FOLLOW

30 April – Tonight I had a conversation, with a man I’ve never met.  Him a stone, and I a bird.  Pierre.  Tui.  We stood upside down from each other, on either side of the planet.  Wood was the language in common.  The resonance of it.  The way it carries music.  The calm it harbours.  The way it is both permeable and protective…

Apparently we spoke for his (beautiful!) blog piece @ La Maison Jaune concerning the release of my new record with Beating Drum.  But in truth, we spoke for the life altering properties of listening.  For the way strangers can meet in intimacy, through art.  For the alchemic wonder of surrendering our lives to the riddle of colour, shape and frequency, where ideas echo our impermanence, and in doing so, confirm our belonging, to the great wheel.

20 May – Oh, what happens when you let the music lead!  I confess I started playing the guitar when my heart broke.  It was a physical consolation.  And a revelation.  I started writing from a new silence.  The one that came after.  After my Bulgarian Folklore studies in Plovdiv – where I soaked in odd-meters, crumbled beneath the beauty of the timbre (vocal that is) and was securely wrapped in ornaments.  I wrote armfuls of songs into that silence, and a handful made it through.  To a recording…

In following the incandescent (or is it indecent!) “why not” protocol, I hunted out the sound engineer, who, in the world, had captured my favourite female vocal recording – Rokia Traore’s Tchamantché.  Yep, internet.  I found him, and his microphones.  Patrick Jauneaud.  We agreed.  And so, tucked away in resonant mountains in the south of France, some delicate, ardourful songs were stitched to light.

I wanted to do it all alone, you know, and with just one voice and one small guitar.  To . render . complete . justice . to . the . silence.  Patrick suggested that this was ambitious – that artists usually do such a thing in their masterful age!  He coaxed me into playing around with a few layers.  Relaxing the rules a little, I allowed myself to some sing harmonies on the record.  And.  Patrick passed the tunes onto someone I’d never met – but had admired the music of – Piers Faccini.

Piers heard something of  himself in this music.  And his delve into my online presence confirmed our common love for quiet spaces.  He offered to collaborate on a record.  We took an EP worth of my songs and let his expert ears/hands influence their body.

I was scared.  Scared of not being strong enough in my vision.  Scared of failing in my new found independence, by letting another artist alter my babies.  Temperaments shuffled.  We braved it for the love of music, for loyalty to the unknown, and to let the colours in.  Because none of it belongs to us anyway.  And they were beautiful.

The way I see it, Piers bought the village, dancing, to my hermits cave.

These arrangements feature layers of tender instrumentation, including slide guitar, harmonica, voice, piano, gembri and an evocative selection of percussion.  Much of it was played by Piers himself, with spirited interventions by Malik Ziad and Tunji Beier.

Stills taken from FOLLOW.  Underwater capture by Monty Bevins, thank you!

The tune I’ve made a film for first, travels for 6 minutes of 11/16 time, looping around our hearts, the globe and back.  With footage from Bulgaria, France and Aotearoa/NZ – this is a song for the first smile, for the last sigh, and for all the gratitude in between.

WATCH [FOLLOW by TUi MAMAKi] HERE

The RECORD from which this song is takeN, TUi MAMAKi “Hear My Voice” (Beating DRum RECORDS 2018), is available in limited edition vinyl – with artwork by Piers Faccini – and/or download HERE

 

 

 

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Capture

This one… what is in a raw capture?

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when a storm strikes, we don’t sleep but we play. And the audio captured there has all the traits of befriending chance: the swells of wind rocking the hut like a small boat, the lashings of rain on the corrugated iron mingling with the breath, the proximity of the fingers that blur the lines, the turning, the hisses and the crackles of a voice telling a story… once. This is what I wanted to share with you! Not the studio control, not the pristine malleability of elements, but an actual living moment = a moment I loved and the imperfect traces of which, are perfect.

We made a moving image to expand on this capture. The women I worked with brought their eye, their imagination, their emotional response to the sound, to the one day we had together, to the gear we borrowed and to the spirit of improvisation-collaboration we claimed as our own… It is my genuine pleasure to share with you “Between Storms”.

It speaks to the slice of silence between great changes, departures, transitions. To the sanctuary of intimacy – which for a moment feels like a kind of eternity. To the solitude we choose, like a position on the edge of the world, on the edge of ourselves, on the edge of each other… it is a tender piece of attention to our transience and mortality.

