Interview: Parasang – ‘A Few Steps Towards Craziness’ (March 2019)

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There’s a new live music jam in (London) town, but with a twist. Parasang is a weekly series happening at Redon in Bethnal Green, which mixes synth beats and electronic sound manipulation with live instrumentation. Each week, the event hosts a fresh new group of musicians from a different discipline. From samba, reggae and jazz to Cuban and jungle, some of the best musicians from London’s diverse diasporas are invited to join.

Parasang is the brainchild of Harry Follett and Pouya Ehsaei, two London-based friends with brave ideas. The conception followed on from previous forays into world music events and recording. Follet is co-creator of MANANA, an events production company and record label specialising in electronic and roots music collaborations. In 2016, MANANA hosted their own festival in Santiago de Cuba, fusing live electronic music and afro-Cuban folkloric music. Ehsaei is an experimental sound an experimental sound artist who is a founding member of Iranian/Cuban quartet Ariwo. His band explores possibilities in forming a relationship between electronic performance and ancestral music.

The boys talked to us more about their ambitious plans, why this would only be possible in London, and how the weekly event has been going so far.

Parasang 1

Check out this short video from last Thursday. Tomorrow's improv is Sarah Tandy (Maisha) on keys, Hammadi Valdes (Ariwo) on percussion and Pouya Ehsaei (Modular/Electronics)

Posted by Parasang on Wednesday, 19 December 2018

 

Can you tell me more about the idea behind setting up your new weekly series, Parasang?

Harry: “Well, it’s quite a relaxed night really, from the perspective that we’re not booking bands and it’s not just a party where we’re booking a DJ. It’s improvised every week. The musicians are different every week. The only regular musician we have is Pouya, who does the electronic side of it“.

Pouya: “One thing that we wanted from the start was to surprise the audience every time, so you kind of don’t know what you are getting. We’ve done five shows now. Each one of them has been completely different from the others. The first one we did was with Temesgen Zeleke on Ethiopian krar, a small harp instrument that you hold. That night was very hypnotic. Then we did one with Sarah Tandy and Hammadi Valdes, which was much more jazzy. Then we did one with Gnawa music from Morocco, one jungle and drum ‘n’ bass night with Cykada musicians, and then one reggae night, which was one of my favourites“.

Harry: “We’re being quite ambitious with the program, in the sense that we’re not actually relying on the name of the person to get people through the door. We’re trying to create collaborations that see musicians work in new/unexpected contexts. For example, Sarah Tandy is an amazing jazz pianist and is getting noticed a lot, but I don’t think you would see her playing an improvised electronic night anywhere else. So, it’s nice, because it shows you a different side of how that musician listens“.

How do you approach working live with electronics? And do you try and understand each genre in order to push musicians outside of their comfort zone, or do you try and honour the different musical styles?

Pouya: “It’s a little bit of both. You have to give the musicians something they can work with, so you know that the basic structure is working for them and then you can go crazy. You have to kind of take a few steps towards them, and then expect them to take a few steps towards the craziness and the madness.

I built my modular myself. It took me two years. I don’t use samples, except for a few hi-hat or snare samples. Everything else I make on stage. I do a little bit of research every week on the genre of music that we’re doing that week, about six to seven hours if I can find something to read about“.

Harry: “Part of the great thing about working with people that have never played with electronics before or even listened to it much is that you get a reaction“.

Boujemaa & Pouya tomorrow night..

Parasang 3 tomorrow night at Redon. Dakka & Gnawa Master Boujemaa and Pouya Ehsaei

Posted by Parasang on Wednesday, 9 January 2019

 

What’s been your most unexpected moment on stage so far?

Pouya: “In all of the nights except one we’ve had so many unexpected moments where I’d just sit there and think; how did we end up here? who’s doing what? what’s happening?

Harry: “Haha, she got nothing from that question

Okay, let’s ask a slightly different question! Which of the genres has been the most responsive to your concept?

Pouya: “The reggae night I did with Andrew McLean and Marley Drummond was the most natural one“.

Harry: “Yeah, there is a lot of crossover between reggae/dub and the live electronic processes Pouya uses – that night was amazing to explore this with such natural musicians. They were lovely people to work with too!

Do you find the audience reacts well to the dynamic nature of the night?

Harry: “As long as they’re not too full up on pizza! Sometimes they look stuffed for the first half an hour. But people dance every week, and also, the crowd know what they are in for. They know the musicians have never played together before.

You can see that people are patiently waiting for the interesting moments to come. That anticipation creates a special kind of atmosphere that is nice to be a part of. We usually have a break between two sets, so Pouya and the other musicians can take a different mindset into the second half“.

Trim, Henry, Pouya and Dan

Yes we did we did have a lot of fun last night!! 7 Parasang's in and we're already half way through this run of shows. Come join us next Thursday. Lineup already out!Henry Keen Pouya Ehsaei Trim

Posted by Parasang on Friday, 8 February 2019

 

Do you have a backstage huddle, pat each other on the back and talk about what went well?

