Brian d'Souza discusses his latest release and the travels, people and sounds that influenced it
Although he started out in Glasgow as a local DJ and a promoter of his own Highlife parties, Brian d'Souza says his real musical journey as Auntie Flo began roughly seven years ago, when both his DJ career and his work as a producer and a live performer began to take him out of Scotland and around the world. He already has two full albums to his name (2012's Future Rhythm Machine and 2015's Theory of Flo, both on Huntleys and Palmers, as well as last year's mini-album on Sofrito Super Singles The Soniferous Garden), but the just-released Radio Highlife represents a culmination of everything he's learned on his travels so far.
'It's a body of work which started when I began travelling professionally with music,' he says. 'I'd always been on the other side of the fence as a promoter, booking music that I wanted to see and hear, so when I got the chance to travel after releasing a few records I gained a new respect for the whole process of it. Just going to a new place and realising I wanted to make the most of the opportunities to experience things and meet new people.'
Part of this process involved making field recordings in each area, or going into studios to work with new people wherever possible. 'After seven years of doing this, [the concept behind this record] was something as simple as changing computer and rediscovering all of these recordings,' says d'Souza. 'Some of them I'd used on previous releases, but there was a lot of other good stuff which had never been heard.'
Around the same time, he had taken his own Radio Highlife show to Gilles Peterson's Worldwide FM, a platform for underground music from around the world, which fit perfectly with the sense of internationalist crate-digging inherent in d'Souza's music and his DJing. He describes what his show does as 'telling the story of music which is outside most people's line of sight', with each edition revisiting a place he had been, the musicians he had met and the music he had found there.
The record is an extension of these shows, and it's no surprise that Brownswood Recordings – also founded by Peterson – was interested in putting it out. D'Souza is keen to point out that the result isn't an attempt to do some kind of curatorial world music project, but to create new tracks in his own style using his experiences, memories and recordings as a starting point. Breaking the album down, three tracks were conceived from work in Cuba, two from the north of Norway, and others from Africa, Bali, north Wales and elsewhere; 'it's a reflection of my personal journeys around the planet, hopefully in a way which might appeal to and interest listeners.'
It's a collection which is defined almost as much by its collaborators as its compositions. 'One of the main ones is a Senegalese guy called Mame n'Diack Seck Thiam,' says d'Souza. 'He's this tall, larger than life character, who's a percussionist and vocalist. I met him in Kampala and Uganda, I was over doing a festival and spending a few days in the studio as part of the Santuri project, which helps to make connections between local musicians and those from further afield. The recordings he and I made ended up on The Soniferous Garden, but a year later he and I bumped into each other at a festival in Amsterdam.
'This was a real surprise to me, because I know a lot of these African guys find it hard to get visas to travel. Soon after this, the BBC asked us to perform together during the Edinburgh Festival, and the last track on the album – 'Mame's Story' – is about trying to get him into the UK to perform. Even with the BBC and the Edinburgh Festival behind us, it was incredibly difficult. The album is all about travel and collaborations, but his story shows that can be incredibly difficult; I'm lucky that my UK passport gives me a lot of opportunities which other people don't have.'
N'Diack also features on 'Havana Rhythm Dance', a track which typifies the collaborative nature of the album. The rhythm of the song began life in Havana, with a bunch of street musicians who d'Souza invited into the studio to record the basis of it. Later n'Diack contributed talking drum, and the Turkish DJ Zozo added some vocals while in Scotland to play Highlife.
'Soon after that I was walking down the street in London and I bumped into the vocalist and musician Andrew Ashong,' says d'Souza. 'We'd talked about doing stuff before, and I told him we had two weeks until the record was pressed, if he wanted to add something. I sent him the track and he added his part really quickly, which I think really set the album off; it was one track, but it has all these different voices on it.'
With other collaborators including Golden Teacher drummer Laurie Pitt and sometime Noisettes singer Shingai Shoniwa, the diversity of the album flies against the contemporary world's apparent newly-rediscovered obsession with borders. 'I want to make music for the sake of making music, I don't want to get too political on these things,' says d'Souza. 'But for sure, you can think about it like that; our tagline on Highlife has always been about how the world is getting smaller, music is changing, and it's easier to make connections across the globe. It's a core part of what we do, to say that perhaps a lot of these barriers which exist in our mind aren't as big as they appear – and here's the proof, because I've made this album.'
Radio Highlife is out now on Brownswood Recordings. He plays Sub Club, Glasgow, Sat 1 Dec; Sneaky Pete's, Edinburgh, Sun 2 Dec.