BETWEEN STORMS

I let you in
Just enough to feel the breath between us
I let you in, just enough to be known
Put me to sleep between the sheets of our ice and snow
Willing to meet between the words where the silence grows

Two thousand years
Just enough to feel the breath between us
Two thousand years, just enough to be known
Put me to sleep between the roots and the earth around
Willing to meet upon the leaves where the light is found

дай ми да спя
между теб и снега
дай ми да летя
в ръцете ти, да видя

че,
луничките ти са звезди
на бели равни ливади
на чаршафа

там се срещат сънищата ни
и между тях се движи душата
на зората…

Translation:
Let me sleep between you and the snow
Let me fly in your hands, to see
That your freckles are constellations
On the pale, even fields of the linen
There meet our dreams
And between them moves
The soul of the dawn…

*Thank you Iliana Tabor for helping me with my first ever Bulgarian language lyrics!

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“Between Storms” composed & performed by TUi MAMAKi.
Audio captured on a ZoomHn4 on a stormy night in a hut…
Moving image directed by Meg Perrott & Margaret Gordon.

Direction of Photography – Meg Perrot
Editing – Margaret Gordon
Costume – Rochelle Beaty

Still from “Between Storms” https://youtu.be/itAGDk5aBeo

 

 

MOVING IMAGE

I started out as a visual artist.  Or was that simply being a child?

I grew up in a remote, wonderfully isolated valley, without streetlights or tar-seal, or television.  The endless wonders of a blank page were akin to the endless aural spaces one could interact with: to sing-talk with the birds or the ocean, to build huts and stories in the bush, or to draw boundless imaginings in colour, on the kitchen floor or table.  Long intimate conversations unfolded between me and perhaps, pure potential.  It was thanks to kind and creative teachers that dance, song and art were valued in the curriculum.  The focus sharpened when I met Mr Harris at Tikipunga High School and embarked on a painting, sculpture and photography odyssey, and never looked back… not until I reached Elam Art School that is, where I found myself longing for happenings. I wanted to see things in motion!  If there had been a Performance Art Department there at the time, I might have stayed, but the roads called me out of school – into the world of fire-dancing, street-performance, theatre and ultimately, song.

Still taken from RiUWAKA by TUi MAMAKi

These days I hardly put a pencil to the page, save for designing concert posters or occasional album artwork… but the SOUNDS I get to make are colours, and the words that come conjure images… and then there are the opportunities to collaborate:

When I met Shannon Aroha on Takaka Hill, at Luminate Festival 2017, we found ourselves brainstorming a collaboration just a few sentences into the conversation.  Let’s do something!  A few months later, equipped with a zero budget and a common love for improvisation, we found ourselves filming in the limpid lights of the Raglan area, where she is based.

The theme of clear water kind of hurts these days, given that intensive dairy farming in New Zealand has polluted so many of our rivers… (time to turn that around!!)  And so, potently, a song about clear water – as a reality and a metaphor – is the one to start with.  RiUWAKA (Riwaka) is a sacred place at the foot of Takaka Hill, that many visit for it’s healing waters – waters distilled by the crystal mountain labyrinth through which they pass, before springing back up at the resurgence.  Raglan, where we actually filmed, is on the other island.  A journey from Te Wai Pounamu to Te Ika a Maui is but a small hop, given the international fabric of this project:

The instrumentation is inspired by my love affair with Bulgarian Folklore rhythms, intricately irregular, but played on my Little Martin guitar, like a harp.  The story is one of reaching beyond the feeling of fracture in intimacy, through into the inevitable wholeness of surrender.  The vocal lines, though steeped in the ornaments of Bulgarian songs, are delivered like a delicate prayer.  My parts, on voice and guitar, were recorded in an old silk-worm incubator: a beautiful stone-floored, high-ceiling, luminous music studio, in the Cevennes mountains, in the south of France.  (How I found that place and the magical engineer, Patrick Jauneaud, within it, is another story for another time).  Add to that a serendipitous meeting with Australian percussionist Tunji Beier, on a festival stage.  Tunji here plays the Kanjira, a South Indian frame drum, with both subtlety and spirit.

With Shannon’s eye, and Andy’s flying captures, the visual flair this time is not mine.  Shannon’s musical sensitivity translated seamlessly and it was a joy to let her lead.  Somehow, playing a character in the moving image was an experience between dance and meditation:  attuning to the light, the bush, the water, to the dreams that turn our eyes into windows, where imaginings can impart tranquility, and somehow bridge our mortal separations.

