I knew how to sing soprano and did a lot of choir singing with classical Mozart and Beethoven pieces. Then I realised that I really needed to break the rules. The more I was experimenting with my voice, the better I felt. Even five years ago, I was using my voice like an instrument that you would tear apart, stretch. I didn’t consider my voice as something sacred. I really like the idea of breaking the voice and breaking the rules of the voice. Since I started meditating five or six years ago, it feels as if something has opened in my brain and there’s no way back.
I was doing a lot of humming and chanting the mantra. The more you’re doing mantras like that, the more your brain is starting to put itself into another vibration. It’s not esoteric, it’s purely mathematical and neurobiological. The more I’m doing that, the less I can sing the European way. It’s also a question of harmonisation. Ravi Shankar explained that very well. In Europe we have a scale based on fifths, sevenths, we have specific harmonies. But in India or the East, the scale is totally different. And from my point of view, that scale is more connected to an extraordinary brain trip. It means your brain is not constrained by a scale, and can really get away and travel and be connected with nature and its elements. It’s a fantastic journey, I’m learning every day.
You also chose your own civic name for this project. Is this connected to the search for your own roots and identity?
Every musician has his own quest. For me music is an initiator. It’s like travelling and trying to find truth and comfort in life. When you’re a musician or an artist, there’s something that doesn’t go well for you in that world. I had the urge to express myself musically. I turned towards that culture, also through doing a lot of meditation, when I travelled to India because I don’t know my father. He’s Indian-Nepalese with Burmese-Tibetan roots and now I’m starting to search for him. He might not be alive anymore. That search for my own identity corresponded with the changes in myself and my music. Everything told me to be myself, to be my own filter in this world, to take back my name and start naked. At the same time, the identity is not so important. It’s a fantastic alibi to discover that culture and that part that’s in me, but I will never feel comfortable in this world anyway. It’s not based on finding out who I am, it’s more about realising who we are as a human collective and going back to our rituals.
Your recent music also sounds darker, primal. Also with your label, Danse Noire, there’s a distancing from the more pop-oriented semantics. Does it come from a more introspective, darker place?
Danse Noire was born because I was a bit bored with that empty scene I was in. I really love playing and touring, but at the time I felt that maybe we need to go a bit further with the idea of entertainment. Since we’ve started Danse Noire, I absolutely love the electronic scene. Electronic music has never been as interesting as it is now. With Danse Noire, the idea was to make people realise that electronic music and raving is not about money or something superficial, it’s about bringing people together and having that collective transcendental experiment. The idea is to also underline the fact that when you’re hearing a repetitive loop, which is inherent in electronic music, it’s exactly the same as that of the old ritual music. And us humans need that ritual thing, we need to be connected in a club or a temple, and feel the experience of unity. It’s also connected to the idea that this music needs to be political and distance itself from pop. I love some pop music, but to me it’s still a brainwashed, consumerist and materialistic world, which I still have a foot in, but I think it’s interesting to deconstruct it and extract our reality from it and show how we can be a resistance towards that system.
So it’s like a statement as well?
Yes. I’m sure even if I could, I would not do pop music. I would not like to. I’ve never been so happy as I am in this small niche underground scene. The underground of the underground is where I really feel at home.
Was there a specific moment when you decided to stop Kate Wax?
It sounds a bit spectacular, but it felt like that at the time. I was staying with my stepfather’s family in Tunisia. My mother has been married to a Tunisian Tuareg, who’s also doing music, for fifteen years. The family lives in the last city before the Sahara desert. I was there to visit them and I was meditating a lot there. It appeared to me totally naturally that I should just let Kate Wax go and I buried her in the desert and took back my real identity. Every person has certain phases and it’s a perpetual process, nothing ever lasts, nothing is permanent. It was just a new perspective on life.
It’s interesting, that on one hand you have the spiritual side with the Eastern roots, but on the other, your grandfather was a physicist in Switzerland. Your background seems fascinating.
It’s just a dysfunctional family, like any family. I grew up with my grandmother so I travelled a lot with her when I was a kid, She passed away three months ago. There is a lot about her in my next album. There were tons of different feelings from that isolated childhood. Visiting a lot of countries opened my mind at that age. That loneliness encouraged me to have these imaginary worlds in my head. My mother was a kind of a hippie, my half sister is from Jamaica. In a way it’s like having the whole world in your family, it’s fantastic because it means there isn’t one perspective, but thousands of them. That’s what I’m also applying in music and life. Everybody has a different perspective and the idea is not to judge the other perspective but try to bring it together. My grandfather was a physicist, but he always had a huge interest in arts and was a friend of Carl Gustav Jung. He’s a really spiritual person. Most of the physicists are amazing, they are in love with the world and the cosmos. They are maybe the first ones to understand that cosmos is just a relative thing and we live in a visual illusion, everything can be turned into something else. It’s very interesting to rely on physics and try to understand the world from a physical perspective. It’s not so far from the first texts that were written 2000 AD in the veda. Metaphysics is very important for me.
So you also follow the latest developments at CERN? Does it make you worried about our future?
Actually I’m full of hope. I think it’s going to be a fantastic time. I live really close to CERN. My grandfather was also working there. They know a lot about anti-matter and things which us as Europeans don’t really want to know. It’s not good for capitalism, but it will come.
Can you speak about your upcoming album?
I’m really happy because it’s the first time that I have worked so fast. I had so many things on my mind, with my grandmother, who raised me, passing away, and I also met so many people. I was a really lonely person before but now I’ve really found a family. There was so much that I needed to talk about. The album is very intimate but there is less singing and the vocals are more abstract. It’s less about the ego but more about the vibrations and an atmosphere. I’m really happy about it. It’s coming out in autumn.
So for you music is also a way of communicating with others?
Definitely. First, it was my way to exist, because then I had a voice and people started to listen to me. Afterwards it became an experimental thing – the quest that everybody has and trying to put that into music and words. And now it’s really more about setting an atmosphere and trying to make people enter that cosmos and make them feel something. All the titles have a deep meaning, to trigger questioning and also a state of consciousness. But I cannot really talk about it. It belongs to the people who listen to it.
Some people say that once they create something, the creation is out in the public domain and it is its own thing.
Totally. And it has its own life. Even when I’m doing music now, since I meditate a lot, I’m in a mode of communication with the cosmos, and to me, it’s not even me. I’m just a transformer. Or a platform.
And this also goes for the label?
It’s really like an extended family. These are people who have the same ideas about music and letting go of the ego and working for the passion of music and changing society. We don’t want our children to grow up in that world anymore. There are lot of things to change in our European imperialistic perspective.
On July 5th, 2015, Aisha Devi will perform at Les Siestes Electroniques festival in Paris, working with ritual music from Nepal, Tibet and North India. For more information, click here.