- Sight & Sound
Interview with Joakim | Remixer of William Onyeabor’s track “Good Name”
How and when did you hear of William Onyeabor?
When is a bit difficult to say, maybe 8 years ago? It was through a friend of mine who used to play guitar in my band. He mentioned Onyeabor and said he was looking for his record but that it was very difficult to find. That’s the first time I ever heard about him.
Did you have an immediate reaction to his music?
Yes. I love African music, and all sorts of traditional music, actually. I also love synthesizers, and above all I love music that contains weird mixes of styles, that blends things together and sounds like nothing else. That’s exactly what Onyeabor is—he’s quite unique. I haven’t heard other African musicians that sound like him. There are other African musicians that use synthesizers and stuff like that but it’s different. My second encounter with Onyeabor was when my girlfriend bought me a record from Benin, where she was on vacation and, by coincidence, went to a record store and picked up the record without knowing that I had been looking for it for years.
Wow what a great story!
It was a huge surprise like, “how did you find this!?” And actually, the guy who was selling the record, although he was in the middle of nowhere, knew what the record was worth and didn’t know if he should sell it to my girlfriend, but then she explained that I make music and have a great love for it so he sold it.
French electronic music seems to be heavily influenced by disco and other music from the ‘70s. How would you say Onyeabor’s music fits into that influence from a French perspective?
There are a lot of people interested in African music and electronic African music in France, and I think recently there’s been a lot more world music being posted on various blogs or being rereleased. There were a lot of French colonies in Africa, so there has always been music traveling back and forth between France and Africa that French audiences could connect to cause the lyrics were still in French, but the groove was new and unfamiliar.
Would you say Onyeabor had any influence on your music after discovering him?
It’s hard to tell, cause I listen to so much music every day that I am kind of overwhelmed and can’t really tell what’s influencing me...it’s definitely the kind of music, not necessarily that I’m trying to make, but that incorporates elements I strive for in my own music, like certain musical technique, and a mix of live instruments and synthesizers.
What was your process for the cover? How did you choose “Good Name” and what sort of signature stylistic elements did you want to bring to it?
I think its one of the more dancey tracks he’s made, and I thought the version on record sounds kind of harsh and is sometimes hard to hear every layer, which is a shame cause he’s such a good player. I decided I would make a club-friendly version of the song, so I started programming a beat on my sampler, and then studied the track to try and reproduce those layers and layers of synths, which is really what makes his music so amazing—the way everything interacts on the track and makes such an eclectic groove.
You did an exceptional job at matching the sounds, while bringing a contemporary sonic quality to it.
I think that’s also part of the how I would define my sound—sounding vintage and contemporary at the same time. I love vintage synthesizers; I only used analog equipment for the track, which gave it a vintage flavor, but I also love to rearrange stuff and add my own style to it.
Did you consider the gear Onyeabor was using while working on the cover?
I wasn’t thinking much about his set-up because I don’t have much idea of what he had, and I wasn’t working with my full setup, but then Luaka Bop told me that Moog was going to send me the Onyeabor model, and I used it in layers throughout the track. It’s awesome.
Can you talk about collaborating with the vocalist, Akwety?
I met him while I was working on a video-art project for my girlfriend. We collaborated on a spoken word soundtrack--he was amazing and we really got on well. I was a fan of his band (Dragons of Zynth) before I even met him, and also he’s from Ghana and has a very African tone in his voice so I was excited to work with him on this track.
He even sounds a little like Onyeabor at points
Yeah I had no idea how it would sound until we were doing it. He did the vocals in like an hour with no second take. It was perfect.
Any final thoughts?
I’m very impressed by the amount of passion and energy put forth by Luaka Bop on this, and I think that’s the main reason why I, and a lot of people got involved with the project, because of his amazing music, and people working with lots of passion to make this legend more known by the public.