iZem

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A few weeks ago, I got to work on a new and exciting project. Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade got in touch with me to help her put together her new live show. She told me she would be releasing her 4th studio album early next year and that she was starting touring in October. She wanted to start playing the songs of the forthcoming album on stage for this new tour even though the album wasn’t out yet. Her expectations were high as she hadn’t been touring for 3 or 4 years and she wanted to showcase an updated musical identity.

I had been following her work for a long time. I programmed her music on the radios I worked for, I played her songs in my Dj sets and I even gave a shot at remixing her recording of ‘Tunuka’ a few years ago (which didn’t go very far). I also tried many times to sing and play some of her songs on the guitar. Only a few weeks before she got in touch, I had seen her on stage as a part of Gilberto Gil’s live show here in Lisbon and she simply blew my mind. She stole the show all the way through. She had such a unique and powerful way of interpreting Gilberto Gil’s songs. Gil himself is an incredible stage performer in his own right, so having those two together interacting on the same level was a revelation for many people who didn’t know Mayra’s stage personality. Her name was on everyone’s mouth after that epic concert.

The job she hired me for was the following: she wanted me to help her adapt her forthcoming album - which was produced by Romain Bilharz from both electronically programmed beats and acoustic instruments - into a consistent and engaging live show played by a 4-piece band. This meant capturing and sampling the many electronic elements of her album, finding the appropriate way to get those triggered or reproduced by instruments on stage, adapting some of her older songs to the new electronic make-up and suggesting arrangements for the new songs to make them exciting in a live context. 

My job was also to be present during the 3 weeks of rehearsals to give feedback to the band, which turned out to be quite an intense experience. Rehearsals often were over 10 hours long and the timeframe was short to get 15 songs - including 10 or so which Mayra had never played on stage - arranged and rehearsed. On a technical level, we ended up getting all the sequences triggered by drummer Tiss Rodriguez on 2 Roland SPD’s and a sensory percussion kit from Sunhouse. Most of the synth textures were reproduced by keyboardist Nicholas Vella on a Prophet 5 and a Kronos workstation. Bass player Swaeli Mbappe used a Moog Sub Phatty to play the electronic basslines. Also, Mayra wanted to experiment with electronic textures on her voice. We ended up adding an effect rig made of auto-tune, pitch-shifters, filters and a reverb to her live setup. 

I was around for the 3 or 4 first concerts of the tour and all I can say is they smashed it. Mayra’s stage presence and ability to shake the audience’s emotions are legendary. Feedback from the crowd was more than encouraging as people were hearing some of their favourite Mayra Andrade songs (like Tunuka, Lua or Ilha de Santiago) being totally revisited by the hybrid modern band. This project was by far the highlight of my musical year and one of the most exciting yet challenging projects I have ever been a part of.

watch Mayra's new band perform "Afeto" - "Vapor di Imigrason" - "Manga" in Paris on the 3rd date of their "Manga Tour".

 

The story started in an estate in Chelas, a neighbourhood in Lisbon. My friend Léon Brichard (Ill Considered, Wildflower,  Ex-Ibibio Sound Machine) had brought his analogue studio from London to Lisbon and was based in an apartment in this area. I went there a few times to write some music with him. During one of these sessions, Léon came up with that catchy riff on the double bass. It clicked for me straight away so I got him to record the same phrase on other instruments, including on the Wurlitzer keyboard he had in his studio. I used this riff sample for the live show I put together when I released my “Hafa” album, back in 2016. We were playing it as the intro theme of the set. 

One day I was opening for Afriquoi in London and I heard K.O.G’s voice during the soundcheck. He was doing a guest appearance and his vocal talent struck me straight away. We had a chat after the gig and I could sense he as well had been impressed by the beats I had been playing in my live show. I sent him a few of those via his manager, Andre Marmot, and he recorded some vocals from his hometown of Sheffield. When I heard the chorus he had recorded on this beat I had made out of Léon’s riff, I jumped to the roof. It was catchy as hell. 

