Interview: Q&A with UJI – How To Be Human (October 2022)
Early in October, the Argentinian electronic music producer and ethnomusicologist Uji (Luis Maurette) shared “Lunay”, giving us a glimpse of a harmonious, calming landscape made of flowing waters, motionless bodies and capturing vocals. The track is the final single taken from Uji’s upcoming album, TIMEBEING, which will be released on October 21stvia ZZK Records. But “Lunay” is almost the black sheep of a vibrant, upbeat and magnetic record. Sonically as much as visually rich, TIMEBEING is both a record and an 8-part film (the latest, soon to be released as a whole) that perfectly encapsulates the responsibility of the joy and burden of such a powerful cultural environment.
Uji’s production is charged with historical, folkloric references from Latin America, from the rhythm of indigenous ceremonies and collective rituals to the inspiring potential of nature, dance, myths, symbols and communal songs. In the context of the 2000s Latin American folklore movement (in which ZZK Records is still a leading force), Uji approaches this extremely rich shared cultural baggage with his mind set in the technological present, offering a sweet, conscious and danceable clash of the ancient and the modern.
Is there any specific message you wanted to deliver through this record? What does it mean to you?
TIMEBEING is first and foremost a journey. An encapsulated 32-minute experience for the listener to delve in, to dance to, to trip to.
But it is also about the shared essence of humankind throughout time. It imagines the first Homo Sapiens, thousands of years ago, as they looked up to the stars, as they envisioned the future. It imagines our future descendants, igniting a fire, looking into the flames, the awe of these natural forces intact over centuries. And more importantly, it invites the listener to connect to the deeper meaning of what it is to be human, how we are connected to both past and future, how we can activate our full potential through ritual technology, how we can redefine our myths and re-imagine what it is to be human.
What is the role of folklore, history and memory in your work? How do you create music through these three concepts?
We are all a result of the folklore we belong to, the history we believe in, the memories we sustain. What we choose to focus on and to share become our common customs and beliefs. Folklore nowadays is a reflection of our current environment of mass urbanisation, big marketing budgets, and eye-candy productions. Big and swift sensations that run dry quickly in order for the consumer to search for their next fix. My work hopes to shift this conversation away from disposable fast culture to a more diverse, universal, slow folklore. Where regionality and legacy gain value, and cultural sustainability is an asset.
Musically, I try to evoke the collective memory of what we think of when we imagine life as primitives. I make up languages that sound ancestral in order for the listener to create their own myths and meanings. I then mix these sounds with more “futuristic” and “space-age” type sounds, creating a world where the listener can both imagine the future and the past, and from these images reflect on the present.
Your music is, first of all, danceable. What is the relationship between music and corporeality for you? What does the bodily experience add to your music, and vice versa?
My music is a form of ritual technology, where sound and movement come together in order to create altered states of consciousness.
Centuries ago humankind discovered the technology that allows us to connect to something much larger than our own existence, what I call the invisible world (in many cultures called spirit, god, the great mystery, etc). We know that by changing how we breathe, how we move, how we sleep, what we eat or drink, etc. we are altering how our consciousness perceives the world around us. When we do this collectively, the effect is augmented.
When we dance to music, when we allow the vibrations of sound to move our body, we tap into this technology, expand our reality and connect to something much more powerful.
You have often cited a varied list of artists as inspiration for your music, but can you be a bit more specific with regard to this record… What are the inspirations for this album?
I strive to make music that doesn’t already exist. I attempt to find harmonies that don’t resolve commonly. I try to find rhythms and sounds whose source, whether machine or human, is indistinguishable. I want the listener to have as little reference as possible. I want to break the rules.
And so, I would say that for TIMEBEING there are two main influences. First, the British duo Autechre. Whose music I have been listening to for decades. Even though I do not always enjoy the music they do, their insatiable search for unknown sounds and forms and constant need to break rules, both compositionally as well as sonically, is really influential in how I approach music.
On the other hand, ritual music is a great influence. Bulgarian choirs, Mexican Ceremony Music, Indian tribal music, Native American Inipi music. Any music whose function is to allow the listener to connect to something greater. This excites me and transports me and inspires me. For instance, Vincent Moon’s work (who I have had the great pleasure to work with on the full length film ‘Esperando el Tsunami’) filming ritual music throughout the entire planet is a real inspiration.
How do you relate to the work of others, do you feel it limits or inspires you?
We are what we listen to. In a way, there is no escape. Every musical idea you may have derives from some interpretation of something you have previously listened to, whether on the radio, in a store, or in a deep connection to an album or film. And so, I feel that music is undoubtedly a huge source of inspiration.
Normally I go through phases. A phase of listening to a lot of music, and discovering new music and new albums, to phases where I am composing and don’t really connect to anything. In my experience, composing is a long process, I start with vague sensations and ideas I want to express and as I am working on the piece, those ideas get clearer and more concrete. During that process of manifesting something that is brewing internally, I find that I work best in silence.
Thinking about your work more broadly, do you see a difference in reception from different audiences (European and North American v Latin American)? How are the more localised sounds and cultural references received outside of Latin America?
I feel that we are living a moment in history where culture is mostly homogenised, and music is mostly used for entertainment. And so my music tends to be received as something exotic or different everywhere in the world. And even though some of my sonic references are based in Latin American culture, they are still outside mainstream culture (even in Latin America).
What do you think these new forms of digital folklore can achieve in the Latin world? Is there a political potential to your music as well?
The anthropologist Wade Davis talks about the great extinction of culture. He says we are losing hundreds of the languages spoken on earth, and with each language forgotten we lose a whole cosmovision, an entire way to see and explain the universe.
I see Latin America as a place rich in culture and music, and with my music I hope to help keep this narrative alive. This is definitely a political statement, because in the Euro-USA centric world we live in, where the music industry rewards certain homogenisation, it is sometimes difficult to go against the grain, and offer music with different cultural narratives and subjects, music that is not for entertainment. Sex, love, money and guns sell music. But can we talk about other things?
We often limit the role of music to a form of entertainment, or at best, a companion to our emotions. But really, the true power of music arises from its ability to connect the physical world with the invisible world.
With streaming, web3 on the horizon and other forms of decentralised communication, I do see the possibility of tapping into niches of culture which value heritage and expect changes in technology to augment these traditions instead of replacing them.
How is it working with a label like ZZK? What do you think of its development in the past 10/15 years, and where is it going? Are you inspired by any particular artist from the label?
ZZK has been an incredible part of bringing Latin American modern music to the ears of the world. I feel that they have expanded along with the artists that make up the label and are constantly taking risks in the name of Latin American artists. I like where it’s going, especially because more than ever I am aware of how competitive and difficult the industry can be at times. It takes bravery and consistency to be able to achieve what they already have. I am inspired by many of the artists from the label. Love both Chancha via Circuito and NicolaCruz.
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never listened to it?
My music blends deep vocals, synthesisers, tribal rhythms and natural soundscapes into hypnotic, ultra-danceable tracks. As a Japanese fan once told me, “your music is both extroversive and introversive simultaneously.”
- Uji's new album, TIMEBEING will be out tomorrow (21/10) via ZZK Records.
In the meantime, you can listen to it in advance via Soundcloud -
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View Uji bio here Uji (Luis Maurette) is a nomadic electronic producer and multi-instrumentalist born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and raised throughout Latin America. Half of the pioneering duo Lulacruza since its inception in 2005, with whom he has released 5 albums, a feature film and multiple world tours. His music is dance…
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