I hope you will enjoy the viewing as much as we have the process!

Please share/embed the video freely, and do leave your impressions in the youtube comments + touch that thumbs up thing – it all helps to gather kin energy and to celebrate this piece of quiet, in a loud world.

WATCH RiUWAKA HERE

Between Storms

Composed on the flights between Bulgaria and Aotearoa/NZ, my first ever bi-lingual (English/Bulgarian) tune – a musing on meetings, between cultures and generations, between souls and skins, and on the instrument of language.  (Recorded spontaneously during a midnight storm, in a little hut, on a hill, somewhere in the South Pacific.)

How it came to be?

Kilometers above the clouds, in a great bird of steel, packed neatly in rows, with hundreds of other souls, it is easy to blur the sense of belonging – in terms of location, climate and fragrance that is – but we cannot escape our histories and our imaginings. The question of cultural identity begs for detail – these traditions, so rich, have been forged through repetition, through an age old distill, whereby exotic influence meets the ferment of isolation. We need the cross-pollination for energy, but we need the hermetic aspect for quality. Each in their own time? Is it a process we can guide?

In Bulgaria I have witnessed a divide between those who reject the said Folklore Music as a pure product of the communist era, as a distortion and appropriation of village song for the representation of the party, as a practice now stuck in time and no longer of any use to the Bulgaria that must catch up for lost (iron curtain) time… And then there are the others.  Others, who rejoice in the vibrant, profound, nuanced and unparalleled prowess of the rhythms, the ornaments and the unique arrangements.  Others, who delight in the lush colors and sacred patterns, through which they breathe the mojo of their ancestors.  Others, who vow to guide a spirited, thriving art-form into a healthy future.

I came here because of it. This Folklore. And the most improbable spirits gather to it from all around the world, like moths to a light. Some of the most bewitching singers I have met in Bulgaria exude a devotion to spread this musical richness globally, naturally, and preferably, person to person. When they come to understand the work I am doing, they generally tell me they are thrilled that I am helping to share their culture. I do, however, fear my own ignorance and feel a duty to honor the quality of the work by continually seeking to deepen my understanding and my own practice. Ironically, it is through sharing it that parts of it get integrated or understood – through performing it with my vocal trio ACAPOLLiNATiONS, through teaching aspects of it in my World of Voice Workshops in NZ, and through composing and recording original works inspired by it, as I am doing for my upcoming album.

Some Westerners, blown away by the power of the traditional Bulgarian song (which has undeniably been forged through generations of passionate, war fraught, tough mountain people), and intrigued by the timbre and spirit that it solicits in my voice, have encouraged me to record some… to be able share it further than in my live gigs… I feel awkward about this. It doesn’t belong to me. But perhaps I belong to it.  And so my whole perspective on cultural belonging begins to shift – as I feel words coming out first in Bulgarian (followed by the curious need to translate them back into English!), as I effortlessly shake my head to agree, as I hear new song ideas in 7 or 11 or 13, and as I write my first lyrics in this new ancient tongue… smalls steps on a long loving road.

The Bulgarians colleagues I have played my new tunes to, relate to them,  tap along and feel reflected, yet are taken elsewhere. The feedback has been luminous.  But the road is treacherous. Do we protect, preserve, guard the authentic forms? Do we share, morph, re-interpret and speak through them, with our own accent? Or is there a way to make a savvy, sacred blend of both schools?

An accent. We all have. But we only hear it when we’ve been away, when we meet another, different. And this is the beauty of our motion – to reach out to each other and be changed for it, but simultaneously to dig deep and slow and to pay our dues to the ancestors – for without their breath, we are nothing, and without our song, they are gone.

On so, on that great steel bird, between Bulgaria to Aotearoa, I watched ‘El Olivo’, the beautiful story of a 2000 year old olive tree and the wound that its sale creates in a Spanish family, and their soul journey to try to bring it home.  All these musings interwove, and I heard something, kilometers above the clouds…

BETWEEN STORMS

I let you in, just enough to feel the breath between us
I let you in, just enough to be known
Put me to sleep between the sheets of our ice and snow
I’m willing to meet between the words where the silence grows

Two thousand years, just enough to feel the breath between us
Two thousand years, just enough to be known
Put me to sleep between the roots and the earth around
I’m willing to meet upon the leaves where the light is found

