Interview: Yeshe Reiners — 505, Surry Hills (Sydney), Wed 17 December 2014

Image courtesy of Yeshe Reiners
Image courtesy of Yeshe Reiners

Yeshe Reiners makes Byron Bay his home, but he tours extensively from NSW to Europe, the North Americas, and back again.

Yeshe is immersed in the rhythms, culture and instruments of Africa, and in a raw interview using a couple of cans and a piece of hemp string stretched from Liverpool to the far north coast of NSW, Yeshe explained a bit about what’s going in his musical world, and what Sydney audiences can expect on Wednesday 17 December at 505 in Surry Hills.

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For Facebookers, the event is here:

*** Audio file will be removed at the end of February 2020 ***

Image courtesy of Yeshe Reiners

Bill Quinn: I’m talking with Yeshe Reiners on the line from Byron Bay this afternoon. I’m in hot, steamy Liverpool [New South Wales], and Yeshe is heading to Sydney in about two weeks’ time. Good afternoon and welcome, Yeshe.

Yeshe Reiners: How’s it going? Nice to talk with you, Bill. Thanks for making this happen.

BQ: And to you.

I saw you perform as a back-up for Harry Manx but also performing your own material – I believe if I remember rightly that the album is Roots And Wings – that was about two and a half years ago at the National Folk Festival. Yeshe, tell us about your music and yourself.

YR: I grew up in Germany, I was born in Germany, and quite early as a teenager, I started getting interested in African music. I was very lucky to run into this amazing master drummer from Ghana [Mustapha Tettey Addy] who was coming to Germany on a regular basis, teaching people. And I ended up playing in his group when I was 14, and by the time I was 16, I hit the road with him, touring around Europe.

Then I went back to Africa with him and spent many years after that over there studying different African instruments. Most of my musical teaching has been African-based, hence most of my musical influence is very African.

But also having worked with other artists like Harry Manx, for example – Harry and I go back 30 years – I sort of definitely put my own signature into it. But I mainly play these days two different African instruments: one of them is called the mbira dzavadzimu, which is the thumb piano from the Shona people of Zimbabwe, and the other one is called the kamalen n’goni, which is a harp from the Bamara people of West Africa – they’re around the Mali, Burkina Faso region.

BQ: Now in folk, we know of these places because of the beautiful kora music that comes from places like Mali and wonderful West African drumming. Is there something about West African drumming that you can hear it and identify it as from that region and separates it from drumming from other regions of Africa?

YR: Definitely. I think that even within the countries of West Africa, there’s a huge difference in rhythms. Even some tribes – they share similar drums but the way they play those drums in separate cultures is totally different.

Image courtesy of Yeshe Reiners

BQ: So you play those two instruments, but you’d have a few others in your kit bag?

YR: Yes, I play a lot of different African drums because that was where I started basically, as a drummer/percussionist. These days my songwriting is around the melodic instruments that I play.

I’ve just finished recording on Xavier Rudd‘s new album. He’s put a nine-piece band together called ‘The United Nations’. We just recorded his new album, and on that one I’m playing strictly percussion. I play a little bit of n’goni on some of the tracks, but mostly percussion.

We’re going to be launching it at the Bryon Bay Blues Festival [Bluesfest].

BQ: I know at least one other artist in the region: Steve Tyson from Byron Bay, who’s got a recording studio and a bush retreat of a house out there in the forest. What’s Byron Bay like as a place to create and record music?

YR: Great place. We’ve got so many choices of studios here. We have real state of the art studios like 301 Studio being up here – that’s where we actually just recorded Xavier’s album.

And besides that, there’s so many different options of really amazing studios, really great engineers, and also great musicians living around here, so it’s quite a bit of a pool.

For me, it’s a really great place to live. I’ve been based here for 21 years now.

Image courtesy of Yeshe Reiners

BQ: Now looking forward in two weeks’ time, on the 17th of December in Sydney, tell us about your gig.

YR: I’m super-excited about this gig actually because I have in my band for the first time a legendary guitarist from Mali [Moussa Diakite]. And if you had have told me ten years ago that I’d be playing one day with that guy, I would have probably said you’re crazy.

Back in Mali, he’s one of the legendary guitarists there – very highly revered and I’ve heard so many great albums in the past that had him on there. So when I finally met him and he’s living in Sydney now, and I played him my album Roots And Wings and he totally loved it, so we’re going to do this gig together.

Calvin Welsh, he’s a Sydney-based drummer from Michigan, and I got James Hazelwood on bass who’s very much in demand at the moment – he’s just finished a tour with Kasey Chambers, and he’s been a bass player on The Voice and he’s all over the place. It’s good when I can get Dave to play with me because he’s such an amazing bass player.

[We went into a bit of an aside for a while about Mali musicians Salif Keita and Mamadou Diabate.]

YR: I played with Mamadou Diabate over in Bali at the Bali Spirit Festival and we played together there. Yeah, he’s a huge guy!

BQ: Tell us about the venue for the 17th of December.

YR: The venue’s called 505 in Surry Hills on Cleveland Street. It’s a great little Sydney venue. Cameron Undy, who’s a fantastic bass player in his own right, he started it in a warehouse where he used to live some years ago. And then they ended up having gigs there every night so ended up saying, “Ok, I’ve gotta find a venue and get this outta my home!” It was just getting too crazy.

It’s been running now maybe five years there, and he always gets some really awesome acts.

BQ: I’ve heard of the venue again and again. I’ve not seen it myself; I know Cleveland Street very well. I don’t know for a fact but I’ll posit a guess that 505 might be at 505 Cleveland Street!

[Narrator: It was not.]

But it might not; check local guides.

Yeshe, this sounds really, really good. It’s been an absolute delight to talk with you.

YR: It’s been a pleasure too. Hopefully I’ll catch you there.

Image courtesy of Yeshe Reiners

*** Audio file will be removed at the end of February 2020 ***

When I play this clip, I just close my eyes and I’m back at the Budawang at the National Folk Festival in 2012. Bliss.

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