The Sound Of Gaya Interview
22nd October, 2012
Interview with Oscar Flores from filmmusicsite.com
Can you tell us how this project got started? What was the inspiration behind creating this crossover album?
I was doing some demos for a film pitch which was set in New Zealand – it was about European missionaries and how they interacted with the Maori population. This backdrop planted the seed of mixing ancient, tribal chants in a classical setting. At first the music was quite modal and sounded like score cues but, I realised I was onto a good idea which could stretch to a more global feel and once the film went away I decided to explore a whole set of songs.
This project can be described as a mixture of classical orchestra, ethnic and tribal rhythms and voices, and some pop elements. How did you manage to make every piece of music cohesive while maintaining the identity of each component?
The wonderful thing about creating your own brief is that you can look into all your influences – perhaps normally restricted by a film’s needs. I have always loved the tribal idea – chants are so accessible and there is an ‘earthy’ quality and power to a large group of singers in unison or simple harmony. I have long been a fan of Pat Metheney, and in particular his album ‘Secret Story’ where he used Cambodian children and fused it with a kind of classical-jazz. I wanted to do something similar but with a more orthodox classical approach. As such, I retained much percussion, lots of vocals and lush strings and brass. I was also able to underpin simple folk/ethnic ideas with a richer harmonic language which I think defines my sound. Regarding other elements, I opted for guitars, ukuleles, mandolins – any sort of strung instrument that might appear on a pop or folk record to give some energy and drive so as to take the album into a crossover direction.
This is a vocal-driven album. Was there any particular language or dialect that dictated what you ultimately wrote?
The language is ultimately made up. I started down the road of researching real life dialects and gravitated toward India, Sanskrit and African – it is amazing how quickly you can become engrossed in other cultures and religions via the internet. I was fascinated by the similarities across the globe and throughout history that tribes have in common. In the end, however, I decided that I didn’t want to disrespect the religious nature of the mantras and prayers I found – at the end of the day I’m a composer not a scholar and it opened me up to doing something all-encompassing without being tied to meaning or specific time or place.
Dorothee Munyaneza, who provides the lead vocals, gained worldwide notoriety after her performance in Hotel Rwanda’s score. Did you set out to find a vocalist who had some understanding of the film music world but that also had an ethnic and somewhat ‘tribal’ undertone to her voice?
I actually met Dorothee through Hotel Rwanda. She had been hired for that since she was from Rwanda and her voice was fantastic. we got on very well in the initial demo stages and I discovered that not only did she have remarkable range (both musically and emotionally) she also read music. This enabled me to notate my ideas and enable us to achieve a great richness in sound by layering up lots of harmonies to create a ‘tribal’ sound.
While the more Intimate and melodic parts can be found in the prayers, you have more energetic and grand elements in tracks like Earth Chorus, Sun Dance and Sky Chorus. The chants and songs feature a bit more uplifting musical components. Was this the approach you took for the album, other than deriving the music from the four basic elements?
I wanted to achieve a balance on the album between uplifting and intimate, more reflective music. I went with the idea of having anthems, prayers and chants and tried to keep this consistent. That way you are never far from some positive energy – the voices seemed to beg for big, powerful arrangements so I put in the prayers to counteract that richness.
Earth Chorus is simply a superb piece of music. Can you walk us through the process of composing this particular piece?
Earth Chorus was one of the first pieces to be written, and I must say is one of my favourites too. When I wrote the chorus section, which has simple harmony, I just kept layering in vocal takes – including myself – and it just felt great. The track sums up my hopes for the music as a whole in that it is essentially a simple chant and melody but with strong orchestral backing which makes you feel the whole Earth is crying out in song.
Are there any plans to expand the album? Live concerts featuring music from The Sound of Gaya are inevitable in the near future, I would presume.
The problem these days is getting any kind of record company to commit to projects that are a bit ‘outside’ the norm. Due to the fact TV is riddled with X-Factor style programming, it is hard to find a voice. The record labels push those artists as they have so much exposure. Imagine pitching a world-crossover-classical-vocal project without a famous name attached! Not easy. More and more artists are turning to the internet to promote and sell their music as it is the only really viable method without a major it seems to me. I was astonished to find that in just 3 or 4 weeks The Sound Of Gaya Facebook page gained over 17,000 likes. That is across the globe and with a tiny budget. I think the universal nature of the project has made it attractive – it’s not in English after all, what a shame Universal Records didn’t pick us up!!
If the profile we are gaining continues there is nothing I’d like more than to get out and do some concerts with this – I’d pick up untrained kids from around London who are looking for something to do with there musical talents and put them in a big chorus and back them with an orchestra!
Finally, it has been over eight months since we last talked (primarily regarding Batman Live). Can you quickly give us an update on the projects you have completed or are currently finishing?
Since we last spoke I have scored a Stephen Frears’ film called ‘Lay The Favourite’ with a soundtrack release out shortly from Cutting Edge’s label. I have been collaborating with Disney-Pixar and John Lasseter on a really cool film called ‘Planes’ which is an extension of the ‘Cars’ franchise – out next year. I completed a lovely french movie called ‘L’histoire de nos petites morts’ (Tale of our little deaths) which is a dark drama about a husband and wife’s sexual fantasies and whether their relationship can survive – it’s also very funny! In June I was lucky enough to help mastermind as Musical Director the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace. That was a fantastic change of pace for me as it involved collaborating on new arrangements of classic pop songs from the likes of Robbie Williams, Annie Lennox, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. I’m pleased to tell you that for once I was not the last person to leave the aftershow party at the palace!Composer, Interview, Music