Interview with Lara Maykovich of Aphrodesia
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|State of Mind Music Magazine, Interview with Lara Maykovich of Aphrodesia >>|
-by Mike McKinley
Lara Maykovich is the extraordinary vocalist of Aphrodesia, an 11-piece ensemble from San Francisco that is actively pushing the evolution of the Afrobeat idiom. They're loud and charging, and even with the amount of respect they show towards tradition, their music doesn't feel forced or derivative. They never sacrifice the core humanness that comes with tradition--you feel it in the intricate rhythms they're playing and you see how their movement with the music is so real and natural. It's apparent that they live it, breathe it and are adding their own voice to it. Their latest album, Lagos by Bus--inspired by a trip the band took to West Africa in 2006--was released earlier this year.
I've been following Aphrodesia for quite some time now. And I always look at you guys as being great Americans.
Yeah. Just in everything you do and your approach. I'm proud of you guys, in that you're a representation of America; you travel to places like Ghana and Nigeria, and you're determined to learn and you're respectful. And in doing so, you take something from these cultures that's very sacred, and you bring it back and share it with people in America.
That's a great compliment. Yeah, definitely those are the intentions there, for sure. And certainly through the experience of traveling to West Africa, I think it became a lot more clear what our intentions were and why we would be doing this music. It really does connect people and it really can be a regenerating experience. And I feel that it really was a gift to the Ghanaian people, for instance. I mean, especially them because I lived there for a year before. I studied traditional music for a long time, and I think that was really apparent to them in what I'd done with Aphrodesia's music. But I feel like it was really a gift to them because not only did they recognize the songs but, you know, bringing a more Western appraoch and a more modernized version of their songs, that they're just really, really excited. It's like their cultural heritage is important. Because what's going on in Ghana right now is that the majority of young people aren't really interested in Ghanaian tradition anymore, and they really just want to be American. They're making hip-hop, which is cool but also a little bit sad. And so I feel like in offering them the music that we do, it's kind of showing them that they can have both in a way, and that their traditional music is cool, you know?
Well, I've never gone to West Africa, and I think there's an element of me being an American that has this fear. I read something you said before about becoming fearless, not only about going out and seeing the world, but also about being an artist, being a musician. So what was that like getting to that step, where you said to yourself, "I'm going to go to Africa. I'm going to live there and study over there as a white American."
Yeah, it was a bit intimidating. It took a while. And there were times when I never felt comfortable really. It's like a whole other level of self-consciousness there because you are the minority, and everybody knows that you're American. And all the eyes are on you, so it's like a whole new level of self-consciousness. So, yeah, that probably kind of pushed me out more.
What do you mean?
Well, there was nowhere to hide, you know? I'm really insecure, actually. Really everybody is to some degree. If you're not, then you're probably an asshole, you know? [laughter]
Yeah, you're just oblivious.
It's pain and fear of the human experience that connects everybody. So if you can be in touch with that but not let it take over you, then it makes it easy for you and for people to relate to you. Am I getting too psychological or what?
No, it's right on. That whole experience sounds really empowering.
Definitely, but, you know, not without struggle. It was really difficult at times. It was definitely a process, but definitely empowering in some ways, such a full, full experience. In other ways, it was very disempowering.
What was it like bringing the band there?
It was so incredible, and it was so difficult. Especially the first time. I was with my former husband, and so it was just he and I making decisions together. Traveling, doing anything with a group, can be incredibly annoying. Going out to dinner with ten people can be annoying, you know? So, yeah, it was difficult. I felt pretty powerless a lot of the time, because not only did we have the structure of Aphrodesia, but we also had an entourage of Ghanaians that traveleed with us and played with us, and they don't let women tell you what to do in Ghana.
They didn't get the memo?
Exactly. So it was challenging in that way, for sure, but it was also so amazing that we were able to travel and play music in all the different situations that we did. And I obviously couldn't have done that by myself or with one other person. And it was good. I think we all grew a lot. We kind of had to trust each other. It wasn't like a choice. It wasn't like, "Well, see you guys later." [laughter]
So how does it feel to come back and play gigs? Do you think naturally you guys are on a different level?
I think we're on a different level, for sure. In some ways, it feels really great, and in some ways it's...well, there are now additional concerns for friends and communities that we connected with in Ghana. And it's really not easy to have relationships with really poor people in third world countries, because they really do need a lot of help. And so not only now do we have our own financial struggles with the band, but there's also an extra consideration of like, "How are we going to bring this guy over here?" and "How are we going to send money to our [sic] I'm not complaining, but I'm just noting that now it's even more complex.
05/30/08 >> go there
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