Stress.fm and Noise Problems caught up with Raphael Anker trumpetist and founder of the Imperial Tiger Orchestra, Geneva´s own Ethiopian music band, at the FMMSines World Music Festival in Portugal last summer.
With Malinese songstress Oumou Sangare performing on the background we spoke to Raphael about some of the main ideas behind his project, Ethiopian music and culture and about the crisis in Europe.
What have Imperial Tiger been doing this last few months?
There are two diferent things now. Weve been working with Hamelmal Abate which is a great singer from Ethiopia and we also have an instrumental project in a sextet. We are working on these two projects always based on Ethiopian music.
We have seen you talk about the collection Ethiopiques. What have brought you to this culture and this country and what is your relationship with Ethiopia?
Ethiopia called me, she called me (laughing). A friend was traveling in Sudan and Yemen and from Sudan he had tapes from Ethiopia and when he was back to Geneva we were one evening talking till late night and he made me listen to this music and I was like uau and all that east Africa sound just attracted me. There are several different scales which are really unique and that's what attract me to it.
Have you been there recently? What is your look on the situation in terms of urban culture because we know that this music and the collection at some point was considered too popular and almost like the devils music and the government cracked down on the labels and artists so how do you feel about the coming back of this modern music?
Recently no. We been in Ethiopia two years ago with the band. Its complicated everything is related to politics, the golden age was related to Haile Selassie then was Derg and Mengistu time which was hard for music. But that was also a new start for Ethiopian music, strangely, we might think that it was a period very bad which in one way its true but in another it was also ok because many new artists emerged in this period. Ok its not as great as the big bands and what we know about the great recordings of Mahmoud Ahmed but there was also something. And this was the 80s then 90s and now 2000´s there is a lot of artists coming in and we are a bit to fixed to this golden era syndrome in everything in every music, for example in festivals music from Ghana is French Ghana from 70s retro feeling. its good because its amazing music but theres is also a lot of new musicians who are struggling…We have to be careful with the golden era syndrome which is beautiful but now 2012 we have to move forward and…voila that's what I have to say about that hehe.
How do you feel about this coincidence between bad times and creative movement in music in general and how does it feel now in this conditions for you as a Geneva band?
Geneva was in the end of the 90s the city with most squats in Europe. There were squats everywhere a lot of creativity, there was a lot of clubs, a lot of people playing everywhere but since six or seven years now they cut everything. They want the city to look like a money place. There is NATO headquarters there, lots of money too much money and its difficult because even we started in a squat we rehearsed in a squat and our first gig was in squat. I know all this musicians from squats, the scene, and now they cut everything. It takes a lot of energy to make anything happen to find a place for people to listen to us, to make it happen. When bad times come we have to organize and struggle and fight against it. I believe in that, that's my problem (big laugh). But its hard when bad times come. But I like to say also that the problems in Geneva are nothing as bad as countries like Ethiopia for example. I have struggles but if we have and put the energy, we can make something. I just want to say that I don't want to cry about the whole situation, for me its easy.
Are you optimistic in Europe in this kind of scene where there is a mix of influences and the situation in Africa where a lot of countries are becoming better? How do you see this going forward in terms of the relationship between the cultures?
I dont know...I believe in Africa. I believe strongly in the power of Africa. One day it has to rise up and when it does it will be incredible. I made this project with that in my head. Then with the collaboration between the two cultures its difficult...its is politically and philosophically difficult but i believe in it. I wouldnt do it otherwise. Sadly im not optimistic with whats coming in Europe and the in U.S.A. Im having a difficult relationship with the U.S.A. Im really angry at them. But it (Africa) has to rise up there is no other possibility and im going to do it!