дай ми да спя
между теб и снега
дай ми да летя
в ръцете ти, да видя

че, луничките ти са звезди
на бели равни ливади
на чаршафа …

там се срещат сънищата ни
и между тях се движи душата
на зората …

Listen to BETWEEN STORMS and other musings: www.soundcloud.com/tui-mamaki

winter-lights-square

Koprivshtitsa

Koprivshtitsa National Folklore Festival happens only every 5 years!  Named after the potent Kopriva (nettle), this seriously charming cluster of stone and wooden houses is nestled in the Sredna Gora mountains, in central Bulgaria.  Renowned for its role in the 1876 uprising, Koprivshtitsa  now opens its valley arms for 3 days and nights, to travelers from all around the country and the globe…

Fleeting impressions for me – in the bustle, in the heat… bus loads of singers, players and dancers from all over the country, come and go. Impressive army tents house these humble magicians, in the fields beneath the village.  Fancifully-retro dressed by day, plain-clothe ninja’s by night.  The best parties happen in the dark, long after the official program has finished, and yet, in broad daylight, flanked by beer sponsored parasols and busy promotional banners, swamped by folk-thirsty admirers in garish modern attire, they always seem to protect and carry the mysterious presence of their ancestors, both in their sound and movement.  Powerful voices break through mediocre PAs, elegant feet fly in bewitching unison over plain concrete slabs, all beneath a heavy blue sky, between the tall pines.

The most beautiful old women you have ever seen, brandish brilliant smiles with single teeth, wear showers of golden coins on their bosom, carry plump roses in their hair, and make their painstaking way up and down the mountain every day, from forest stages to cobbled streets, all in good time, laughing at us travelers, for a reason or two…

 WATCH & LISTEN HERE

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Kukeri

In a small village not too far from Plovdiv, a motley carnival crowd gathers beneath the cold cloud to soak up the transformative energy of the Kukeri.

The men of the village, costumed and masked, wear a belt of clanging copper bells and carry wooden swords, symbols of fertility, with which they may bless your shoulder. Beautiful black hessian hoods in pyramid form are carried high and sometimes come down to shroud the men. They have already been through the houses to chase the evil spirits away and to bring good health, abundant harvest and happiness. Now they dance-walk, encircling the driving solar rhythms of the ‘tapan’ drums and the hypnotic melodies of the ‘zurna’ wind instrument, played by local Romani musicians.

Kukeri

Traditionally performed only by men, today it is a young woman in hidden-heel-bling-sneakers who carries the leading phallus of the parade. Incongruous rubber gorilla masks mingle with the more traditional woolley-horned spirits and some beautifully hand-made colourful cloth masks…

A ritual that was forbidden during the totalitarian years here exudes a rough kind of gusto – tattooed muscle smokes in the back-line, but there is always time for that energetic whacking of peoples backs with an inflated sheep’s stomach, to chase out evil spirits and bring good health!

Further…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQKFnFAUdHE
https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=459170877522636&theater

ARRIVAL

26/9/14

The distinct sensation of being a jellyfish – carried by the currents, tumbled by the waves, exhibiting a generally transparent personality, with not a word to say. I have become an ambivalent witness of the lights passing through me and frequently quiver with salty emotion.  My dear partner returned to Aotearoa/NZ yesterday. This singular year begins…

7/10/14

Stepping out from my school, each turn is a cobbled cross-country exercise. Large, irregular and ancient stones carry high-heeled women, walking as if they were crossing a river ford (romance is augmented when there is a man’s arm to hold onto…) Aside from this riveting spectacle, the narrow streets, misty today, lead into gardens, churches, galleries, houses for music and their courtyards, where roses hang their heads, heavy with rain, where words emerge triumphantly from a child’s mouth, “o, чадър! как се казваш?” (Oh, umbrella! What’s your name?) And so, a grandfather chuckles, while the milk-bearing mother cat streaks across the way, furtively seizing her moment…

Plovdiv AmphitheaterFilip-Kutev-EnsembleThe roman amphitheater, onto which the academy opens, is home to grand performances, two of which I have been lucky enough to catch. The famous Trakia and Filip Kutev Ensembles spread their brilliant wares even though it rained. My favorite acappella quartet, Eva Quartet, will sing in a music-house at end of the month. Classical music is also in high regard and I am learning to sort my outings by preference as the West European classics ‘à la Bulgare’ have markedly less spine-chilling watts for me, than the gripping arrangements of local polyphony.

