Self-Portrait: Alma Negra

Self-Portrait: a series that dives deep into the sounds of some of our favourite producers and labels with a mix of 100% unreleased and forthcoming original material.

Since releasing their first record in 2014, Basel collective Alma Negra have become known for their distinct sound; deftly sought samples, nods to their global roots and infectious rhythmic percussion. Since meeting through gigs around the city, the group found they shared a mutual love for digging – a passion that manifests in their approach to sampling.

The year ahead is filled with new ventures, including a self-titled label and an intriguing 12″ series, as well as a live project that’s been in the works for the last six months. With all this in the pipeline, we thought what better time to find out more about what 2018 holds for them.

In this interview Mario shines a light on their live project, new label and the inner workings of Alma Negra. This sits alongside a mix of 100% unreleased and forthcoming material.

Let’s start with an ice breaker, what are your earliest musical memories?

Dario: Definitely Otis Redding, Miles Davis, Michael Jackson or Jackson 5. Bob Marley, Santana and Jorge Ben are my earliest memories. And some old Italian Folk Songs and Portuguese Fado of course!

Mario: My father used to show me a video from the Woodstock Festival once a month.

Dersu: Maybe it was my mother listening to John Coltrane , Guillermo Portabales and Don Cherry

Diego: I remember that I was dancing to Earth Wind and Fire and Michael Jackson when i was a small boy!

What was your musical schooling before coming together?

Some of us were more into Funk, Jazz, Disco but grew up with Latin influences, and others more with Rock and Kraut. Dario, Dersu and Diego grew up playing percussion. When we all met we were already playing in clubs individually. Each one has his own “DJ-Story” to tell.

It’s been almost four years since you charted your first release on Basic Fingers. Can you tell us a bit about how you met and, more specifically, what led you to start producing together?

I met Dersu playing Disco and Boogie in bars. And much earlier, I remember Dario playing Drum n Bass or House in clubs. We all came together with a party series Dario and I started in a bar club, where the twins Dersu and Diego worked. After one night sharing the decks and feeling the energy we decided to start the collective Alma Negra.

We played often in a bar all together all night long. That way, we learned a lot and glued together. First of all we recorded Cape Verdian records that were introduced by the twins – because their father is from Cape Verde. Dario and I already produced back then. So we came together listened to music and started to sample and make late night sessions in our homes. Often Dersu and Diego introduced a rhythm or a sampling idea and from there on, we did together a new track. So it was always a process where we all learned from each other. For example, while I was teaching producing skills to Diego, I was learning at the same time a new rhythm. So we all shared common interests but we shared also our skills and knowledge with each other.

Between you, you have roots in Africa, Europe and South America which feed heavily into your productions. Can you talk us through how you might construct a track? How much of your material is sample based and how much is original?

It really depends and we are trying nowadays to make it as transparent as possible so everyone can actually hear what we did. We often do remixes/reworks or sampling based music. But since the very beginning we also recorded percussion for a lot for our productions. We have a bunch of tunes coming out soon that are pretty much everything recorded. Synths, guitars, drums, percussion etc. Now we are also introducing modular techniques into our productions. So it’s always changing and developing.

Where do you source your samples from? Do you make any of your own field recordings?

Sample sources are usually from a record. It is actually our obsession of digging that led us into sampling.

When you’re in the studio do you all play different roles in the production process? Do each of you bring different experience and techniques to the table?

The roles can switch sometimes. Everyone does new tracks for example. Usually someone comes with raw arrangement and then we decide if we need to record percussions or a synth for example. But usually Dario does a lot recordings and playing instruments, the brothers often come with a raw sketch and the play percussion, and I’m usually in the process where a track needs to be finished.

Are there any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio? Do you come in with a destination in mind before starting a jam?

We always have a lot of things to finish and we also meet in the studio for meetings to discuss our next steps, releases and so on. But then it turns out that playing with drums is more fun than deciding how much the price of Bandcamp releases should be. And then suddenly we want to record those drums and the Rhodes and a bass…

The good thing is that procrastination leads to new tracks and we have tons of music but on the other side, you know…

In April you’ll be debuting your live show over here in London at The Jazz Cafe. How long have you been working on that? And what can we expect from it?

We have been working on that for about half a year. It started with a friend of us who entered us into the world of modular. The main idea is to use the impulse of a conga for example and layer the real percussion with nice sounding frequencies of the modules like fm synthesis. So when Dario plays conga it can sound like he would heavily play on a big metal plate. The idea now is to mashup our tracks and play this mix of live percussion and modular synthesis.

We’ve also heard talk of a label on the way. Can you shine some light on that? Will you be primarily pushing your own music or involving other artists and producers too?

The label starts with a series called ’12 Rhythms’ where we focus on a rhythm on every EP. Over the year we produced tunes inspired by rhythms such as Maloya, Gwoka and so on.

With the series we want to dedicate each 12″ to a region or specific rhythm, but the label will be also a platform to release collaborations between us and different artists and friends. We want to make very dedicated label work with inner sheet, info and a beautiful cover which are pictures from Tchale Figueira – the father of Dersu and Diego. Tchale is a well known artist from Cape Verde, so for us it’s an honour to have such special covers.

This mix is comprised of 100% original Alma Negra material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

The mix shows the wide range of different productions styles that I described before. But definitely one of my all-time favourites is “From The Heart”, which is a wonderful Dario tune that goes very deep.

2018 already sounds like a big year for you guys. What’s on the horizon? Any bookings or releases we should know about?

I hope so, we’ve been working so much lately, it’s crazy. First thing this year is the label launch, live music and, of course, DJ gigs. We are lucky to always have new gigs coming in and are already looking forward to some interesting dates. Check our Instagram or Facebook to stay up to date. In regards to releases, we are working on a few EPs for some of our favourite labels that will come out in 2018 – stay tuned 🙂

Alma Negra – Manta
Saho Group – Haleto Lale Lalo (Alma Negra Rework)
Alma Negra – Conversation
Lindigo – Tany Be (Alma Negra Rework)
Alma Negra – Oya
Saho Group – Erytrea nedege (Sol Rework)
Alma Negra – Visions
Alma Negra – Berimbau
Alma Negra – From the Heart
Alma Negra – Untitled
Amla Negra – This is the place
Alma Negra – Capoeira

Alma Negra will debut their live show for Tuckshop at The Jazz Cafe on 27 April.

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