"Do Not Be Afraid To Jump Into Unknown Waters": An In-Depth Interview with SASHA SHLAIN
Sasha Shlain, the virtuoso pianist, composer, and producer, who calls the picturesque Swiss landscapes his home, emerges as an enigmatic maven of music, transcending the confines of conventional genres.
Hailing from the mystical Far East, this perpetually wandering minstrel has been a veritable sponge, soaking up a vast spectrum of musical influences, weaving together classical, jazz, fusion, ethnic, and electronic elements into the intricate tapestry of his compositions. In a landscape where his melodies take center stage, Sasha Shlain's artistic journey unfolds across grand stages, intimate theaters, and the graceful canvases of contemporary ballet performances, all brought to life through his distinctive and evocative auditory creations. In his latest opus, "World of Friends," we are privileged to witness his unwavering commitment to artistic collaboration, skillfully crafted amidst the digital challenges of the COVID-19 lockdown era. With every note and crescendo, he beckons us to traverse the profound harmony that emerges when disparate musical traditions converge. "World of Friends" isn't merely an album; it is a jubilant festivity of global camaraderie, an artistry that defies geographical constraints. Sasha Shlain's compositions resonate not only through the audible waves but reverberate deep within the human spirit, offering a profound musical voyage that unites people through the universal language of music. Indie Boulevard seized a unique opportunity to have a conversation with Sasha Shlain and learn more about his artistic journey.
IB: Hello Sasha, it's a pleasure to see you here, on Indie Boulevard. Your latest opus, 'World of Friends,' is an audacious melange of musical styles and unorthodox collaborations. Could you shed some light on the origins of this eclectic sonic space?
SASHA: Hello I.B. “Yes” I can ;-) In 2019, I joined a Swiss music platform, “Beyond Music”, co-founded by Tina Turner, Regula and Beat Curti. The platform’s goal is to connect music creators around the world and give them the possibility of collaborating on a yearly project of the platform, culminating in the release of a CD. I was lucky to win a first and a third prizes of the first album (“Same Sky”) produced by Larry Klein and recorded in a French studio “La Fabrique”. During the two weeks of recordings, as it usually happens, the participants became close friends, and we’ve kept in touch until this day. The “World of Friends” is a representation of my collaborations that occurred in the years after and outside the “Beyond Music” project. Most of them occurred during the COVID lockdowns and were mostly “online”. The album is a mingle of styles and cultural representations, united just by my involvement as a producer and composer of some. I was driven by curiosity and inspiration, and the concept of album could be represented by just one word - “variety”.
IB: Being a "global nomad" and having absorbed musical elements from various cultures, how did your life experiences influence the creation of this album?
SASHA: I was lucky to be exposed to all kinds of music cultures through my life. I was always curious about new and different possibilities for expressing the same emotions. Playing in variety of bands and ensembles, from standard jazz trio to an ethnic middle eastern band, definitely “sharpened” my “toolset’’ and gave me a sea of inspirational material. One of the revealing moments I remember: understanding solo oud Arabic music came after spending a night in a desert and looking at the sky. I don’t think those words reflect even one percent of that powerful experience, but it was a key moment for me in understanding Arabic music. I was also surprised to discover that this music can create the same feelings as music of J.S. Bach (!) - feelings of connection to the universe and everything around. You can probably hear a hint of that in “Evolving”, a piece that involves an amazing Iraqy singer, Beshar Al Azzawi, a New York based outstanding oud and kora player, Kane Mathis, and a Swiss drummer, Lucas Gasser.
Another moment - my first-hand experience with a singer that studied music in India - I couldn’t logically understand “how this is possible” - the method of voice control wasn’t something I could comprehend. That led me to a long period of listening to Indian classic music, and to falling in love with its “extra-terrestrial” nature. I tried to match myself through electronic sounds to the amazing performance of Bejayashree Samal in “Sakala Bana Phul”. I could talk endlessly about my experiences with the world music, but think it will be OK to stop here ;-)
IB: Creating an entire album 'online' during the isolation of quarantine is an intriguing endeavor. Can you share how the limitations of this unique circumstance influenced your creative process and the dynamics of collaboration with fellow artists?
