May 29, 2024

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Interview with Ray Lema: The balance between intellect and soul depends on the type of music: Video

Jazz interview with a bad musician, as if pianist, problematic person Ray Lema. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Ray Lema: – I grew up in Congo DRC and at twelve I went to a catholic seminary to become a priest. They gave us some tests to evaluate our potential in many areas including music and I was told I was gifted for music and they gave me a coach to learn Gregorian and European classical music.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

RL: – I left the seminary after two years and went back to Kinshasa where I no longer had access to a piano. I was offered a guitar by one of my sisters. And at the guitar I started playing anything that came my way: from rumba music to the Beatles or rock music like Jimi Hendrix or the Who, or jazz like Wes Montgomery…I played for 3 years in a night club for foreigners where the customers would come with their favourite records and we had to learn the pieces they wanted to hear. We had people from France, Belgium, United States, England, India, Spain, Cuba, Brazil…

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

RL: – After the seminary I never had a specific practice routine apart from my capacity of falling in love with musicians and musics I met on my route. But what I would call my musical“University” is the assignment I got from the government in 1973 to be the musical director of the national ballet of Zaire. They made it possible for me to travel all over Zaire to find the best musicians for the project. Zaire is a country almost five times France, with the rain forest and no routes, and 255 different “tribes” with different dialects! I put together a group of some 75 musicians men and women who didn’t have a common language! In the African rhythm tradition, we don’t count 1,2,3,4 like in a musical school, we use rhythmic phrases called ”claves”. And many claves are alike in the different regions, but since they are phrases, they are subjected to the local language accents! Like the difference between the English from New York and London. The same 6/8 metric from 4 different regions would produce 4 completely different grooves and in the beginning, every day some one would tell me that the rhythm from that other tribe was wrong as opposed to the right one from THEIR tribe! The result was I had to learn to “hear” the difference between all those rhythmic accents before I could be able to direct my traditional musicians and make them feel part of one “group.” I had to become a drum master myself.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now? You’re playing is very sensitive, deft, it’s smooth, and I’d say you drift more toward harmony than dissonance. There is some dissonance there, but you use it judiciously. Is that a conscious decision or again, is it just an output of what goes in?

RL: – I’m not a scientist, I am just a musician who is in love with western classical composers, Congolese rumba musicians, American jazz musicians and many traditional musicians.

JBN.S: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?

RL: – I have toured with Steward Copeland who is a rock musician, with a traditional group of Bulgarian Voices, with a group of Gnawas  from Marocco, with traditional musicians from Mali,or Ivory Coast….And the list goes on. Just to say that you don’t play with so many different people by analyzing them, but by truly loving them and I’m unable to analyse my love!

JBN.S: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

RL: – The balance between intellect and soul depends on the type of music and the level of spiritual consciousness of the performer and the listener. You know that the whole universe is just different levels of vibrational state. Some people can hear a 30Hz or a 30.000 Hz vibration but most humans are unable to hear those. Playing with so many different people made me aware of the human limitations to the perception of rhythms and harmonies which are both the art of  organizing that vibrational state according to cultural rules. Plus today many people get to music to become “stars” and make money, so the final goal is always between the intellect and the soul but the combinations  are endless.

JBN.S: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?

RL: – About the two-way relationship between audience and artist, I feel it’s important for both to gain something: the artist to fulfill his search for excellence and the audience his search for whatever drives them toward the artist.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

RL: – Excuse-me but at 72 years of age ,if I start telling about different experiences from studio and gigs, it would fill a book and I’m not a writer…

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

RL: – To get young people interested in jazz, it’s important to free jazz from useless virtuosity and to promote the passion for composing new real melodies that can stick to the mind of listeners like the old standards did! And young people today are used to groove so let’s give them groove. Do you know that I took advantage of a Miles Davis phrase in a interview, to dare pretend that I play jazz! The big man said: jazz is not a music it’s an attitude. I find this phrase fantastic because it opens the whole world to jazz music and it allows people like me to play jazz without a formal training but with the right attitude…

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

RL: – The spirit and the meaning of life for me Is what I call God. But even though I am a believer, I have no religion. The same way I speak about musical composers and being myself a humble composer, I look around me at the world and feel the greatness of the Ultimate composer and I try to understand everyday a little better the link that holds everything together. I am like the bacteria in your mouth trying to understand who Simon is!!!

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

RL: – If I could change one thing in the musical world that would become a reality, it would be to explain to the people that the Universe is scientifically a vibrational state. Which means that we are ourselves a vibrational state! The whole Universe is MUSIC and we should pay more attention to the conscious and the unconscious part of noise we bring to the BIG symphony, and the impact on us of the noise we create!

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

RL: – These days I listen more and more to traditional musics from all over the world and specially from Africa.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

RL: – If I had a time machine, I would go back 2.000 years back in Africa. We have been fed so many stories from all over the world that I would like to fine tune our GPS about where we go from, to be able to tell where we really want to go.

JBN.S: – So putting that all together, how are you able to harness that now?

RL: – Putting that all together, my desire is not to harness it but to dance it through. Regards, Ray Lema!

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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