Interview by Parisa Eshrati
A Burkinabe urban griot (vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kaito Winse) meets a Brussels noise punk duo (drummer Benjamin Chaval and guitarist Nico Gitto) - the result is a tour de force project called Avalanche Kaito. On their debut EP, Dabalomuni, the trio lives up to their name by creating a whirlwind of genre-defying sounds that deconstruct both traditional and futurist knowledge. We spoke with Avalanche Kaito to discuss their new release, weaving ancient history into their sound, and following the road of their ancestors.
Note: This interview was translated from French to English by a third-party translator.
Let’s start with the fundamentals: What are your musical backgrounds, and how did Avalanche Kaito come to fruition?
Ben Chaval: My name is Benjamin Chaval, I'm a drummer and computer addict. I produce and design sounds with tools that I build with the help of the holy PureData. I have a standard formation at basic music school, then I played many different types of music in many different bands. I met Kaito in 2018, at that time I played in a noise band called le jour du seigneur. We started to mixup his traditional way with our sounds. Then I called Michael Wolteche (a manager) to see how he could be interested in that kind of musical blend. Then we worked with him to knead and update the sound, and we recorded an album that will be released in June 2022 via Glitterbeat Records. Nico Gitto arrived after this recording. He started playing concerts with us. Our first EP as a trio was recorded in October 2021 and released a few weeks ago.
The single, “Le repas du cobra”, started as an improvised vocal recording over an abstract base. Is this generally how your creative process goes? If not, tell us more about the songwriting process for this EP.
Ben: I'm going to talk here as a "producer". This EP is very eclectic both in the sound result and in the way we made it. "Dabalomuni" is like a live track, very close to what we do on stage, with a lot of energy. The main work was to mix it and to give it this powerful and almost traditional image (in the world of amplified music). It’s the title track. "Moulin", that is a kind of crossing towards what goes beyond the tradition. The song starts from Kaito's memory of the electric mill in the village. We try with the industrial guitar and the accumulation of various percussions to create the mystical image of a mechanical Totem. In "Le monde a deux faces" Kaito recorded a series of proverbs a cappella. I did everything else only using the material of his recorded voice and the particular rhythm of his language. I went to look for a multitude of small and benevolent spirits, I enlightened them and gave them a digital dimension, but they were already there. "Le repas du cobra" is a kind of poem of sung sayings. There was an improvised stage in the studio with Kaito and me, and then this material was worked on, it went into the digital mixer, to be enriched with computational sourdough. I don't think we have a precise method, the album that is going to follow also goes in this direction. I realize that we experiment as much with the methods as with the approaches. And we give ourselves very few limits in the creative process.
Griots preserve a beautiful tradition of weaving history into the fabric of everyday life. How do you feel that music, in general and specifically within Avalanche Kaito, works as a thread in this fabric?
Michael Wolteche: My great passion as a manager, and therefore that of the bands I work with (because we take all the time necessary to make sure it's a common wish), is live music. Just as the griots use proverbs as a metaphor, in the music a story is played out that creates a direct and real link with people, a link that does not lie, even if for example in Avalanche Kaito no one understands a word Kaito says. That's not why there aren't plenty of other messages to get. Like the first one: the importance of being alive, of living in the moment. Today we see that everything is dematerialized, everyone is addicted to playlists and clicks on the internet. When the moment of the concert comes, we forget all that, and we get back to the spirit of the ritual, of the interaction between flesh and blood people. I hope this answers your question.
The lyrics of “Le repas du cobra” begins with a story about animal wisdom, and ends on a surprising moral that “you don’t step on a blind man’s testicals twice.” Please tell us more about this proverb and the inspirations behind this monologue.
Kaito Winse: For "Le repas du cobra", it was my grandfather who inspired me. As soon as there is a difficult situation between people, he takes examples of nature, the animals of the bush, the stars, the plants, the forest. I think it's great. The proverb is a funny creation, so people will remember. Then they will try to understand the situation. It's a bit of work that we give to people. What to do with it and use it to find a solution. When there is a situation in the human world, I transfer it to the forest to try to find a solution. The cobra's meal means that the strongest eat the smallest, quite simply. So the blind man's testicles... When a situation calls for this proverb, it comes, without forcing. This is the wisdom of my village. It is when there is a problem with a child or someone. The person makes a mistake, but we won't accept it twice. If you fell off your bike because your pants got caught in the chain, next time you fix it before you go out.
