10 Questions with | Electric Sufi
Electric Sufi is delighted to announce their new debut album “Breathe In Life”. Using electronica with an Asian infusion and taking inspiration from truly venerable art forms such as Sufi poetry, Electric Sufi intends to bring attention to the ongoing climate crises. Their goal is to unite listeners from all backgrounds and walks of life through their music and promote engagement with environmental issues. The resulting album is a genuine, masterful example of uplifting World Music.
Vocalist, Sahrah Yaseen hails from a Kashmiri background with a specialization in Sufi music. She seeks to further pursue her passion for environmental activism through her music. Multi-instrumentalist, Mina Salama is a Coptic Christian Egyptian who fled Egypt due to ongoing persecution and contributes his musical virtuosity to the album’s instrumentals. York-born Rupert Till produces synthesized music and soundscapes with an electronic flair. His academic prowess in popular music and music archaeology lends immensely to the album’s sound which is backed by his years of musical experience as he has released music of his own and has performed all across Europe. “Breathe In Love” represents a true intercultural endeavour, fusing ancient and modern music, which has resulted in a truly innovative project. Indie Boulevard was able to talk to Mr. Till about esotericism in music, upcoming debut album, and much more.
IB: Good evening Mr. Till! First of all I would like to say that you make such unusual music, I was thrilled by the singles ‘I Need Your Love’ and ‘O Ignis Spiritus’ and I’m looking forward to the release of your debut album. We will definitely talk about your plans and releases, but I want to start from the beginning. How did your musical path begin and what events influenced and pushed you towards a musical career?
RUPERT: I’ve loved music since I was very young, playing piano at 5, singing in a choir by 7, solos in public concerts by 11. I ended up studying music at University because I spent all my time aged 18 playing music instead of doing maths. I failed to get in to college to do a computing degree, and headed off into the world of music. As a keyboard player I got into electronic music early on, buying a sampler in 1988, and decks and a music computer in 1990. I was lucky that at 18 I realised music was the only thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
IB: Your music is full of atmospheric and serene melodies, highlighted by masterful playing of traditional Asian instruments. How did the band members meet and how did the idea to form Electric Sufi come about?
RUPERT: I offered to do some recording and production for a world music band, and met the other members of Electric Sufi during that project. I remixed some of their material, and that turned into the Electric Sufi project. They’d never worked with Electronic Music, so it was very new to them. I’d dabbled in various global styles, Indian Classical, Samba, Gamelan, West African, so it was something Iw as interested in.
IB: How did you come up with the idea of combining electronic music with folk tunes and ethnic instruments?
RUPERT: I’m a fan of bands like Banco de Gaia, Transglobal Underground, Jah Wobble, and Leftfield, all of whom had mixed some of these ideas in the 1990s. In fact I’ve released solo tracks on Disco Gecko which is the label Banco de Gaia founded. I also like minimalists like Lamonte Young, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass, all of them used electronic sounds, but were inspired by Asian and African musical forms, so I guess it was a natural thing for me. I used to have a UNESCO album, as well as some Georgian chant, which I used to mix in on vinyl to my live chillout sets, so it was great for me to work with acoustic musicians instead.
IB: I had the chance to listen exclusively to your debut album "Breathe in Love" and it sounds incredible, I've never heard anything like it. Tell me about the album. What is the main idea of this album? And what do you want to say to the world with your music?
RUPERT: Sarah and Mina bring Islamic and Coptic Christian ideas to their music. I’m interested in what you might call Humanism, Somethingism, Paganisms, or Creation Spirituality. What we all agree on is that our planet is a gift, and we are not treating it well. Our album is a spiritual love song to the planet, apologising for treating it so badly, and telling it we still care.
IB: You are creating truly sacred and deep art. Were there any mysterious and mystical events during the making of the album?
RUPERT: Music making is always magical. When we went into the studio, the songs just sort of appeared. We wrote quite a bit of the material during various covid lockdowns, it was like the album just emerged through the ether. I’d send work in progress to Mina, and it would come back with new instrumental tracks that were really inspiring. Sarah and I looked for lyrical inspiration from a lot of ancient poetry and spiritual texts. We recorded all the vocal parts in about 3 half days in the studio, writing them as we went. On the second day we still needed lyrics and melodies for 3 of the songs, and they just came to me during the drive from Sheffield where I live to the Huddersfield University recording studios. I was thinking about climate change issues, and the Yorkshire countryside really inspired me, places like High Bradfield, Midhopestones, Woodhead Pass, and Crow Edge take you past dry stone walls, farmers fields, windswept moors, an open cast coal mine, grassed over spoil heaps, and huge windfarms. That journey was like a mystical experience, and a bit of a turning point, as by the time I arrived at the studio, I had all the material we needed to finish the album.
