Cosmic Analog Ensemble

Charif Megarbane

It's been already two weeks that Basement is by all means haunted by a brand new album that keeps playing through our speakers almost all day, from the time we wake up till late at night... It's called Le Sourdes Oreilles and it was released on July 14. Only fifteen days later, it's sold out - all vinyl (300) and cassette (50) copies are gone, however we were insightful and fast enough to get our vinyl copies on time... :) The man responsible for this cinematic jazz funk masterpiece is the Lebanese musician Charif Megarbane, who writes for almost ten years now under the name Cosmic Analog Ensemble. Having Charif in The Basement for an interview is a real honour and joy, so that's all from us, here's the very interesting and illuminating chat we had with the Cosmic Analog Ensemble man. 

 

Le Sourdes Oreilles by Cosmic Analog Ensemble

 

 

The Basement: Hello Charif, so happy to have you here for an interview. Congrats for your wonderful new LP on “My Bags” Label ! Let's suppose that we just met. Please, introduce yourself to us.
My name is Charif, a Lebanese musician in his thirties who goes by different names such as Cosmic Analog Ensemble, Trans-Mara Express, Free Association Syndicate, Monumental Detail, FirahcEnabragem, Tapeman No. 1, among others.


The Basement: You are coming from Lebanon but you live in Kenya, Nairobi. How did you get there and why ?
Work gave me the opportunity to go to Somalia and I then moved to Kenya for similar reasons - the opportunities and vibes of the place made me stay. I however come back to Lebanon regularly.


The Basement: When did you start composing music ? “Hisstology Records” is an one man project but it seems that you run this under many different variations on the artist names.
I started recording under the Cosmic Analog Ensemble name in 2008. Back then I was in Montreal and my band, Heroes & Villains, which was part of the booming indie rock scene of that city in the early 2000’s, was my only musical project. I quickly started accumulating various solo recordings and decided to put together a netlabel, Hisstology, to host all my releases without being tied to all the non-musical aspects of music such as packaging, distribution, etc. Things just accumulated from there and got adjusted along the way (i.e originally all Hisstology releases were for free).


The Basement: You recorded the album all by yourself, as you always do. Did you have a plan about the final sound ? You had some songs ready to release and that was the right time to do ? How did that happen ? Let us know more about the process of making the album. 
I’ve been recording on my own since I was a kid, after I bought a Tascam 4-track (that I still use) in the UK. It was always a hobby, overdubbing. Then in Montreal I discovered the musical workflow of Dilla, Pete Rock and Madlib who showed me that it was possible for a guy to record spontaneously every night, jazzman-style, and basically record a diary on tape. I bought an MPC and was working this during the dayto pay rentso the discipline became: wake up, listen to the tape recorded the night before on the way to work, go home, record all night, sleep a couple of hours, repeat. It’s a self-fulfilling and contained system. With the years I accumulated instruments, and consequently styles and sounds.


The Basement: How did you decide to release your first album on vinyl ? Is “Medline” the man behind “My Bags” ?
Medline reached out and suggested the idea of releasing an LP on his label. We worked together via email to set up the song selection, tracklist, artwork and I’m very glad this project came to fruition. We’ll be releasing something else in a few months, and looking to put more musical collaborations: Medline is also a multi-instrumentist who’s released a gang of quality albums. Our approaches and conception of what makes music qualityin the 21st century are very similar.


The Basement: We were used to have you work only in digital releases. Was this a really comfortable way of publishing your music ? Do you believe in the power of internet as much as you seem to do ?
Thanks for featuring my tunes by the way! As I said earlier, it’s been the most practical way of sharing the music. Although internet has been my may distribution tool, I am in no way some kind of champion of the net. I look at it no different than a tap or a stool. Though obviously necessitates power.


The Basement: “Les Sourdes Oreilles” means the “ears of a deaf man”. Tell us more about this kinda oxymoron expression. Why did you pick up this title ?
It’s for everybody to decide what they ‘hear’ in it. It seems pretty clear from my end and dissecting it might be useless. Deaf ears can sometimes hear, and functional ears can sometimes be clueless.