After going back and forth between Lisbon and Sheffield to get the right vocal take, I was almost there. Benoit Crauste, a Parisian sax player who hangs out often in Lisbon, added the last touch of magic. He had been part of my live band so he knew the underlying beat very well. He improvised on it for a while and I kept the sax phrase I needed for the bridge. I sent this tune to the French producer Guts - who was starting a sub-label of Heavenly Sweetness. He fell in love with the song, flew me to Paris to get the track mixed by Mr Gib at One Two Pass It studios, mastered the song in the same week and put it out on vinyl via his imprint. The song has been playlisted on Radio Nova almost since its release. It is a big deal to me because Nova is one of the radios that helped me build my music culture when I was a teenager.

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It’s out now! I And here’s what the press release said:

"Often writing music whilst crossing continents, French producer, musician and DJ iZem found a new home in Lisbon, Portugal. After moving to the Portuguese capital five years ago, a period during which he released his 2016 album ‘Hafa’ on Soundway, the nomadic artist dove headfirst into the city’s exciting global club scene and started working on bringing his signature soulful and vocal vibe to the club dance floor, and the result is his Enchufada debut release ‘Beni Lane EP’.

Expertly introducing afro-house and heavier percussive elements to his jazzy and hip-hop inflected approach to global sounds, ‘Beni Lane EP’ opens up a new chapter in iZem’s prolific music output with its upbeat and dance floor-focused vibe, while still maintaining his organic and melodic approach to music firmly intact. This is the direct by-product of iZem’s deep dive into the Lisbon music scene, as the syncopated beats that blast loudly from the city’s clubs and streets further contribute to shaping his unique musical personality. From Major Stef’s collage of jazz drum solos to vocal-lead Frikii (feat. Fehdah), where he reworks a vocal from his debut album to fit big room dance floors at 3am, Shebeen Chic’s bass music and dub influenced breaks, to the titular Beni Lane’s colourful celebration of Lisbon’s pulsating and syncopated beats, iZem has established himself as a unique and vital voice in the global club music scene.

‘Beni Lane EP’ follows the release of a single to become his first proper release on Enchufada, as iZem continues his ongoing exploration of the global club sounds of his new home."

Artwork by Aimée

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I had been mainly playing DJ sets on stage for the last 10 years but lately I decided i wanted to try and perform my own beats. I started with a 4-piece band first and then on my own with a more compact ableton set up. I first reworked the songs of my album “Hafa” to adapt them to a live set. As I started adding new elements, loops and samples in the mix, some new compositions took shape. Those were much more electronic and club-oriented than my previous releases as they were created to be played out at festivals and late-night gigs.

Some of those club gigs have been shared with the Lisbon-based Enchufada crew (Branko, Rastronaut, Dotorado Pro, PEDRO…) and they mentioned early on that they would be interested in releasing some of my new beats. I was really flattered by this offer as I had been following and playing out music from their label for the last 10 years. This was the final boost I needed to finish a brand new EP: “Beni Lane”. It is out at the end of june and the first single is out now on Enchufada!

Artwork by Aimée

Free download here

This month I’m sharing my own remixed version of a Brazilian 70's classic : Claudia's "Deixa Eu Dizer”. This Brazilian song is one of the most catchy samba jazz hooks of history and it was already sampled by rapper Marcelo D2 and producer Nave‚Äč on their classic 2008 hit "Desabafo”. I remember playing this tune in my sets very often when it was released and this chorus stayed stuck in my mind. Thanks again to Aimée for providing the artwork! Watch a short live improv’ on some of the samples of this song on my Instagram.

Listen on youtube

Free download here

Solange’s 2016 album has been on heavy rotation in the last couple of years and those songs will for ever remind me of the good and bad times of that period of my life. Solange’s words “Drink it away / Dance it away / Work it away / Sexed it away / Read it away” on that minimal groove still resonate deep in my chest. So when I heard some individual tracks of “Cranes in the Sky” being broadcast in an episode of the song exploder podcast, I sampled the acapella bits and the synth harp to play them in my live set. The result got such a positive crowd reaction that it finally convinced me to finish this remix and share it with the world. The remix was premiered on Gilles Peterson’s BBC radio show last week-end and got positive reviews from all around the world. It is now available as a free download. Enjoy and share!

Artwork by Aimée // Cello by Yu Linn Humm

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