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Golden Dawn Arkestra Seeks to Heal With "Mama Se" (premiere + interview)

Jedd Beaudoin
Photo: Daniel Patlan / Drunken Piano

Golden Dawn Arkestra make their earthly home in Texas. Founder Zapot Mgwai says, "I wanted to talk about how this could be the end for human beings if we don't get our shit together."

Golden Dawn Arkestra's new album, Darkness Falls on the Edge of Time, arrives 11 October. Those already familiar with the Texas-based outfit will not be surprised by the music's radical vibrational pull nor by the Arkestra's dedication to uplifting the spirits. For newcomers, a sense of intense rhythms and expansive, explorative sounds may at first shock the system. But soon these motions, movements and exaltations will become integrated into the music-lover's soul as the pulse and prance their way across the rock 'n' roll spectrum. All of that is evident on the new single, "Mama Se", which frequently recalls both Afrobeat and Afrorock influences such as Witch and Colomach.

Founder and leader Zapot Mgawi says, "On this album, I wanted to talk about how this could be the end for human beings if we don't get our shit together. Lyrically, 'Mama Se' speaks to the idea of music as a healing force. We will take you home. We will heal you through these sonic vibrations."

Mgwai recently spoke with PopMatters about all things Golden Dawn Arkestra.

Darkness Falls on the Edge of Time is true to what you've done to date but also expands on the Golden Dawn Arkestra sound.

Even on the last album, we brought in some elements of rock 'n' roll and psychedelic music. On this one, we have some … I don't know what you want to call it … country or something? [Laughs.] There's a nod to Spaghetti Western/Western sounds. We're always big believers in frontiers, grand expanses.

So it's not something where you're sitting around, saying, "You know, we really need to do something with Spaghetti Westerns."

[Laughs.] No, it's all shit you'd hear on my playlist. That's how I think of it. If I play all my favorite tracks, it's everything from surf music to disco to psychedelia to punk.

Rhythm is so central to what you do. Is that where a composition usually starts, with that basic pulse?

It's a good foundation for everything that we do. It's always something that you can dance to, or it moves you. And we have dancers at the live shows. Although, for the next album, I want to do something that's more ambient.

I think that many bands are formed around the desire for the musicians to make the kind of music they want to hear. Is that where you were at with this?

That's spot-on. I started this with a vision for a soundtrack that I had. A sci-fi Western. I was going to write the soundtrack first. I started jamming with people, and it very organically evolved. For me, it was probably the first project I've started with the purpose of me doing exactly what I wanted.

Does that apply for the live show as well? I always fall back on what Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley said about KISS and how they wanted to make the show they never saw.

Obviously, we're drawing a lot from Sun Ra. I've always been a fan of the costuming and the spiritual message in that. All of that is something that's mostly gone from the music scene. You can look back at Parliament or Earth, Wind and Fire, bands you don't think of as wearing costumes, but you look back and they're all are.

We are trying to bring a message. We're living in pretty fucked up times, and we're just trying to shock people into the moment with the spectacle. I feel like we've had a good show if there aren't a lot of pictures online. People were really present with the music, and they weren't taking pictures. Get off your screens and out of the bullshit of these times and into the moment.

As a performer, can you detect when the audience is with you? If you detect that they aren't, do you have ways of bringing them into the fold?

Sometimes we chant. Do weird shit. Get in peoples' faces. Sometimes you don't know. It's different with new crowds. We just played the Montreal Jazz Festival, and I thought at first that the audience wasn't there. About halfway through the show, they started to get into it and then, by the end, they were just in a frenzy.

Sometimes it's just the shock of, "What the fuck is going on here?" Maybe an audience is shocked, and I think, for a moment, that they're hating it. You don't always know.

I wanted to talk about the single "Alo Alo Boom". That says something about the importance of being in the moment.

With the video, we were having fun with analog representations of what everyone's doing on their phones. It was this PSA that we saw in France, and it's about not texting and driving or using your phone while you're driving. Yeah, we're all distracted on our phones, but we're also distracted on our phones while the world's ending.

You were talking about this idea of frontiers earlier. In my lifetime, technological advancement has been seen as this be all, end-all. Get the home computer, then get the computer you can take with you, shrink the computer so that it fits in your pocket and acts as a calculator, home theater and stereo system. Make sure it's with you at all times.

Next it'll be in our brains! [Laughs.]

But if you want to talk about a frontier in human existence, maybe it's when we start sitting down and having meaningful conversations.

Maybe we'll realize that that is our most beautiful reality. One-on-one, live shows, having dinner together, and really connecting on a real vibrational level.

You mentioned moving in an ambient direction next time. Is that part of your thinking for the long-term with the band? In 20 years you won't be where you started but won't have sacrificed integrity.

This is about keeping the music fresh and doing what you love. That's how it started. If we feel like doing an ambient album, we should do an ambient album! [Laughs.]

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