I managed to catch up with Shivani Ahlowalia, who played under the Club Tent with her group ALO WALA on Tuesday night, to ask her a few questions about her musical influences, the powerful potential of music and plans for the future. We met up before her concert-the group’s first in Switzerland!- and I enjoyed her lively and bright presence, which also showed on stage as she mesmerised the crowd, interacted with them and delivered one of the freshest and most satisfying concerts of the festival so far. Continue for the interview below.
You were born in Chicago, of Indian origin, play with Danish musicians on a Portuguese label, collaborate with artists from all round the globe. Could you tell us a bit about how you got together?
Haha exactly, welcome to my world!
I used to live in Copenhagen, and I live again there now, because the music is going so well now with the band being based there. I’ve always had an interest in music, going out, clubbing basically. And I met one of the members of the band, Copyflex when he was deejaying at a club. He had a really unearthly vibe, and I was attracted to it right away. Like something beyond Scandinavian, from another planet, some really good vibes, you know. We remained friends, I went to work in South Africa, life went on, but eventually we hooked up to make music a few of years ago, like in 2011.
Oh and just to follow up on that question, he [Copyflex] has an existing band, called Copia Doble Sound Systema, so what happened was, we basically integrated the two. Well we started a new project, but with the back end of Copia Doble, so that was a massive help to the Alo Wala Project from the start.
In a time where the political context in Europe witnesses the rise of nationalistic discourses and politics, your music clearly ignores all borders and values traditions and cultures, thematics that nationalists mobilise a lot,they talk about tradition, they talk about local culture etc., but you use these to bring people together, celebrate life and just have fun.
That was so well put! That could be the answer to the question!
There’s also the work that you did in Guinea Bissau. What I’m aiming at basically is, could you tell us a bit about the political potential of music?
Oh my gosh! I think music is stronger than politics to be honest, for that very reason. Because it has the power to completely eliminate the borders, and I think that as an artist , you have an absolute obligation to exercise that power. That’s what I believe and every artist may take take it on in a different way, there’s no one way of doing that. But it’s something I recognise from the yet, you know, just being such a fan of music, and being of Indian origin, growing up in America, I really understood what it is to be rooted elsewhere, so it was really easy to find similarities in other cultures, and to be easily fascinated by them. I’m going off topic a bit but yeah, I think music definitely has the ability to erase borders. And that’s the context I worked in in Guinea-Bissau. I supported a lot of up and coming artists, where there was no industry and there was a really crazy socio-economic situation. Basically, we used the music as a way to bring people together in hard times, and at times we were able to make projects that actually used this music as a mechanism to bring these artists into other countries, to make connections and start to build there lives in a different way. So music is an absolutely powerful tool.
We’re here, were human, we’re on this planet, and if we work from there, the planet’s going to be a better place
Also, I think that when you talk about nationalism, nationalists forget that we’re all human, and that is the foundation of my understanding, so when you start to work from there, instead of saying I’m Danish, I’m Indian, I’m American, it really changes the way you work, and I think the people I work with are like that. I just featured on a track with Dengue Dengue Dengue, hopefully fingers crossed it’ll come out on their next album, and it’s not about being groovy, and being Indian. Eventually it’s something that’s going to come out in the music, but that’s not what we talk about when we get together. It’s like we’re here, were human, we’re on this planet, and if we work from there, the planet’s going to be a better place.
Speaking more precisely about the music, you obviously have very broad influences. I noticed the name of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan crop up somewhere, for example.
Oh, I love him, you know, I grew up very Indian in America, so really affected by the Hip-Hop era and 90s but grew up with Bollywood and Bhangra music, and Indian classical music, and Qawwali music like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the house, juxtaposed at the same time with Michael Jackson. I really grew up in that era, and that has been the foundation. The first album I ever bought was Bob Marley, and I had Buffalo Soldier on repeat for about a year, so I’m heavily influenced by Reggae and Dancehall. Yet the whole project started in Europe, so it has a definite European Electronica, UK Bass, Dancehall feel, and then other influences from around the world. It’s not that we approach a song and stay this is going to be African and Indian etc… It’s just that since we’re such a diverse bunch of producers, we’ve got varied backgrounds, we’ve lived in various countries around the world, that when we sit down to make music, all of that just comes out, it’s not contrived at all.
You brought out an EP last autumn, then another few songs in early 2015. What are your plans for the future, will you be touring, working on some new songs?
We’re working on it as we speak, and we’ve set aside some time in late summer early fall to really like hone in, but I have some ideas in mind, some beats on the laptop, but it’s really about the time, its hard to create music when you’re on tour.
We’ve been touring since May, not like every day, we’re based in Copenhagen so we’ve been touring on weekends. It’s only now that Europe is on holiday, that we’ve been touring on a Tuesday, and a Monday, and a Wednesday. We’re going back to Copenhagen next for three shows. But it’s going well. This is the first summer we’ve really toured, and I gather there’s a lot of different ways to tour, like touring for huge bulks of time then having a lot of time off, for example.
Going back a bit, you talked about studying in Copenhagen. What is it that you did?
I studied business and economic development, but I’ve always been into music, so I found a way to make the two work. So we started an NGO in Guinea Bissau that I’m associated to at this point, but I’m not there to work, this is my project now this, ALO WALA, but my colleagues are doing a great job and it basically works with music culture and development, supporting artists, supporting infrastructure of music in Guinea-Bissau, producing festivals, etc. It’s as if I only got the courage to do my own music at a certain point in life, and before that always made a point to work with music, but then I switched gears and finally did it for my self.
So you’re just doing music now?
Yeah, because I’ve seen that this is a way. That it can work, and I love it. As challenging as it is I mean, I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into this,and it’s not something I plan on working away from. At the same time it would be great to have another job, but this is so consuming! So I just hope that if we keep with the same energy,eventually it’s going to be a way to support me well. Yeah, I believe in it.
Well thank you for your time!
Thank you very much!