DJ Kyle Long's music, which features off-the-radar rhythms from around the world, has brought an international flavor to the local dance music scene.
Long has already held down gigs at Urban Element and The Egyptian, though only a year and a half has passed since he got his first set of turntables. Friends, impressed by his large record collection and hoping to give him something to do while he went through a difficult period, forced him to play his first gig. "They dragged me there," he said jokingly.
Seated in the corner of The Abbey Coffeehouse in downtown Indy, Long discusses his music making with an effusive sincerity. As usual, he's wearing his trademark engineer cap, which he somehow makes look hip.
NUVO: You sample music from all over the world. Is there any particular country that interests you right now?
Kyle Long: A lot of the music I'm playing right now is music coming out of Argentina. There's a really incredible music scene there right now. It's very modern, but rooted in the traditional rhythms of South America. There are these art school kids in Buenos Aires that are taking Columbian rhythms - Cumbia - and making these really avant-garde, crazy, electronic versions of it. In North Africa now, there's this movement combining this traditional music like Rai and traditional Moroccan music with Auto-Tune, which is what T-Pain and Kanye West use for their vocals. Another area I enjoy is Angola. In Rio de Janeiro, in the favelas, there's baile funk. They're mixing samba with the Miami base sound from the '80s-like freestyle sound, like 2 Live Crew. I could go on and on.
NUVO: You've collaborated with Artur Silva on a few projects, and have said that his art is an inspiration to you. What is it about his work that moves you?
Long: Artur's work strikes me as being very aware of what's going on around it - not only with politics, but what's going on with everyday people. It's saying something very urgent and modern, and yet, it's rooted in the traditions and culture of Brazil. It tells a story. I saw it and thought, "This is exactly what I would like to be doing in my music." It reminded me of what M.I.A. is doing in terms of sampling images, which is what Public Enemy was doing. All these artists know how to put together images from all these different sources in a powerful, explosive way.
NUVO: On his Web site, Artur discusses the oversimplification of cultures through mass media and iconography. Do you feel that our commodity-based culture has impacted the way we make and perceive art here in America?
Long: Definitely. And I think it's something that in a way hinders my music, especially in terms of world music and the oversimplification of something that's very complex and different. So, just speaking from a musical standpoint, I totally appreciate what he's saying. One example would be Cumbia music - if you mention "Latin" music here, people will automatically think of salsa or mariachi bands, and that's a very limited version of this incredibly diverse range of music. I am definitely trying to challenge the stereotypes with my music. I'd like to open people's eyes and show them the diversity that exists even within a single culture.
NUVO: You've mentioned before that you dislike the term "world music." Why?
Long: Yes, I have a lot of problems with that word. First of all, I think it scares a lot of young people away from what I do. It sounds academic or boring. What's worse is that people hear it and automatically think, "There's nothing in this for me; there's nothing in this I can relate to," which is absolutely false. It reminds me of those awful Putumayo records that you find in Barnes and Noble or Starbucks that just lump all these cultures under one very simplified, watered-down tag. It's a colonial term. Record companies created the term for the market, and are using music from artists who probably aren't getting paid. Also, the term just doesn't made sense. If you go to Australia and an aborigine is playing a didgeridoo in a band, that's "world music," but then AC/DC, who are from Australia also, is a rock band.
NUVO: I'm curious, then, about your thoughts on downloading.
Long: I like it and I don't. In my lifetime, the record companies have failed to nurture good music and quality in favor of making a quick buck on all these disposable pop artists who are making music that doesn't have a lot of value. They neglected the audience for good art, and I think there was a decline in record sales. I grew up with this, and so, I really have no problem seeing the record companies fail. It gives us an opportunity to start over and build something new that might value quality and artistry. The Internet has hurt the music industry to a degree and has also made the whole process more democratic for everyone. Everyone can participate now, and our resources for learning are limitless. I support this, even if it begins to hurt what I do.
NUVO: Anything else?
Long: One thing I wanted to acknowledge is my debt to two DJs from New York that are my biggest influences: DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. They would use records from psychedelic rock bands, they would put an African record, they would play songs from a German techno group, from punk to the Monkees - just this crazy mix of music - and put it together to make this great new sound, which led to the creation of hip-hop music. These guys have risen to the level of mythology for me - they had incredible record collections and weren't totally caught up in what was popular. They developed their own sound and played records they thought were important. Afrika Bambaataa made a record called Looking for the Perfect Beat, and I feel like that's a good way to sum up my whole approach to music.