SASHA: Well, there were, of course, some serious limitations in interaction between the participants, as almost all recorded separately, being alone just with some music in your headphones. It is definitely less pleasant than being all together in a studio, sharing ideas and giving feedback on spot. On another hand - it was also a challenge in a positive sense - how I can do my best with something that already has a defined nature (i.e., a prepared track) or a prematurely ended participation which may have been avoided through closer interaction. Even though we talked and “video-called” with each other, the element of being next to each other in a process was painfully missing.
IB: "World of Friends" incorporates elements from various world music traditions. How do you navigate the fine line between cultural appreciation and appropriation in your compositions?
SASHA: Whatever music I create from any culture is always out of appreciation of the beauty that that culture reflects in its music. This is evident in my collaborations, where artists get to portray their original experiences within the music piece. I do World Music, and it is in appreciation of the different cultures of our world, for instance, my first album (Silver in Gold) was a collaboration with an Egyptian singer (Abdullah Alhussainy); the second (Devotion), with an Armenian Duduk artist (Jivan Gasparyan), not to mention the mix in World of Friends. It is all appreciation from my side.
IB: As a seasoned traveler, what advice would you give to someone looking to embark on their first solo adventure? Are there any essential tips or lessons you've learned along the way?
SASHA: Absolutely, but it is also always very personal for each. The most valuable for me - be curious, listen, adapt, and do not be afraid to jump into unknown waters - you will only benefit from it.
IB: Travel can be a powerful catalyst for personal growth. How do you think exploring new cultures and places can contribute to self-discovery and a deeper understanding of the world?
SASHA: That’s a great question, but I think I will be in lack of originality here: the more “different” people/cultures/ways of life you meet, the more you understand how we are all related and connected. My reasons for doing what I do and how I do in music changed dramatically. It went from a “professional orientation” and a way to sustain myself to a way of life, and ultimately to fulfilling my purpose here. Sounds big and philosophic, but that’s the truth.
IB: As an artist who has delved into various genres and cultures, what advice would you give to aspiring musicians and composers who seek to explore and experiment with diverse musical influences while maintaining authenticity in their work?
SASHA: That is an interesting point - I don’t believe you can lose your authenticity if you don’t want to. The perception of the same thing is different for each of us (especially in details), and we pick up different pieces of the same puzzle. Experimenting (and failing) is vital for the creative process, but it will always be YOU experimenting, so… no fear here ;-)
IB: Could you tell us more about the SaShin Orchester, and what inspired you to create this unique ensemble? What sets it apart from other orchestras?
SASHA: For a long period of my life, I was creating music for theater and contemporary ballet. I loved it very much, but the thing is, once the show is finished, the music is “dead” with it. So, I decided to collect the pieces that were suitable for a “stand alone” performance, and as an act of “rebellion” of the music, to keep living independently of the act. The “music” as a main protagonist of the show even hired an actor, to tell “its” story :). Also, there you can find some serious stylistic variety, and that is one of the reasons that it had to be a flexible formation - sometimes classic string quartet, sometimes a fusion band and sometimes just (almost) a DJ set. I don’t see it as a one of a kind, as I believe that: “Cinematic Orchestra” and “Absolute ensemble” did it too, just different from me ;-)
IB: Is there a chance to experience your incredible music live in the future, perhaps at an upcoming concert or festival?
SASHA: At the moment, I am not planning any performances due to difficulty finding the right managerial and promotional partners. So, for now, I am focused on production and publication of my recordings - my new album should be out in February 2024. I also have some educational projects going on, but I will be back to stage for sure, as I love it too much to abandon it.
IB: Looking ahead, as you continue to chart your path, what are your most exciting and ambitious plans for the near future, either in your career or personal life? Are there specific milestones, creative endeavors, or personal goals you're especially eager to pursue as you navigate the journey ahead?
SASHA: That’s a big one :) More and more I think about how my music reaches people, and I figured that the best and the most reliable way is through recordings and digital distribution. So, my goals are to record the best quality music (and I have a lot to give there), and to share it in all possible ways. I would love to keep up with my collaborations, as it brings a lot of new music in my life. In general - to play, to record and to share in every possible way using all the opportunities I have, including someday playing live with my collaborators for an audience.
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