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Stream new album by Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones

March 2019

The free jazz vocalist explains the motivations and messages behind their forthcoming release From Untruth

Vocalist and band leader Amirtha Kidambi's second album with her Elder Ones ensemble grapples with “issues of power, oppression, capitalism, colonialism, white supremacy, violence and the shifting nature of truth”. Kidambi also features on analogue synthesizer, alongside Max Jaffe on drums and sensory percussion, Matt Nelson on soprano saxophone and Nick Dunston on bass. Kidambi answered some questions about the project over email.

Your previous record Holy Science had a spiritual focus. From Untruth, is more frank and direct. What significant things have happened in the time in between these two releases for this shift to happen? What connects the two records?

The political and the spiritual are both completely intertwined for me. Both records touch on different aspects of politics and spirituality. On Holy Science, the track "Dvapara-Yuga (For Eric Garner)" is about the choking of Eric Garner in 2014 by the NYPD. The music in From Untruth continues in this same vein, however, the difference is the use of direct language to address issues of systemic inequity, oppression, violence, colonialism and capitalism. Where I use wordless syllables and phonemes in the service of more abstract ideas which require subjective interpretation on Holy Science, I decided I needed to be unambiguous on this album. I began writing the music on this record at the beginning of 2017, shortly after Donald Trump's inauguration. The need to be more direct came from the feeling that the music is a form of protest, a call to arms or a way to incite people. Even now, half way through this presidency, the music is meant to jar and awaken people, even if it is momentary, out of the complacency or resignation that we have experienced in these years. From Untruth ends with a spiritual idea; a prayer for humanity as we move forward in this uncertain time.

What is the untruth you refer to in the album's title? How is this represented in the music?

"From untruth" is the English translation of a Sanskrit prayer called "Asatoma Sadgamaya". The prayer is roughly quoted in the lyrics to the final piece: "From untruth, into truth/From darkness into light/From death, into living". "Untruth" in the prayer means ignorance, the greatest evil in the Hindu philosophy. Ignorance breeds darkness, which can only be overcome in the search for truth. "Untruth" also refers to the idea of "alternative fact" and other linguistic contortions and double-speak we have heard from the current administration. The trajectory of the suite moves from darkness into light, ending the album on a more hopeful note than the general tenor of the record.

What made you decide to add a technological element to the instrumentation of From Untruth? What is the desired effect? Has this playing opened up new areas of study and inspiration for you?

I was personally very interested in exploring electronics on my own, as an additional sonic palette. I was never interested in digital interfaces and loop stations and was looking for something more organic and integrated. I bought a four voice polyphonic analogue synthesizer, just to experiment on my own. As I got more into it, our drummer Max Jaffe was also working regularly with an electronic sensory percussion set-up in other projects, so I asked him to bring it into one of our sessions to play with it. As we started getting into that, I brought in the synth as a complement. Matt Nelson works regularly with pedals in his solo work and in GRID with tenor, so he applies the same ideas to the soprano, albeit sparingly in this project. In another way, technology is a metaphor on this record. The first track "Eat The Rich" is about the techno utopians of the Silicon Valley (where I grew up) and beyond, who perpetuate the narrative that technology can solve all of our problems, while profiting off of and exploiting us. Technology has also polluted our politics, with Russian bots, trolls and alt right communities connecting on message boards. At the same time, it can be harnessed as a tool for political action, organising, protest and mobilising people, so it is a double edged sword.

What do you feel when performing this pieces for a live audience?

I feel catharsis and relief from living in constant tension, fear and panic, and I hope the audience feels that as well.

From Untruth is released by Northern Spy on 29 March. It is reviewed in The Wire 422. Subscribers can access the full article via the online archive.

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