NUVO: Hopefully you'll never find it.
Long: Yeah, that would suck. [Laughing.] I'd have to quit. Also, I want to say that music is a tool. And I think people aren't always aware of this. Playing the national anthem when the president arrives shows us that we always use music to create ourselves, and I'm very careful about the way I use that tool. I don't want to use it to degrade people to use music to celebrate misery or violence. I want to use music as a way to give a voice to people who don't get the mainstream voice like the artists on the radio. I want people in countries who don't have a massive media system to get their music out there. I want to represent the voice of the people and people whose voices aren't represented often.
Kyle Long talks about 10 records he plays during his sets
M.I.A. mixes the music of her south Asian roots - Bollywood, Bhangra, Tamil - with the sounds of her London home - electro, hip-hop, dancehall - to create an extreme clash of rhythms and styles that has influenced my work as a D.J. If you like M.I.A., check out the International Bazaar at 4225 Lafayette Road to find some of the Bollywood and Tamil music that inspired this album.
See: Promotional video for "Jimmy" from KalaI.G. Culture, Zen BadizmFreedom School, 2008
An amazing album by I.G., the father of West London's Broken Beat sound. In a seamless synthesis of live musicians, samples and programmed beats, I.G. passionately explores the music of Africa and its Diaspora - jazz, soul, hip-hop, Afrobeat. Spiritual, soulful and politically conscious.
Jorge Ben, África Brasil
An essential masterpiece by one of my favorite artists, this album marks a radical change in Ben's work, musically and conceptually. África Brasil finds Ben trading his laid-back, acoustic-samba-soul sound for full throttle electric funk and thundering Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Lyrically, Ben gives a nod to the black consciousness movement becoming popular in Brazil at the time.
Bersa Discos, Volumes 1-4 12-inch
Bersa Discos, 2008-2009
This series documents the new wave of Cumbia (a Colombian folk music of African origin) styles coming out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is Cumbia filtered through dubstep, grime and dirty South crunk. Check out Uproot Andy's drum and bass-ish mix of Afro-Colombian singer Petrona Martinez's "La Vida Vale La Pena." The new Argentine Cumbia has been influenced by Mexico's synth-heavy "Cumbia Sonidera" style, which you can find at local markets like Tienda Morelos, 3872 Lafayette Road, or Guanajuato, 1269 Oliver Ave.
Download: La Vida Vale La Pena by Uproot Andy (via discobelle.net)
Fela Kuti, Zombie
Kalakuta Records, 1976
Fela is always in heavy rotation on my playlist. Zombie is Fela at his angriest, mocking the mentality of soldiers who never question orders. The song infuriated Nigerian authorities and set off the infamous military attack on Fela's home. You can find Zombie and other Fela albums at Indy CD & Vinyl, 806 Broad Ripple Ave.
Afronaut Y Amigos, Hecho en Casa Part 1
Muthas of Invention, 2008
This collaboration between London-based Broken beat producers (Afronaut, Seiji, Mark de Clive-Lowe) and masterful Puerto Rican musicians (Giovanni Hildago, Cachete, Hector Calderon) lends an ultra-modern sound to the traditional Puerto Rican Bomba and Plena styles.
Reda Taliani, S/TDounia Music, 2009
A banging album from the contemporary Algerian Rai scene, sometimes labeled Urban Rai or Rai&B, due to the influence of American R&B and rap. Blending traditional Rai rhythms with turntable sounds and heavy use of digitally-enhanced Autotune vocals, Tailiani's work is part of a larger trend in North Africa, where you can hear Auto-Tuned versions of many regional styles like Morrocan Raggada and Amazigh music. Check out this sound and many other Arabic styles Saturday nights at the Cairo Cafe, 3047 Lafayette Road.
Mulatu Astatke & The Heliocentrics, Inspiration InformationStrut, 2009
A brilliant collaboration between Ethiopian jazz master Mulatu and the U.K.-based funk-psychedelic band Heliocentrics. The Heliocentrics approach their music with a hip-hop DJ's ear for beats, which gives Mulatu's beautiful and timeless compositions a funky, modern feel.
Download: "Crazy Day" from Inspiration Information (via Strut)
Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit, The Very BestGreen Owl, 2009
On The Very Best, Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya sings over Radioclit-produced remixes of current pop songs by artists including Vampire Weekend, Architecture in Helsinki and M.I.A. Singing in his native language Chichewa, the results are both familiar and strikingly fresh.
Download: The Very Best (full album via Green Owl, e-mail required)
Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - S/T