The Basement: What are your influences ? What have you been listening to as a teenager ?
As a kid, lots of guitar blues and Keith Jarrett, as a teenager, Ziad Rahbani, Michel Petrucciani, as a young adult, lots of the Smiths, Gene Clark, David Axelrod and J Dilla. Then getting intocratedigging introduced me to the worlds of Piccioni, Roubaix, Alessandroni, all these cats that might not always have been recording all the instruments on their albums but had a singular, individualistic, urgent yet focused and open ways of approaching creativity, with fantastically diverse and rich outputs. Their records show the experience and savoir-faire of adults yet the sense of wonder and naivity of children. That's the ultimate package. And Toumani Diabate, who introduced me to the cosmic realms of mandingue music.
 


The Basement: 70's soundtracks, psychedelic and library music can surely be included, but can you specify the kind of music you write ?
I don’t even know myself most of the time. No mold.
 

The Basement: This is the basis, but why do you compose music at first place ? Which is your motivation to do this ?
It’s the joy of the self-fulfilling discipline I was talking about earlier: a way of creating content in a playful way without all the oop-la and logistical complications of dealing with others. After a few years, it becomes a craft whereby composing, performing, arranging, mixing and producing are part of one same effort, which can all be done really quickly, depending on the method and inspiration.


The Basement: What is musically interesting nowadays in Kenya? Do you relate to any musicians that compose in the same style?
I wouldn’t say I ‘relate’ per say, but there’s some fantastic horn players and musicians. The electronic scene is also booming, though sometimes at the detriment of really talented cats who play instruments. I can tell you more about the Beirut scene, which is technically the one I’m the most attached to: it is a very vibrant scene with all kinds of collectives and talented cats doing their thing. Musically, check out the work of Zeid Hamdan, Marc Codsi. The cratedigging scene is also represented by Ernesto Chahoud from the Beirut Groove Collective, who’s got Oriental, Ethiopian and garage crates for days. 


The Basement: If a label proposed you to release in physical any of your digital LPs, will you be interested and which one would you pick ?
Probably “La Fonte des Glaces”, “Navigations Nocturnes” or “Concrete Abstracts”


The Basement: "La Fonte des Glaces" is one of my favorite releases of yours and the one from which we initially discovered your music back in 2014. What is the meaning of this title (Ice Melting) for you and why do you use french for the most of your song titling ?
It is a play on words, suggesting both the melting of the icebergs, a dramatic and world-changing fact, and the melting of an ice-cream, which is an anecdotal and unimportant one. The juxtaposition of meanings was cool and it looked good visually. Which is why I use French often: I speak it and I find it a bit more better looking visually. Also, demographically-speaking in these data-crazed times, there’s less chances of stumbling onto a fresh title that’s never been used before in French than in English.


The Basement: Inspiration comes and goes. What would do you have in mind for your future if you someday discovered that there were no more ideas coming out ?
I’ll switch the machines off and do some illustrating, painting and get into some new stuff. I’ll buy a bonzai.
 

The Basement: How’s your life in Nairobi ? Do you work somewhere else except from recording your own music ? How do you spend your free time ?
I have a very interesting work, the rest doesn’t matter. I travel quite a bit and am lucky enough to meet fantastic people from various places regularly.


The Basement: Do you listen to new music ? Propose us any hot artists you think we must know about.
A couple of tunes from the latest Fleet Foxes and Lemon Twigs LPs are quality. In hip-hop production, Damu the Fudgemunk, an underground boom bap producer, is still coming witn the goods. Otherwise I keep an ear on what my peers are doing, Shawn Lee, JJ Whitefield, Medline, Orgasmo Sonore, they’ve all got terrific stuff. Hopefully new cuts with various contemporary musicians whose work I dig will be coming out soon, keep an eye out for that.


The Basement: Any long term plans ?We didn’t noticed any live gigs of yours lately. 
I actually played several gigs last month in Beirut and Lyon, France with my friend Anthony Abi Nader on the drums - we have this project called Twyntowers where we just show up and improvise with loops on the spot, often afro-beat stuff. The reception was great if I may say so myself. There will be other shows in all kinds of places down the line, fingers crossed.


The Basement: Charif, thank you so much and please, continue to give us music diamonds and pearls…
Thank you for the kind words!
 

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