Adelaide twelve piece Shaloin Afronauts have proven to be as ambitious and far reaching as their name suggests. The band play music in the Afro funk style, but not as one has heard it before.
The instrumental band bring a somewhat futuristic spin to the sense and style of Afro funk, giving it a really different and intriguing sense of life and being. Known for the spontaneity and passionate embrace of what they do on a musical level, the band’s first album, Flight Of The Ancients, displayed a charming and exciting take on the music, combining elements of free jazz and the band mixing up the music in their own unique way.
One immediately thinks of moments when artists have challenged the listener and deliberately blurred musical lines and boundaries. When listening to Shaloin Afronauts, a good comparison would be the landmark 1970 Miles Davis album Bitches Brew, which introduced strong ‘rock’ elements to jazz, truly taking the music somewhere it hadn’t been before. This sense of adventure and musical exploration is what lies at the heart of Shaloin Afronauts.
The band have been making a strong name for themselves across the world via their appearnce at Womadelaide this year and also their international record deal which has seen Flight Of The Ancients garner fans across the world.
Tone Deaf’s Neil Evans recently spoke to Ross Mc Henry, the bass player from Shaloin Afronauts.
When did the band form, and what were Shaolin Afronauts trying to achieve musically?
The band formed in 2008. Musically we are trying to express ourselves through both composition and improvisation whilst channeling the spirit and intensity of 1970’s West Africa.
Why do you find Afro beat so inspiring?
I believe we don’t choose the music we love, rather that it chooses us. I’ve always loved Afrobeat, ever since I first heard Fela I was hooked. For me it’s the spirit, the raw expression and the intensity which the music is played with that inspires me.
What influence musically do other members bring to Shaolin Afronauts?
The guys are all unbelievable musicians. They bring improvisational prowess and an incredible musicality to the band. It’s an honor to play alongside these guys.
How have audiences responded to the band?
In the beginning I’m not sure if people really understood what we were trying to do. I don’t thing they really got the costumes or extended improvisations. But people have really warmed to it and now the people who come to our shows really get into it!
Your debut album, Flight Of The Ancients, was a great opening statement of intent for the band, and captured the spirit and vibe of your music beautifully. Do you have further recording plans?
Yes, we are recording the next album in January. It will be scored for an expanded ensemble of 18 members and will showcase not only our Afrobeat influences, which form the core of the group’s musical directive, but also the influence of avante-garde jazz and hip hop on us as a band.
The band have a fantastic live reputation. From a band perspective, how is the live experience as opposed to recording?
The live thing focuses around building the intensity over a longer period of time and across and entire set whereas the studio is very focused on doing this over a shorter period of time. That’s the main difference in terms of performance; we track with everyone live in the studio and usually very quickly so apart from that they are similar in a lot of ways.
Who are your inspirations as far as playing bass is concerned?
On the jazz side of things my first bass hero was Jaco. I first heard him on the tune “Come On Come Over” at age 15 and it blew my mind. I immediately bought the Jaco Pastorius self titled album and committed myself to playing like that for about the next five years.
In terms of the way I approach playing the bass nowdays, I think my primary influences are guys like Paul Jackson, James Jamerson and the Miles era Michael Henderson. These guys played with incredible dexterity and soul without compromising the groove. That’s what I try to do!
Will the band be touring Australia again soon?
Yes, the band will be touring the country again in conjunction with the release of our next album hopefully mid next year!
Shaolin Afronauts will play as part of Sessions at Adelaide Festival Centre which includes other acts such as Asa, Féfé, Adam Page and Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro. To find out about Shaolin Afronauts own headline shows get in touch on MySpace or Facebook.