As part of Jazz Leeds Festival 2019, Ally spoke to Bex Burch of Vula Viel, who leads the dynamic and forward-thinking UK trio who weave sparse polyrhythms and intricate rhythmic structures to create a unique and electrifying sound.
In January this year, the group released their sophomore album Do Not Be Afraid, continuing their musical journey centered around the Gyil (Ghanian xylophone).
Do Not Be Afraid, your second album, was released at the start of the year. What has the reception been like and where has it led you so far?
"Do Not Be Afraid has been the year of many firsts: we’ve had massive support from audiences on our 2 weeks U.K. tour and for the first time mainland Europe, plus great encouragement from radio and print press. I hosted my first radio show on Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide FM earlier this year (which I loved doing!) and played a Gyil while it was on fire.. lots more, but mainly, the music and Band is growing."
Much of your sound on Do Not Be Afraid seems to relate and draw from your time in Ghana. What key elements do you think you drew from your time in Ghana? How do those elements compare to your classical education?
"The forms and structures of a lot of DNBA were first taught to me by Thomas Sekgura in Guo, Ghana. And I just love them! The simple asymmetry and tension and release just works, especially on the pentatonic world. The rhythmic structure and the processes that make Dagaare music groove are also big influences on this album. However, I would say that the sounds of DNBA draw rather from London, from playing together here and are more influenced by Ruth [Goller - bass], Jim [Hart - drums] and myself."
What entails being a Gyil Apprentice? Do you think making and creating the instruments you would play led to any deeper appreciation of your music?
"I was apprentice in making Gyilli to the late Thomas Sekgura. It entailed doing what he told me to. I can’t speak for any other Gyil apprenticeships! Making my instrument does give me a deeper connection to the notes, the wood, the sound and the music I make."
It’s clear you draw inspiration from minimalist composers such as Steve Reich. Are there any Ghanian musicians who you think we should know or keep an eye out for?
"Influence I’d say, rather than inspiration. Inspiration comes from within. Steve Reich’s early percussion music influences me as it was so important to me as a teenager and my way into finding my own voice. In Ghana, you need to know Koo Nimo, Guy One, Osei Korankye. And keep an eye out for Stevo Atambire."
Your music is very percussion-heavy and rhythmically driven. What aspects draw you to this? How do you go about your music writing process?
"I have always enjoyed hitting things for sound. I think it’s part of who I am. I sometimes write from the instrument, playing for no one and keeping bits. I also write away from the Gyil, notating the ideas that come as visions, and working them to make the strongest groove and communicate it to an audience."
What are the next steps with Vula Viel? Is there anything project-wise you can tell us about?
"We are creating! With the growth of the Music and VV as a band this year, I am excited about what we are making but I can only be very vague right now. Watch this space! VulaViel.com"