Pouya: “Yes, we do. We have to. For these kinds of gigs, the energy between the musicians is about 70% of the overall vibe“.

What kind of things would you say in the huddle?

Pouya: “The main communication is about interacting with the modular. No mantras and chants. Well not yet!

Harry: “It’s a good point; there has to be a lot of dialogue. The idea they hit on for a few seconds in the first half might be something that will be built into something massive in the second half“.

You also seem to be building a community and getting other people involved in the event?

Harry: “What we are doing now is we are starting to work with guest programmers. So far, all the nights have been programmed by myself and Pouya. We have Stamp the Wax guest programming, and we also have some other people in the pipeline“.

Pouya: “And from a community standpoint, it’s always good to see people returning – familiar faces. It’s a good feeling. There are people that have been to all of them“.

Harry: “It’s nice to be able to say ‘See you next week’ to someone. When do you get to say that to someone in London? You don’t need to take their number and arrange a meetup but instead can just say ‘See you next week’ and know they’ll be there“.

Improvised Dub/Techno all night this Thursday..

Live improvised dub/techno this Thursday at Redon (Bethnal Green).

Posted by Parasang on Tuesday, 15 January 2019

 

It’s such a great idea. How did you guys first meet and come up with this concoction? It obviously runs very deep for both of you.

Harry: “Pouya and I lived together in South London, and I went to live in Cuba. When I came back, we decided to do the MANANA festival. And after that, we realised that we didn’t have anything here that embodied what the festival represented, and that’s how Ariwo was born. We found the musicians, and then made it happen“.

Pouya: “So, it was a continuity of that really. It was very organic. We got to a point last summer where we knew it was working. We tried with new musicians at Pickle Factory because it is a little bit risky improvising with other musicians on the modular. The instrument is amazing, but it’s like a stubborn child. But we were confident enough that we could do it“.

Harry: “And another thing is that we were really pissed off at the whole formula. You can only do four big shows in London a year. It’s a bit annoying having that mentality if you want to play a lot and play with lots of other people too. That fed into our mindset that we just want to grow creatively through something which is more open“.

Have you ever seen anyone else doing this kind of thing? Either on your travels or around London?

Harry: “Not in exactly the same way. I guess the main difference is that we’re trying hard to find people that are off the radar and from musical communities that aren’t necessarily represented in electronic/contemporary music worlds. We’re lucky to have support from Arts Council that allows us to spend time researching and connecting with these people. I think it’s important to mention too that Redon have a very long term view of Parasang and it’s creative potential in London. It took a long time to find a venue that shared our vision and had the courage to take this on“.

Pouya: “We have to mention Steam Down though. I’ve been to two or three of them, and they are great“.

Harry: “There is something called Free Movement by Dan Nichols too, which is a monthly party, and that’s a good night“.

So how do you feel like your night fits into the bigger scene of what’s going on in London at the moment?

Pouya: “Well this idea that we’ve had would only have been possible in London, to have so many musicians from every culture in London. This idea of mixing different cultures and different communities makes it very London“.

Harry: “And, for example, I think this week there is a guy flying into London from Rio who is an old funk musician. He is in London to record his album, and then he’ll go back. Right now, there are probably about fifty world-class musicians flying in, and they represent different cultures around the world. Where is there that the samba musician can go to engage with something new, something from here in a way that is informal and improvised, and in a way that doesn’t put too much pressure on them? That idea of them going back to wherever they’ve travelled from and chatting to people back home about the people they played with and met makes us happy. It gives us an excuse to meet people from around the world too. London has to do more to welcome and embrace musicians travelling here, it’s our responsibility actually“.

[The above Parasang collaboration featured Pouya Ehsaei, Henry Keen (Soundspecies) and Grime MC – Trim]

London is the perfect home ground for such a diverse event. So, what’s in the future for you guys?

Pouya: “At the moment, we don’t have enough time to reflect on what we’ve done, and we’re always looking at how we can push this another step ahead. One thing that I like is to have the last thirty minutes as an open-mic kind of vibe, so people can just hop on and play. That would be very cool for the community, I think“.

Harry: “We are planning to take this on the road too, which we are very excited about. We are going to be playing some festivals this summer“.

And how do people sign up for Parasang tickets?

“The lineup for the Thursday’s Parasang show is announced every Friday before. Up until the Tuesday before the show, you can get £1 tickets through the newsletter. To sign up to the newsletter, write an email with ‘Newsletter’ in the heading to info.parasang@gmal.com”.

Here's a little section of yesterday's rehearsal with Shirley Tetteh, Patrick Boyle and Pouya Ehsaei playing together this Thursday at Redon. Live music will start a bit early at 8 this week!

Posted by Parasang on Tuesday, 19 February 2019




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