1) How did this video come together?
I’ve always wanted to make videos of myself playing my music with various great musicians, but I was busy working on various projects here and there and playing at different gigs. Right now, we are mixing my upcoming album, so I’m trying to come up with a few cool ideas to make some noise before releasing it. I thought to myself: “now would be a good time to start making some videos”. The timing is perfect too because I just found out that my good friend Michelle Margiotta – who is a great musician – just started getting into video recording and editing, so I called her and she was willing to work with me on this. My sister, Mamie Adrienne, who is the real singer in my family, sings this song on my new album, but she lives in Madagascar. I had to come up with a different arrangement for this song for when my band will play it live. After I came up with the live arrangement, I felt that it would be the perfect song to begin the series of videos that I would like to make. Actually, Eli Menezes (guitar player with Richard Bona, Lauryn Hill, …) helped me a lot in producing this song for the album, and I just tweaked his ideas and changed the rhythm a bit for the live arrangement. Eli’s sense of harmony is unbelievable, so I had to borrow his idea!
2) Tell us a little about the musicians you collaborated with in this video?
I needed musicians who would be able to just show up to the studio and not only play the rhythm and chord progressions, but also get that Malagasy (from Madagascar) feel. I spoke with Nat (Townsley) first, and he said he would do it. I had a few live gigs and recordings with him before, so I knew I could totally count on him. Then, I reached out to Adan (Perez) who played piano and produced a track with me on the new album, and he was available too. Originally, I was just going to do a trio, but a month before the video recording, I had a gig with Harry (Vaughn). He is one of my favorite drummers and he plays drums on few songs on my new album, but he played cajon on that gig, and he had these tiny shakers on his fingers, and he was killing it! I had to add him to the original trio I first had in mind.
As a bass player, what was the experience like playing with Joe Zawinul’s drummer Nathaniel Townsley?
Nat is an amazing drummer. I first played with him about 4-5 years ago and I always watch him on YouTube and on those Collective Drums videos. The first time I played with him, I was nervous and happy and excited. You know, not so “nervous” that I couldn’t play, but here I was thinking “man, I can’t believe I get to play with this amazing drummer!” His pocket is insane, and you can tell he has a ton of experience because he plays so tastefully. He has chops but he doesn’t overdo it. Whenever I play with Nat, I feel like I can play as simple as I want, and it will sound cool, or I can do little things here and there, and somehow it won’t clash with his groove. It’s hard to explain … Nat is the man, and I’m honored and humbled to play with him.
3) Tell us a little bit about the song, its title, and the melodic composition.
The title of the song is “Ny tsintsina aza ahiany”. It’s the Malagasy translation of the hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow”. It’s a “public domain”, but composed by Charles H. Gabriel and written by Civilla D. Martin. In my opinion, the most popular version of this song is the one by Lauryn Hill, and perhaps another one by the late Whitney Houston. I first heard this song in Madagascar when I was a teenager. I didn’t know it was an American hymn. The lyrics are amazing. You should Google it, or you can just take my word for it! It basically says, if I may paraphrase, “instead of being discouraged, simply knowing that God watches over me makes me happy”. There are so many songs with lyrics to that effect in Madagascar. I don’t want to digress, but I have to mention, these lyrics really speak to me, even more so now than ever before because my dad just passed away right before Christmas 2015. He made that shirt I was wearing in the video 🙂 As far as melodic composition, it’s mostly Eli Menezes’ idea with little tweaks here and there. I guess you will understand exactly what I mean once you hear the album version. I took a lot of ideas from that. These Brazilians, man, they can play!
4) Rhythm seems to be a very important part of your music. Tell us a bit about what influences the rhythm in your music.
My main influence is the rhythm from Madagascar called “Salegy”. Honestly, I didn’t think our rhythm was that special until I moved to the U.S. I tried teaching it to a few drummers, and it took a little while for them to get it. I even did a few workshops at New School (Manhattan) to explain it, can you believe that? It’s 12/8, or 4/4 if you will, but each beat has triplets. What makes “Salegy” a little different is that the accent is in the middle of each triplet. I mean, there are rhythms like that as well in Reunion Island and Morocco though, and Venezuela too I think. For this particular video, the song is in 12/8 – 11/8 – 12/8 – 12/8 cycle until the 2nd half of the Chorus and Solo, where it’s only 12/8. Then it goes back to the “odd meters” cycle again after the Solo. We try to keep the “Salegy” feel throughout the whole song.
5) How would you describe your playing style?
I’m not sure. I’m trying to find “my voice”, whatever that means, but I ended up playing like a terrible mix of my heroes, haha. I’m trying to get that Meshell Ndegeocello and Pino Palladino and Lionel Loueke touches to my playing though, a smart laid back feel with disgusting bass tones and African rhythm. So, I guess for now, I will be okay with it if someone says to me “oh, I can hear Meshell, or Pino, or Lionel, in your playing”.
6) Tell us a little bit about your Foderas. Both of them are very different from each other so how do decide which one to use for a particular piece of music?
I have an Emperor II 6 string with a latest pre-amp, but Fodera shifted the frequencies of the pre-amp so now it sounds more P-Bass-like. I also have a NYC4 Empire Bass, but Fodera stopped making the NYC4 that I have. They put a Mike Pope pre-amp on that one. Tone wise, in my opinion, the Emperor II is more smooth and big and very very modern. I can get so many different tones out of that bass, but I usually use that smooth-big-modern tone. I just leave everything flat, and use both pick-ups (neck and bridge), and voila, the tone is right there. It sounds like a modern version of a P-Bass when I use more neck than bridge, and Jaco when more bridge than neck. I usually play that bass at my church (Times Square Church) or for recordings. You can hear it on Uche Agu’s (African singer) new live album, with Chris Coleman on drums. As much as I love the Emperor II, I recently started traveling with my NYC4 because it’s lighter, and I find that the NYC4 is more aggressive and has a more vintage-y sound, meaning it can sound like the Jazz Bass sound that our ears are familiar with. Right now, I use the Emperor II for church and most recordings, and the NYC4 for everything else.