With Plovdiv vying for some “cultural capital of the year” European title in 2019, council money is lavished on swish ruin illuminations, stars beneath our feet, and plenty of concerts / presentations, in what seems to be an extra long warm up, while just a street or two back, large old houses are in ruin and graffiti reigns…

My-VistaFacadeNevertheless, praise to the muted sound of the main pedestrian street at night – how calm a city can be with the sweet absence of cars! I’ve only been in one since I am here. The intercity buses are brilliant.

I am renting a room in a house built at the beginning of last century. Sharing no language with my landlady, I discovered after some time that I was not flatting with a fiery artist, but with her nifty mother. With the pension being but 200lev per month (not enough to live on) pennies are pinched: cold-water dishes and shower water heated just enough for one at a time, menus consisting mostly of potatoes, beans and tomatoes, as they are in season. Cigarettes are cheap, so those don’t count. I’m keeping up with a little more than spuds myself, and feasting on olives, goats cheese, dark bread, walnuts, honey…

The floorboards are pretty wild to say the least, some windows don’t open and each door has its own voice. The bathroom and kitchen are like caves that you climb into, built hugging the shape of the mountain. Because yes, the charm is that I am at the foot of one of Plovdiv’s 5 hills, each rising abruptly out of the pure plain.

West-from-SahatThese rockin’ bumps are home to roman ruins, minarets from the Ottoman time turned bell-tower, humongous soviet style statues left over from socialist times, clusters of satellite dishes, prolific graffiti on rock, kissing youth, pre-teens having their first cider out of school on a Tuesday, dogs walking their masters, the occasional lost soul – monologuing, and many scratchy bushes and trees that I don’t know the name of…

I made my first geranium cuttings and, lo and behold, despite it being autumn, they are budding on my windowsill.  I practice yoga facing the south window (where the warmth is!) and have already lost count of the yellow leaves falling. They are swept away, daily, by the Roma sweepers… Yes, all the sweeper women, with their brush brooms, are darker eyed, darker skinned, and have experienced the weather… I have been shocked by more than one vehement comment on the subject of this unofficial ethnic hierarchy.

My anticipated health sacrifice – to spend a year in a place where they smoke madly indoors, in search of music – is null and void.  Three years ago the Bulgarian people passed the no-smoking-indoors law, which is a total blessing, considering that they are 2nd in the world (smokers per capita) just after Greece and just before Serbia… one can sense the Philip Morris mantel sweeping steadily across the landscape.

10/10/14

There has been more than one administrative riddle and it has taken a good two weeks to understand my timetable and attend the right classes as the right time! The road was not paved – so to speak, and the phenomenal ability humans have to misunderstand each other in normal life, was visibly augmented by our language/cultural barriers. But school is beautiful – see one of the back doors and the steps of the singer’s building below…

School-DoorSingers-BuildingNow with a whole 8 afternoons of language class under my belt, I forage into conversation and just try to keep “спокоино” (calm) when it goes over my head – which is usually by the 2nd or 3rd sentence. There are some angels undercover here, who take the time to smile into my eyes, listen patiently and find words in their broken English to help.

The all female Folklore Choir makes a sound you wouldn’t believe. This, being the main attraction for me, ironically, was the class I wasn’t given information about for two weeks. I could hear them down the corridors but didn’t dare barge in, mid-rehearsal. All is well that ends (or continues) well. I got my dose of shivers today and have a pile of scores to catch up on, with the double task of learning text that doesn’t mean anything to me… yet! I am a sponge, I am sponge, I am sponge…  Here is a short sample of their rehearsal today in Plovdiv. Those of you who know me will understand why I am in pure bliss at the notion of soaking in this for a year.

Otherwise, the dear Prof. Dora Hristova welcomes me into her vocal ensembles on Thursdays – singing in trio to quintet formation. Such a blessing to study intimately with this experienced woman, the conductor of the LMVB (Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares) choir itself! She is bright, generous and inclusive.

The third strand of my study, individual Folklore singing, has opened up its share of tasks with 5 songs already – lavishly ornamented, of various odd-meters, I am encouraged to maintain a particularly clear and forward vowel resonance, and to use short percussive consonants – which is extra funny when there are 4 of them in a row! The 7 distinct regions of Folklore song in Bulgaria will be revealed to me as we go. For now I have 3 tunes from Trakia and 2 from Rodopi on the boiler…