Israeli-born composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Kutiman spoke to Ally ahead of the release of his fourth studio-album Wachaga. Since his eponymous 2007 album, Kutiman has become known for his psychedelic-flecked compositions and his vibrant videos. Here, Ophir "Kutiman" Kutiel, uncovers his truly creative outlook, painting an image of someone who is able to take inspiration from wherever he is or whatever he sets his mind on.
Starting with your origins Kutiman, what can you tell us about your musical journey growing up in Israel? How did you find it studying in Tel Aviv, which seems to have an incredible music scene with many great artists and producers coming out of there right now?
"I grew up in a small village in the northern part of Israel and it was quite isolated in terms of culture. I didn’t have a record store around, and this was all before the internet, so I didn’t really have a chance to be exposed to a lot of music. "
"Thankfully, when I moved to Tel Aviv around the age of 19, I met the 'right' people who introduced me to some amazing music that I'd never heard of. I didn't even know about James Brown... and I heard Fela Kuti, Parliament, Jimi Hendrix and many more for the first time. It was a revelation for me and a huge source of inspiration. At the same time, I got my first ever internet connection and I haven't left the house since then."
"The Tel Aviv scene is wonderful, I don't really have anything to compare it to as I've never been active in any other music scene around the world, but it’s really creative and there so many crazy musicians and producers involved."
Switching to the album and focussing on 'Wachaga', what drew you to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Wachaga peoples in the first place?
"I was invited to create a project for a travel company. The initial idea was to create a "mix the city" kind of project where I'd mix all the footage and music into a 4-minute video that showcased both the country and the music. The project evolved and when I went over the materials, I felt I wanted to go a little deeper with it… So, I just started playing on some of the recordings and ended up creating this album. "
Were the Wachaga peoples warm and open to sharing their musical sounds and daily lives for this album? Were there any standout moments you can share from your time with them?
"The whole trip was very intense timewise and my encounters with the musicians and tribes were very short... I recorded and filmed many musicians and tribes but eventually, the entire album is based on two or three days of recording from this trip. Having said that, the Wachaga people were very very warm, kind and funny... We had an amazing time together which included music and dancing, drinking Banana beer and planting trees."
What story did you want to tell with 'Wachaga'? How do you feel it's different from your previous projects?
"I think my story is the music and videos and I hope anyone who listens/watches the album will create their own narrative from it. Conceptually, it's based on my Tanzanian trip and the recordings that evolved from it. I guess that's what makes it different from previous and future work of mine, though the creative process is pretty much the same as other albums."
Did you learn anything, musically and generally, from your time with the Wachaga people? Will you want to incorporate more field recordings in the future?
"I'm sure I learned new things, as I think I do every time I see or experience something new, but it's not something that I can point out like learning a skill. Although my time with the Wachaga people and other tribes and musicians was short, it was a very profound experience and very different from my everyday reality. Experiences like this open my mind and my heart, and I believe change me as a person and as an artist."
Admittedly it's difficult to incorporate field recordings in such a beautiful way as you have with 'Wachaga', but why have you waited six years to release this album? Was it a matter of giving yourself time to fully channel these sounds in the way you wanted?
"This is the way I usually work. I start a project, give it all I've got until I run out of inspiration and then I let it sit and come back to it from time to time to see how I feel about it and if I feel inspired again I give it another go. Sometimes it takes one month to finish and sometimes six years (or even more). But I don't think I've ever started a project (my own project) and finished it in one go."
As well as incorporating your signature psychedelic sound, there are even more jazz elements in 'Wachaga' than some of your previous works. What has drawn you to include more of these sounds? Can we expect similar sounds going forward?
"Yes, at the time I was listening to a lot of spiritual jazz like Alice and John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef and this area... I also got a new (old but new to me) contrabass and was very inspired by this jazzy sound. Later, I discovered Sun Ra, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman and more crazy stuff and went a bit further with my boundaries but that's another story for another album."
Over the past few years, it seems like you've been releasing a new project every few months. Have you felt more creatively inspired across the past few years and how are you able to keep your music sounding original?
"I'm spending most of my time in my studio working on one project or another and I've been doing this for quite some time now, so I have a lot of music and projects on my hard drive. Some are nearly finished, and some will probably never see the light of day..."
"In the past few years, and even more in this year, I'm trying to take my music more seriously and I feel like I want to put out whatever I can in order to make room for new ideas and inspiration for future projects. I'm very happy to hear you think my music is original as I usually just try to imitate something that I like, and I get lost along the way."
In 2019, you released 'Antarctica', a project commissioned by Greenpeace. Connecting 'Antarctica', 'Wachaga' and projects you have worked on with other musicians, do you find yourself inspired by locations and place?
"It's hard to say what inspires me... it can be an album, a YouTube tutorial, a song playing in the radio, a conversation, a trip, a location and many other different things...inspiration is a magical mystery to me."
What are your plans going forward after Wachaga? Do you want to explore more field recordings and is there anything in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
"I have a few things that I'm currently working on but it doesn't mean they will be out next. I spent some time in Kolkata India learning tabla, about two months, which was the very tiny tip of the iceberg as it's such a complicated instrument and in general been listening and inspired by a lot of Indian music and that found its way into some of the new projects and also been exploring electronic music and new methods and setups of creating music that are new and very exciting for me."
"I'm also trying to improve my visual toolkit by learning Blender, a 3D software that been really blowing my mind at the moment... Hopefully, one of the projects or methods that I mentioned will be out sometime in the next six years."
Kutiman's Wachaga is out July 17th 2020 via Kutiman's Siyal Records.
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