We are here speaking with Erich & Mariam from Orchestra Gold. They are an amazing ensemble that fuses West African rhythms with trance-like vocal styling and punchy horn lines. Based out of Oakland, CA, they are fronted by lead singer Mariam Diakite from Mali, West Africa, and they just played a killer set!
Everyone on the dance floor was just going nuts.
We are here to talk about their music, influences and future plans.
Before we get started, Erich shared a list of his favorite African artists and we put together a funky playlist. It’s really good…put it on shuffle. Also…be sure to check out this GoFundMe to help Mariam, the lead singer with her Visa extension fees! (https://www.gofundme.com/f/HelpMariamStay)
Down to Bizness
V: Your music is extremely hypnotic and trance inducing. What do you think are the spiritual connotations of the trance-dance state? How do you feel that is healing for a human experience, to get into a state of hypnotic rhythms, where you lose yourself?
OG: First and foremost it’s so good and relaxing for your body. Getting into that state becomes medicinal for people. The energy flows through you and your body just moves to the rhythms.
V: Yes, that’s very much true. Do you feel the hypnotic rhythms, the trance state, invokes a certain presence with the dance?
OG: Yeah, so when exposed to the rhythms, the prefrontal cortex of your brain is bypassed, allowing you to dive deeper into your body, taking you into a super conscious state. It’s a very healing place, where we can bypass the judging and other junk, which is helpful at times, but can create a lot of unnecessary distraction. Music is a great medium for that. I’m honestly having a difficult time describing it, because there isn’t really a lot of verbiage in the Bambara langue to describe the experience, it just happens. This is just my personal opinion, having spent time in the Mali culture. It’s more of a functional thing that just works, but people don’t diagnose it or analyze it. Everyone just knows it is medicine.
V: It’s the meditation of dance.
OG: It’s mediation. At ceremonies, people have so much fun. You see everyone just letting everything out, laughing and dancing, releasing a pressure valve.
V: Yeah, it’s healing. I think there were some studies done recently, showing that people who consistently dance live a significant amount of years longer. I get it. It makes a lot of sense.
OG: There are a lot of differences between people who dance and those who don’t. (Laughing by all)
V: Yes, healthier people generally dance.
V: Eric, with your experience spending time in Mali and growing up in American culture, how have you seen the music influencing the children growing up in a musical culture? What are the primary differences between children growing up in Mali vs American music cultures?
OG: It’s all contextual. Everyone learns music in context, in community. They don’t study music out of context, and what I mean by that is people aren’t sitting at home alone practicing scales. I mean, some people do that, but not like in the US. In Mali, music is learned in community. You learn to play by going and playing. It’s a totally different thing. When I first started learning, I was so nervous and in my head a lot. Now, I still get nervous, but it’s a different thing.
OG: There are people who learn at home with a teacher, and you practice, but where you really learn is to play in front of people.
V: Would you say that in general, music is just part of the traditional Mali culture, in ceremony, in community, whereas in America, there are many communities where it is just not? There are so many places where music learning is cut out of education and experience.
OG: It’s like that band I was telling you about earlier, Songhoy Blues, they play music like they are drinking water. They are so comfortable. It’s like you and me talking, them playing music. They are relaxed, breathing deeply, on stage, sharing with everyone. It’s because for them, music is just natural in the culture, like they are doing something commonplace, like drinking water or eating rice.
V: If Mariam had to give one piece of advice for the average American who is in their head, what would that be? How does one tap into this musical context flow, when you are coming from an “in your head” place?
OG: Listen to people first. A lot of Americans don’t listen to each other. She learned music by listening. Her memory is amazing because she has learned to exercise that part of her brain. I can tell her 10-15 different things and she just remembers all of them. She’s very focused.
V: You learn to express yourself from a place of truth because you are patient with that.
V: One kind of unspoken aspects of your group that I’d like to speak to, is the crossing of racial boundaries. There is a lot of power there. You are playing traditional rhythms that were never part of our culture, and you are doing it in a very honest and true way. Carrying that across racial boundaries. Do you have emotions about that? Do you feel the necessity to do this from an honest place because it is sacred?
OG: Oh, well, yeah. It’s hard and something I’m constantly asking myself, and the rest of the band as well, “Am I doing this in an honest way?”. There is so much history in these cross-racial dynamics, so to do it in a way that’s authentic is something we are paying attention to. One place we try to come from, is one of responsibility to share and bring a message. One things we are going to do at our next show is invite a group that works with homeless people in West Oakland and ask them to speak and share what they are doing. We want to help others spread a message of consciousness and helping the world. We want our music to go beyond playing and having a good time at a music festival. Because you can go to a festival and have a good time, then you leave and are miserable and you go back to buying a bunch of stuff at WalMart or whatever, you know what I mean? We want to have people leave with a consciousness with them.
V: Yes, music is a very powerful element to get people out of their prefrontal cortex and give them an experience to take with them out into the world in a positive way. I think that’s awesome. Ozomatli comes to mind as a band who is really doing that. They have their musical expression, with a positive message, and outside of that they have all these programs to help youth. It’s really exciting to see that carrying on.
OG: Yes, as musicians, we aren’t always connected to our power and ability to influence people. Many musicians feel disempowered primarily because we don’t make much money; well we don’t make that much money.
V: Hey, I’m right there with you man.
OG: Yeah, but it’s our responsibility to share a message. We actually have the ability to touch people in an intimate way and tell them, “hey and here’s this really good thing you should do if you want to go out into the world and make it a better place.”
V: What are some things you think people should be mindful of and investigate, at this time and place in our lives?
OG: I live in Oakland and there is an organization called The East Oakland Collective that we’ve done some volunteer work with. Homelessness is a really big problem there, and their organization is really on-point. I highly recommend them. Everyone’s cause is different though. I think people have something that speaks to their inner resonance and that they do need to choose a cause! We are at a crossroads. We have to bring the change . It’s not going to be made for us.
V: Music does have a lot of power, to at least get the message out and give people the opportunity to see a piece in themselves to make that choice.
OG: Totally, totally!!
V: So, I know that you guys are in the midst of a legal battle with Mariam’s artist VISA, but assuming that all works out what are your upcoming plans for band and music? Are you planning to tour consistently?
OG: There will be some tours next year. Our internal resources are really focused on the music and we are releasing a new EP November 1st, and going into the studio to record another album, mid November, probably coming out next Spring.
V: Awesome! That is quick. Your other album was just released.
OG: The plan is to do more festival tours next year. This is a good way to reach a lot of people.
V: Most definitely. Do you guys work independently, or management and a booking agent you work with?
OG: We are all independent right now. I have a really awesome woman working with me, named Hannah. She handles a lot of outreach, coordination, logistics; helping running behind the sconces. It’s a lot to juggle!
V: Yeah, running a band is a lot of work. The scheduling alone is insane.
OG: Yes, we have 7 people…
V: We touched on the VISA situation earlier, but can you explain it further, and we can put a link in the article for people to access to help out.
OG: She got the fist VISA to come here a little over a year ago. We did another process to get an extension, which ends in March. She wants to continue doing this, so she is putting together the paperwork for the next round. We’ve set up a gofundme campaign to help fund this, as its very expensive. We have no expectation. People can give whatever they can, and we have gratitude for that. (https://www.gofundme.com/f/HelpMariamStay)
V: You get to see the community you are building as is forms.
Thank you so much. Erich has offered to share some music that you might not otherwise hear about, so check out the provided list below. Make sure to check out their live performance! They are amazing live! It is super hypnotic, you will dance. Check them out, Orchestra Gold.
Look for them on the festival circuit. They will be together and doing this for many years to come!