In this interview about his new album Let It Be Told with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (Basho), Julian Argüelles explains some background…
LondonJazz News: How did Let It Be Told Come into being, and were your brother Steve and Django Bates both involved frm the start?
Julian Argüelles: I’ve been fortunate to be asked to go to Germany to compose and arrange music for German Radio Big Bands and this project was an idea I put to the Frankfurt Radio Big band in 2010. Originally it was going to feature my Loose Tubes colleague percussionist Thebe Lipere, but he went back to South Africa and was unavailable for the first gigs. The natural choice was to get my brother Steve involved on percussion (actually a drum-percussion hybrid setup), and as activity for this project in Germany developed it was suggested to use Django Bates on Keyboards. Both Steve and Django were long time musical associates of Dudu Pukwana (and others from the SA scene) and the music became so much more vibrant when they got involved. It was for the three of us a labour of love.
LJN: How did you first get to know South African music?
JA: I moved to London in 1984 and it was shortly after this that I became aware of the South African scene. The awareness probably came from my connection to Loose Tubes (which was a band I was depping in before I joined them in 1986). My brother Steve, Django, Dave Defries, and Chris Batchelor were all active performing with South African exiles living in the UK and in about 1986 I got a call from Chris McGregor asking me to join his group the Brotherhood Of Breath.
LJN: How was that?
JA: I was immediately attracted to the music from these South African exiles. I am uncomfortable with generalising about the music from one country like this: although there are similarities I feel, especially at that time, that the music by Louis Moholo, Dudu and Chris and others was not alike, it was hugely varied. Their music had everything I love: it had an uninhibited quality; it was emotionally charged, dangerous and sophisticated, yet also very accessible. I could hear the connections to music that I was already influenced by (Ornette, Monk, Duke, Coltrane etc).
This music has been a big part of me from those early years and I feel very lucky to have heard, played and toured with those great musicians. My first CD as a leader, Phaedrus (1990) included Chris McGregor’s beautiful ballad ‘Maxine‘.
LJN: So what music did you choose for this album, and what has been your approach to it?
JA: I chose music from these great South African composers: Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor, Mongezi Feza, Abdullah Ibrahim, Johnny Mbizo Dyani, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba. The music is written for a normal sized big band (8 brass, 5 saxes, 5 rhythm). Usually when I arrange the compositions of others, I deconstruct the music so that it contains a lot of my identity and plenty of fresh ideas. Recreating or reproducing doesn’t usually interest me, but with this music I tried to keep more of the original music than I might with other material because I have such a love for this music. I wanted the focus to be on the people who originally created it without trying to redefine it too much.
LJN: What are you hoping might happen when people hear this album?
JA: Interestingly, it seems there are a huge amount of knowledgeable and talented young musicians who are not aware of this beautiful music. This might be because there are so few of these South African exiles still living and playing in Europe. I hope Let It Be Told can help to keep this important and powerful music known and enjoyed by both listeners and musicians. Their music is certainly going to live on in the hearts of the people lucky enough to experience it.
Let it be Told is released on Basho Records on April 27th
LINK: Store at JulianArguelles.com