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In Conversation: Alma Negra

In Conversation: Alma Negra

Andrew Kemp | Features & Interviews

Swiss rhythm aficionados Alma Negra have masterminded the latest mix for Dimensions Festival 2017, following up DJ Okapi’s series opener with an excellent hour and a half of their favourite selections and forthcoming tunes. Set to play the Croatian festival alongside a killer lineup of live acts and DJs between Thursday 31st August and Sunday 3rd September.

Especially hyped to hear the mix following the forceful new EP in their Diggers Workout series, we caught up with the guys to talk about how their wide-ranging influences are found in all things Alma Negra.

There’s an interesting mix of backgrounds between the four of you, with roots in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Cape Verde. How did you all come to be based in Switzerland?
We all grew up in Basel Switzerland, so we are children of immigrants or some of us are also half swiss.

Your productions are marked by this blend of cultures, often featuring the strong rhythms of Western Africa merged with distinctive call and response vocals and some really deep synth-work. I’m interested to find out what you see as the foundation of your sound?
Well obviously we listen to a lot of different music and rhythms, not only from west africa but also the east or island sounds from the Caribbean, then often we start sampling and build a track around the theme. It's true that a lot of chants have this call-response pattern, which is something I always liked a lot.

The majority of your releases have come on the excellent Basic Fingers imprint, with outings on Highlife and Sofrito completing the pack. How have you found working with these labels?
Well Dario made contact with the label manager of Basic Fingers and they were always up for regular releases and even this series. We also worked on three releases on Sofrito, but only one of them was a full Alma Negra EP. We made for example a 7” with two original tracks from Cabo Verde. Reissues can be a good thing also for playing in a club.

You’re playing Dimensions this year, alongside a star-studded lineup including the likes of Yussef Kamaal, Theo Parrish and Gilles Peterson to name a few. Who’s top of your ‘to see’ list when you’re there?
I’m looking forward to Shuggie Otis and Grace Jones. Also Theo Parrish and our friend and Swiss local Sassy J, but in general we would like to see as much as we can.

You’ve just taken charge of the second Dimensions mix of 2017; tell us a little about what we can expect to hear in it.
We've put together a mix with different favorites, but also previewing some upcoming releases from ourselves and friends such as James Stewart or Ponthy Mython. We also mixed a lot of different styles such as Gwoka, Soca, Maloya but also House and more Disco tunes. Note that you'll preview in this mix a tune from the debut of Alma Negra Records.

Listening to your mix it seems quite apparent that your DJ sets carry a lot of the elements that we enjoy in your productions. Is the club-suitability of your tracks something that you are particularly conscious of?
Yes, we all really like to discover new rare special records but also very impressive electronic productions. But you need to find a way to do this, especially if you play in a club as headliner and need to push things higher. So this mix stands for all aspects of Djing that we like to do.

Are you record collectors? How do you go about discovering music?
Diggin diggin diggin. We dig a lot in France but also in every town that invites us. When we play in a new city we are always interested and open to the scene of city. Bucharest, Dubai, Talin and Tel Aviv were very surprising regardings their scene and their typical music scene.

Moving on to a little bit of music before we go, I thought I’d ask a little bit about the influences on one of the most distinctive elements of your sound: the strong rhythms. If you had to select one track by another artist that has the most satisfying percussion in, what would you pick?
Ponty Mython is a producer who works with breaks and percussions, we like a lot. But in terms of percussion the best is still live. Diego recently was in Guadeloupe and saw carnival drummers. Mind blowing! Also maybe the best percussionists in the world are Senegalese Mbalax drummers. Maybe you know Jeri Jeri, the project of Marc Ernestus? That’s the burner.

Catch Alma Negra alongside the likes of Theo Parrish, Grace Jones, Jeff Mills and dozens more at Dimensions Festival this summer.

Photo courtesy of Alma Negra

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In Conversation: Alma Negra

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