On that note, Kaito - how much of the lyrics come directly from proverbial stories, and how much is your own interpretative twist?
Kaito: All these proverbs already exist. They are tools for teaching. They are intended to make people think without hitting them head on. In Burkina Faso we use proverbs. In my village the griots use proverbs. We prefer that people think for themselves rather than doing it for them. They go and discuss with the help of proverbs around a coffee or at the water's edge. They use their own brain. If the proverb is nice to listen to, they will remember it. We don't like it when people talk a lot. Tradition has used this so that people retain the proverbs and when a situation arises they will understand and use them. The proverb also makes the link between nature and humans.
As mentioned in your liner notes, Avalanche Kaito deconstructs the ideas of ancient traditions and futurism. What would you all say is the ultimate goal of this deconstruction? What can be revealed if these ideas are dismantled?
Ben: I like to believe that there is no real obsolescence in a tale or a good story. That's what gives them their timelessness: as long as there will be humans they will be valid. If there is re/de/construction it is in the form. We do with what we are. As said above, there is already everything in Kaito's voice, like in the song of a newborn or an old lady. My job is to reveal the whole spectrum of hidden colors with the help of chemistry.
Michael: For me, and I only talk about myself, not knowing too much to what extent the group follows me, there is also a political dimension. I manage Avalanche Kaito because their music can prove that it is possible to go very far in deconstruction - because I think that Ben, despite what he says, goes quite far, and consequently Kaito goes quite far in the reception of these proposals - without losing anything of authenticity and strength linked to a real living tradition, which is not afraid to reinvent itself. It is therefore both a nose-thumbing to the reactionary grumpy ones, and a living proposal to go forward all together. Finally, every time we manage to put forward an aesthetic proposal that shakes up the codes, it gives me a real pleasure to put in danger a little bit all this appallingly sticky mainstream.
There’s a lovely lyric in “Le monde adeux faces” that says: “I am going to take the road/ What road?/ It is the road of the Ancestors, it does not matter! Everything is road!” I’d love to hear from each of you how this lyric applies to you and your journey as musicians.
Ben: The "it doesn't matter, it's all about the road" is for me extremely right in many ways because it makes the initiatory path above any kind of finality, it is much more important to take the road than to arrive at the destination, the arrival is sterile, the path is creative. To do and then that is all.
Kaito: I take the road of my ancestors. First, I pronounce the name of my ancestors. They are like the ground that I trample. Then, everything else, whatever the religions, I respect them a lot. But whatever I learn from these religions I first follow the road of my ancestors. This is a very important message. The message is to try to understand what is the life of human beings, and to respect the spiritual life that is in me. I see things changing. I am in a new world and I see that I am a traditional person. So I have to try to adapt to the current reality, and the reality of the people around me. I follow my road, I stay solid to respect the tradition but I also want to learn a lot with all the roads that surround me, because each person that approaches me is like a new road, and I try to understand, to go in their universe, but no matter the road I will bring it back to the universe of my ancestors. I try to respect my tradition. It concerns me but it also concerns the people around me. The future life concerns us all. I am a person of antiquity and I try to express myself based on that. I follow the road, whatever, but I respect my tradition.
What can you tell us about the upcoming full-length album releasing in June? Any tours or other related news you’d like to mention?
Ben: The album that follows is a much wider panorama of the universe of Avalanche Kaito with a surely more important place to what is a song. Its source is as much in Lankoé (the village of Kaito) as in a too slackened bass string, a digital FFT analysis or a chipped piece of wood. It crosses squats of the north of Europe, an old & not revised mixing desk from Brussels. It’s thrown in the digital mill in Montpellier, returns in the electronic luxury to Mont Analogue, to finish under the banner of the excellent Label "glitterbeat". It will be released on June 10.
Dabalomuni is available for purchase:
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