Besides Yat Kha, you also tour with Billy Bragg, What is your contribution?
I’m playing - gtr, saz, cumbus + other lute-type variations and singing bits. And I also play with punk originals The Mekons (new CD out 2002 and 25 years anniversary) as well as with veteran free-music saxophonist Lol Coxhill (with whom I played in The Damned).
Is it still possible to make living playing live music in the era of major companies?
it is possible, but not easy, you need lots of friends who also want to play + what our French cousins call “complicité” when you do. As for the Major companies like SFX and CCC, they are not making the most concerts, they are only making the biggest. So you just have to make sure you get to play enough. The real “problem” is that for the last 50 years bands have been getting smaller and smaller in size till now you have 1 DJ spinning records through very loud PAs. This is all very modern but it means that it is harder for live musicians to “learn” an audience, and vice-versa. Also, as radio & TV has got worse or at least more limited over the last few years (with a few notable exceptions), this does not help… So people have to keep playing, and doing interesting things.
When many bands are shopping for major labels contracts, do you think this could also help Yat Kha?
Maybe, maybe not. It all depends who you have to interface with. There are less and less labels, and so there are less and less contracts with these Majors. If a band has a manager who is ready to put a head into the Major Label cesspit and try and communicate with the various (and mostly very curious) lifeforms that exist therein, they had better be sure their manager knows know how to hold his/her breath! Sure, Yat-Kha - like all bands - want to go everywhere and play and meet everyone and theoretically this should be easier with a Major. But… let’s take an example - like the Czech Republic and Yat-Kha who started playing at Roxy Club in 1999; but did we need a major label to help us get there? OK, it was not our label but BMG Classics in 1998 was the distributor; I think they sold about 100 CDs through the shops. So actually BMG did not really find it so easy to “sell” us, as we were classical enough and now personnel across Europe & the USA have now all been sacked (classical music gets a lower priority than the fabulous Ms. Alguilera these days). What Yat-Kha really needed at the time was people with ears, ideas and a readiness to take a risk - and for us David Urban was that person (helped by lots of fans, journalists and DJs). Yat-Kha came back again in 2001 and we sold the CD on our own label. So who needs a Major? OK, if Universal were to offer Yat-Kha a major deal then I might say “yes” if all the conditions were met. But as it is almost inconceivable that Universal would even understand those conditions, I do not even bother to go and talk to them. And I am sure they are quite happy not having to deal with me. So what do I mean? I guess I think that Major labels are very unstable at the moment and it is best to do things with people who want to do things with you rather than with people who don’t if they are about to be sacked anyway in the latest of series of mergers and acquisitions…
You were involved with Womex from the beginning. Now, 7 years after Womex started, do you feel as a proud Uncle?
WOMEX is very useful, very necessary to anyone who does not believe in some ends when they have to show their passport. I guess we all like to imagine we can help - or at least minimise our potential for sabotage - in order to promote things we really like and enjoy, things that might have previously been “blocked”, or unavailable. So to actually be there when something amazing like WOMEX started was a very interesting experience (and still is). I think anyone who has been to a WOMEX and had the chance to share a bit of knowledge and experience about working in this nebulous field called “world music” with other people from such disparate and diverse cultural micro-worlds has a good reason to feel it is something to be proud of, to be involved. But actually I just feel it is just interesting.
In the early Womex years, you worked closely with Borkowski. But Borkowski, being an enterpreneur, has to prove the same skills as the Major Label Showbiz people. What is the difference bethween these two schools? Is there any room for idealism?
I reckon Borkowsky is still as much a dreamer as an entrepreneur. And in both these, he still seems to me to be the same risk-taking person who initiated WOMEX; and really, risk-taking is something that is not a defining characteristic of the “Major Label Showbiz people”! So I do not quite follow your question. The Biz know less than nothing for themselves, they mostly follow herd-like behind mavericks (weird idealistic cows) who can decide there is perhaps some better grass over the hill. And as for the difference between idealists and the “Biz” people; maybe the former are free to dream and do what they like (and not get paid very much), while the latter are only executing pre-planned product launches and participating in quite boring committee-type work (and making damn sure they do get paid). Is there room for idealists? I guess tehre are some idealistic entrepreneurs who get ground down by the everyday disappointments, the rough luck situations that always keep happening. And they give up leaving room for some new ones. Those entrepreneurs that choose to keep going are fed by the sheer enjoyment of involvement, offset by the agony of believing in improvement, which is like idealism. Or survival. And that all takes skills, skills the Major Label crew do not have. OK, maybe Borkowsky has perhaps to understand about “Major Label Showbiz people” but actually very few turn up to WOMEX, if at all. We all have to inhabit the MacDonalds zone to some extent, one where we dare to wonder about “what if?”. And that is why we have WOMEX which is not for the Major labels (who have no need for imagination as they are too busy with paranoia). So there is plenty of room for idealism at WOMEX and also brave moves.
Everybody says that music is the universal language and that it helps to overocme the violence. It sounds like a nice theory, but could you name one example when this theory worked on a practical level?
Easy, imagine all the people sitting at concerts around the world not firing AK47s at each other…
More and more people come to Womex each year to make profit. Aren’t you afraid that the scene will loose its spark and dillute into easy listening pop?
From Yat-Kha’s point of view, profit is good, it means the possibility to develop and invest in the future; to secure the lives of the performers who can then feed their families or pay for the funerals of their children when they die. So I do not think that here’s anything wrong with this sort of profit. The alternative is that someone has to guaruntee your life somehow and that system was dismantled some 11 years ago, as you well know (and it had its own problems too!). If the scene loses sparkle then maybe another one will emerge to challenge it and then we will all find new and exciting music somewhere else. The idea of “World Music” is just an idea, a word. Lots of things can happen - some good and some bad. It is up to musicians and artists to keep being creauve and having fresh ideas for an interested audience (who have to keep demanding fresh music) to ensure the sparkle continues.
Everybody knows how the term World Music was invented. But who did suggest the name 3 Mustaphas 3?
Who invented the world “Czech”? Words mean nothing, they are just sounds.