IB: Is there any event in your life that was crucial to your musical career and completely changed your life?
RUPERT: When I was 6 I was too young to sing in the local church choir I was rehearsing with, so I watched the service one day, I remember it vividly. As a child does, I though ‘I wonder if there’s really such a thing as God?’ There were trees outside the windows, and the wind was blowing them around, and I just felt the power in nature and there was my answer. At about 19 I went to a concert at Wembley Stadium in London, a human rights benefit gig for Amnesty International; it was the days of the South African anti-Apartheid campaign, and I was active in a number of political campaigns. Sting was due to start the event, but it was his backing vocalists singing ‘free free set them free’ acapella in harmony who kicked it off, instantly accompanied by 80,000 audience voices. All the hairs on my body stood up, I was tingling all over, it was the most amazingly powerful spiritual and mystical experience. I was transported, deeply connected to a whole stadium of people, but also activated internally within myself, as well as a feeling of connection to existence itself. It only lasted about 20 seconds, but it was quite life changing. I realised that music and spirituality, religion, whatever you wanted to call it, were fundamentally linked, and understood the immense power of music, emotionally and culturally, to link people together, and inspire the some of the most important moments of understanding in our lives. I went on to write a book on music and religion, and the interactions of music and mysticism has been a part of my life ever since then.
IB: You drew inspiration from Sufi poetry, and I think you put a lot of emotions, your own views and hidden messages for your listeners into your music. What do you want people to feel when they listen to Electric Sufi?
RUPERT: I suppose it is about paying homage to the wisdom contained in Sufi traditions. Much of that comes from Sarah Yaseen, but in my understanding it’s about seeking to refine oneself, to be the best version of ourselves we can be, pondering the divine mysteries and exploring the science of purifying the heart. Simply put it’s about seeking love and truth, rather than being led by fear or hatred. That sounds very fancy, but it’s about instinctive and internal unconscious processes, about becoming lost in the music in order to find the centre of ourselves; you can think about that as connecting as human or divine, depending on your own tradition and beliefs. As a mystical tradition, it’s about activity rather than thinking. I hope that listeners will be drawn into the music, get lost in it and focus on whatever it is they are feeling at that moment. That’s what I like to do when I listen to it.
IB: What inspires you to create such unusual and sensitive music?
RUPERT: The whole of life inspires me, and gets poured into my music, including my 11 year old son, the lockdown, things I read, spiritual traditions of different kinds I come across, and ancient texts. I’ve done quite a bit of research into ancient music as well, the earliest soundscapes of our ancestors, from up to 40,000 years ago, finding out about who humans have been tells you a lot about who we are now. I’m neurodiverse, so my place on that spectrum gives me a different way of seeing patterns than neurotypical people. I see patterns wherever I go, whether in music, nature, culture, or society, and I see the connections between those patterns, creating patterns within patterns that I weave together in my work. I suppose some people would try to draw a diagram of how all those things interconnect, but they are so fundamentally interlinked that you’d need some sort of crazy 3D hologram art to visualise it. Somehow in music I’m able to create something that represents those patterns, and that offers a way in for audiences to reach out and sense those connections themselves, to become lost within them.
IB: If your music were to become a book, what would the story be about?
RUPERT: I think it is a book, but an audio book. If I was an author the story would be the same, just in another format. The meaning is up to the audience, it’s about something different to everyone, we all have our own interpretation.
IB: And the last question. Hearing Electric Sufi live would be an incredible experience. Are there any live shows planned in the near future, if so, where and when can I hear your band live?
RUPERT: We don’t have any more gigs planned at the moment, but we’re talking to lots of different people, and hopefully we’ll be out there soon. It’s quite hard as a new band to get in to the kind of gigs we’d like to play at. We’d love to do more festivals, but most of them are booked up way in advance, so we are already looking at summer 2024! In the meantime people can find us on social media as @ElectricSufiUK, or see us perform on our YouTube channel.
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