This week gossip rag sat down with friend of the blog Amirah de Bourg a very talented avant-garde musician and violist. I saw Amirah perform at the Southbank Centre with Damsel Elysium in March and was blown away by the MAJESTY and so I couldn’t miss the chance to give the gossip girls the low down on all the exciting things she's doing. Amirah and I speak: following your calling, classical instruments outside of the classical world, and her many collaborations with talented London based musicians such as Art Terry, Brian Nasty, Damsel Elysium, FAUZIA and Maybe Anton.
PART I — OUTSIDE OF THE ORCHESTRA
ESIEN: One of the things I love about your music is that you bring the viola into unexpected and often avant garde spaces, are you conscious of that? I know that you're classically trained so when did you start thinking about using your skills in this way?
DE BOURG: The first moment that I started to use my viola for anything that wasn't classical was when my friend Brian [Nasty], put on his Instagram story that he wanted to do a live version of one of his songs. He raps and he was like, do I know any string players? I did it and I was just like, this is so cool because this is playing outside of the classical world and I realised that this instrument isn't just for one thing. After that, all the other opportunities just fell in place. I started playing in bands, I started doing session work and I started experimenting with pedals as well.
ESIEN: I saw you on the pedals at Southbank with Damsel [Elysium]. Really cool.
DE BOURG: Yeah, so pedals are just like electronic things that change the sounds of what you're doing, a lot of guitarists use them. But if you plug a viola into a delay pedal or a harmonizer, it can make it sound really weird. And I've been experimenting with loop pedals and doing that has allowed me to realise that music is anything.
ESIEN: How did your relationship with Damsel start?
DE BOURG: So, Brian invited me and Damsel to be in a session and to work our magic, basically. And we just clicked, I hadn't played with another string player since I played in an orchestra — and with a black person nonetheless. And we just bonded because of our similar beginnings, two black people playing classical music, being in an orchestra, being the only black people in the orchestra. And we just like really could relate with one another. And then after that, we sort of stayed in contact. And then I started going over to their house in South London, and we just started doing these improv jams where we would share knowledge and just relax and play. And then they shared with me ideas about their projects to do with nature and communication with the Earth, what's beneath the earth. And I started contributing ideas and then it grew from there. We have such a deep rooted relationship that stems from things outside of music as well. That’s my homie.
Amirah de Bourg performing with Damsel Elysium and the London Chamber Orchesttra at the Southbank Centre.
PART II — SAM 2 & GOSPEL GLAM
ESIEN: What you said about music being anything earlier reminded me of that Interview story I shared the other day with Yves Tumor and Courtney Love. That interview is so good, there's so many gems in there. But Yves speaks about listening to noise. There’s this thing called overtone that he mentioned, it’s a type of ASMR it's kind of just like electronic humming. I know you’re a fan of Yves. But you have a classical background, and you like lots of different music, you’re also an Ariana Grande stan. So what sort of music are you interested in making?
DE BOURG: I think the key to making stuff you like is knowing what you like and I’m kind of just getting a hold of that now. The music that makes me happy is really sexy R&B. And I don't know how to do that with my current skill set. Working with Damsel has really opened my eyes to the experimental, FAUZIA is another amazing electronic artist that has just given me the complete freedom to use my viola in ways that I wouldn't ever use it, playing in areas of the fingerboard that are forbidden and breaking all of the rules.
Still of Amirah de Bourg from her NTS live performance with FAUZIA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuC1XVwerOA
ESIEN: Wait, tell me about FAUZIA.
DE BOURG: So FAUZIA is a DJ and a couple of years ago she decided to start making music on her own. She currently resides in the electronic world but I don't think she's limited to that. She's entering the classical sphere right now. She uses like Ableton and effects and her own pedal boards as well.
DE BOURG: Ableton is a music production software. So you have like Logic which is the older brother of Garage Band. And then you have Ableton as well. It’s music production but you can also do things live, you can make vocals sound really weird. Her tracks are really off-kilter and no one really knows what's going on but usually, it's grounded in some sort of beat or rhythm that you can hold on to. But she has collaborated with myself and a friend of mine called Clara Schumann, who is a cellist. And we've done an NTS live together where we took one of her songs and added string parts and she just allowed us to experiment.
ESIEN: I met Anton Maybe at your concert the other day. You’re on his album sam 2. I love that whole project. But I love sun tracer in particular which you’re on. You’re also on rodeo which is beautiful.
DE BOURG: Yeah so Tima, brought me and Anton together because Anton has been working on Samantha for literal years.
DE BOURG: And Tima was like, Anton would like you to get in a session with him he’s looking for strings and he knows that you play so like, would you be down and I was like, yeah. I met up with him and we just clicked, he’s such a solid guy. And then he dropped sam 2 last year and we did a final session in the summer and it was just like, damn, this is it. This is so cyclical. We met, brought together under the umbrella of his album and now, I'm watching you finish it. It was such a cool process.
ESIEN: I know you love to collaborate but would you ever do a solo project?
DE BOURG: Yeah, but I just want to take my time. Anyone who knows me knows that I want to do my own thing, I want to produce my own music. And that is something that I have a deep desire to do. I've learnt so much about myself and about other people's creative processes, and to be able to lend myself creatively is great. But I have all this untapped potential.
ESIEN: You truly do. I know you listened to a lot of soul growing up, I don't know if this is the right characterization, but your current band Art Terry & the Black Bohemians, have a kind of soul/funk vibe.
DE BOURG: I would say that it's more avant garde like gospel glam, Art himself was actually trying to move away from that classic soul/jazz. Because that's what he knew. He grew up in the church, he’s also a jazz pianist. So he's very familiar with that. The sound that we do now is really just like I would say gospel glam.
ESIEN: Gospel glam, I like that.
DE BOURG: Same.
My fave track from the amazing Sam 2 but also listen to 'rodeo' and wait for Amirah's viola solo at the end.
PART III - PASSION, CREATIVITY & BALANCE
ESIEN: You left uni to follow your music, a true bohemian power move. What was that like?
DE BOURG: Yeah. I was playing in a band at the time. And the only time I would leave the house really was to like, get groceries or to go back to London to do a gig. I was down bad, but I knew that I was down bad and I just decided to do something about it.
ESIEN: What makes you feel energised creatively,
DE BOURG: Listening to good music, listening to my friends' music. Like when Anton was playing his music to me. I was like, this is fucking amazing. Collaboration makes me feel energised. Being in a room with people who are better than me. Yeah, I used to go into Orii Jam [weekly jam session at the Colour Factory] every week cuz I was around jazz musicians who helped me improvise. Like, these are people who are serious fucking jazz heads and I don't really know what I'm doing but I'm trying to listen and I'm trying to input and blend but also just like have my moments.
ESIEN: What's distracting you?
DE BOURG: It's just me right now, I can't even blame it on my job, or relationship or anything because these are all things that only add to life. I used to be someone who was like, you could only focus on one thing. I can't do this and do this. But you can, you just have to just find the balance.
AMIRAH DE BOURG’S TRACKLIST:
Grace, Jeff Buckley (1994)
Pizzazzz, Patrice Russian (1979)
Gemini Rights, Steve Lacy (2022)
Blonde, Frank Ocean (2016)
Purple Rain, Prince and the Revolution (1984)