On Ninja Tune
If you think a story that starts off with an American, a Russian and a Swedish-born Chilean/Brazilian ought to end up with a terrible punch line, then you've not heard the one about the multi-national hip hop trio Onself. Their tale might seem unlikely, but their music is definitely no joke.
The group - DJ Vadim and MCs Blu Rum13, a New York native who's spent time in Canada, and Yarah Bravo, whose mother came from Chile, father from Brazil, and was born and raised in Sweden - came together on the road, as Vadim, the celebrated London-raised, St Petersburg-born production visionary, was touring under the experimental banner of The Russian Percussion.
"In 2003 we did two humungous North American tours," he explains. "The first half was Yarah, me and DJ First Rate, and on one of the shows we were in Montreal, and Blu Rum opened up for us with his band Groundwerx. When we came back for the second leg of the US tour in the autumn, another 50 shows, Yarah couldn't do it so Blu Rum became the front man of the collective."
Realising both vocalists had complimentary but contrasting styles, Vadim, Yarah and Blu Rum began discussing a dedicated collaboration. Although his solo albums have tended to feature numerous vocalists, Vadim had yearned to work in depth with a core group of no more than two MCs, preferably a pair whose deliveries and sensibilities would both mesh and spark. Through their natural evolution on the road, Onself became that group, and as the chemistry between voices, concepts and beats intensified, lyrical ideas began to take shape, giving the record an unplanned but hardly unexpected thematic consistency.
"As writers, as lyricists, we trust each other," Blu Rum says of Yarah. "I know his music, I know how he writes, and I know what kind of stuff he writes about," Yarah says of her rhyming compatriot. "It's really easy to be in this group," the Washington DC-resident Blu Rum chuckles, "despite the geography."
For his part, Vadim is convinced One Self couldn't have happened had he not made the move in 2003 from leafy suburbia to the inner city, and built the studio where the One Self album, Children of Possibility, was recorded.
"I've been much more inspired since moving to East Ham," he explains. "It's such a cultural hot-pot that it makes sense that I'd put it into the music somehow. There's sitars and the whole Indian thing, but also there's African sounds, flamenco guitar, Shakuhachi flute - it's a real blend of all the sounds and the people of the area we live in." The effect is startling; a blend of the sort of carefree, trend-defying production Vadim has made his name with, yet lent a new immediacy and clarity - perhaps because this may be the first time he has known precisely who will be supplying the vocals his music envelops. Blu Rum believes this is Vadim to a tee, but that "the chaos is a little more controlled".
Echoing Vadim's own hope that listeners will hear the record first and foremost as "a hip hop album, but also a very musical album", Yarah believes One Self transcend hip hop's parochial preoccupations and emphasise its global reach. "A lot of people want to represent an area or a place," she explains. "But from us, you don't really get that, because we're from so many different backgrounds that we kind of represent everything."
"We chose the album title," Vadim concludes, "because we wanted to talk about how children are so open to different things: they're not racist, they don't have prejudices, they're always trying to discover new things. And we wanted to go back, musically, to a space where we can discover things and create music. We're having fun, really; it's enjoyable. It's got a message, but that message isn't rammed down your throat. It's hip hop, but it's more than that."