SONIC EXPOSURE :: Vula Viel

“Recording and mixing was great fun, but it’s playing live that has taken this music out of Ghana and theory and into London and pumping reality. Every single gig we’ve ever played has been a swirling wave of power and energy. Having worked on the content and rehearsed for so long, when we started playing in London, something amazing happened and we began to really play!”

SONIC EXPOSURE :: Vula Viel

Irresistible energy

Good is Good, Vula Viel’s uplifting debut album, was shaped and recorded in London, but its core ingredients were brought from Africa. Many things had to happen so we could experience it. What things had to happen? Well, to get that answer you can just read the interview below or go here, there’s no reason for me to repeat it all. So, who are these guys and how good is their Good is Good? Well, Vula Viel consists of Bex Burch (Gyil—the Dagaare xylophone made of sacred lliga wood), Dan Nicholls (bass synth/keys), George Crowley (sax), and drummers Simon Roth and Dave De Rose. Vibes players Jim Hart and Stephen Burke have also contributed their magic to the album. And as for the album, it’s pretty damn good.

Traditional meets out of the box thinking. Strong African flavors, jazz orientations and sparks of electronica flirt with each other and generate infectious grooves and spiritual luminosity. Everything is woven together brilliantly and played with capturing, irresistible energy. A colorful tapestry full of exotic shades and crafty ornaments. An effervescent affair of genre-fusing. Vula Viel has created a powerful and refreshing debut album that shines with originality and boldness. Whether experienced out on a gathering in the woods or indoors under the blankets with a cup of rooibos tea, this music hits you hard, it hits you deep. The world definitely needs this music.


Igloo logo The story?

Bex :: When I first moved back to UK from Ghana, I was very unhappy. It was in this important ‘down’ time that the first album’s ideas took form. The day I really decided to make a change in my life, I tricked myself into believing I had won £1million. I went and sat watching the sea that night and felt the euphoria in my whole body. I imagined what I’d do with all this money, and the main thing was to make a band to play this music that was in my head! I imagined if I could chose anybody in the world to work with on this powerful music inside me, who would it be. It was about the people rather than the instrumentation.

George :: I used to live in a big shared musicians’ house in north west London; one of my housemates – the drummer Dave Smith – knew Bex from college, so when the first ever embryonic version of this band started rehearsing it was at our house. I got asked in about a year down the line; when the opportunity came up to get involved and embrace the challenges of some new (to me, anyway), very different music, I couldn’t really resist.

Bex :: And each member has made this music something alive and Good! I am very proud of our band. I’m proud of what we’re making in London. London is a feisty melting pot for creativity; both challenging and enabling.

Igloo logo Sound & style?

Bex :: Based on the powerful Dagaare funeral music from Ghana, these forms and tunes are real powerful dance music. Funerals are an important ritual, something I learnt in Ghana but I still apply here. We all carry all sorts of grief, and this music is designed to help us grieve, wail, cry so much that we come out the other side dancing. Personally, I guess I feel a lot of that while playing. I think, and I certainly hope, that’s why audiences love this music so much. Music has an important role to play in community and healing, especially when so much around us is changing.

George :: It’s difficult, but I’d normally call it some sort of Ghanaian inspired xylophone / beat mashup.

Igloo logo The album?

Dan :: The making of our album was a process of framing many years of musical development and experience – from Bex’s time spent in Ghana to our various experiences of playing various types of traditional African and electronic music. It was also a period in which we found our own sound within all those myriad influences – something which time in the studio can really help to achieve.

Simon :: Because the lineup of our band is quite unusual there’s a fluidity when it comes to roles within the group, and we’re always making little adjustments that give more depth to the music. Even since we recorded Good is Good, the way that we play the music has evolved, and this is the beautiful thing about music.

George :: We’d been gigging the material a lot, and rehearsed a lot, but logistically it was one of the toughest recordings I’ve been on – mainly I think due to the challenges of adequately capturing this instrumentation, which ate up time and put us under pressure, but I’m proud of the way we rallied and captured some great music. It’s amazing, looking back at how pressurised and stressy the vibe could be, and how bright and vibrant the music came out – by the time we finished on the second day I was quite happy to leave it in Bex’s and (producer) Matt’s hands for a bit!

Bex :: As a band, we rehearsed for 18 months and gigged for 6 before we recorded. Every note has been chosen and crafted together to make this sound. The same intention went into wider ‘members’ as it did with the band – Producer Matt Calvert has been a friend since I was 18, and even then I was amazed at his vision and ideas. Working with him has been incredible, and since recording ‘Good is Good’, I’ve learnt so much about arranging and writing that I’m looking forward to sharing in the future.

SONIC EXPOSURE :: Vula Viel

Igloo logo Live?

George :: Our live vibe is definitely high energy and groove-led, but within that there’s a lot of nuance and space for different textures and sounds. While I prefer live situations that are a bit more clubby, with people dancing and stuff, we’ve played gigs to audiences who’ve sat and listened intently and still seemed to love it, so hopefully there’s something in there for everyone. I recommend dancing, though…

Dan :: Because of our background in improvising we often try new things in a live setting, seeing how free we can be with some very fixed and complex structures. This gives the music it’s own life – a certain spontaneity which can create that feeling of trance which captivates us in Sufi and Dagaare funeral music as well as ‘Western’ dance music.

Bex :: Recording and mixing was great fun, but it’s playing live that has taken this music out of Ghana and theory and into London and pumping reality. Every single gig we’ve ever played has been a swirling wave of power and energy. Having worked on the content and rehearsed for so long, when we started playing in London, something amazing happened and we began to really play! I remember a gig in an old railway arch, high on a balcony looking down at this swirling, dancing crowd, and I began to jump! Two beautiful drummers beaming at each other, Dan and George so on it and I get a work out during our sets. I love it!!!

Igloo logo Memorable reaction?

George :: One time we did an impromptu set in Brixton Village after a rehearsal – sort of consolidating the material we’d rehearsed – and when we finished with Yaa Yaa (or an early version of it) some guy came running out of one of the restaurants, all ‘what was that?!’ He was born here but from Ghanaian family and he had heard the melody growing up, I think, and it brought something back and excited him – that was very cool.

Bex :: Children dancing, Dave and Simon ‘smile off’ at the SouthBank, George growing into a giant in a huge solo in a tiny Camden cellar! I have so many memories from gigs. I do love the audience reactions to this music. I’ve made so many friends this year of people who have come to gigs and I’ve connected with on a deep level. Our audiences have been as much part of the VV vibe as we have. Everyone is right there with us on this journey.

Igloo logo On heavy rotation?

Bex :: I’m learning some Beethoven on the piano, and I have Nirvana, Tortoise and Koo Nimo in my car. Jogging is my time for the birds and the leaves!!

George :: It changes every day… Currently quite a bit of techno – Paula Temple, Lucy – and I’m still obsessed with the Congotronics stuff – Konono No.1 and Kasai Allstars. On the more local front a young saxophone player here in London called Joe Wright – he’s a monster, and a beautiful musician.

Simon :: Tortoise – Standards, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh – Music for an Elliptical Orbit, Aphex Twin – Drukqs, Roland Kirk – Rip, Rig & Panic, The Meters.

Vula Viel | Good is Good | Yes Yaa Yaa EP | Gig updates | Photography courtesy of Alex Bonney

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