Showcase Interview: Bold connection of the opposite poles – “DAGAMBA”
“DAGAMBA” is one of the most experienced artists in the Showcase programme of Rigas Ritmi Festival 2015. The band’s members are two very well-known cellists in Latvia – Valters Pūce and Antons Trocjuks – who are joined by Lithuanian pianist Dainis Tenis and Iranian percussionist Hamindreza Rahbaralam.
Rigas Ritmi Festival 2015 Showcase programme will take place on the 2nd and the 3rd July at 14.00 pm at the New Auditorium of Riga Congress Centre, where Latvian performers will present themselves to foreign music experts and guests of the festival. “DAGAMBA” will perform on the second day. We met-up with Valters for a conversation.
What is “DAGAMBA”?
This version of “DAGAMBA”, which just celebrated its first anniversary, consists of two Latvian cellists, a Lithuanian pianist and an Iranian percussionist. “DAGAMBA” has two missions. The first is to take something old and turn it into something stylish and modern. For example, turning Beethoven’s composition into a rock piece or to combine Mozart and “Radiohead”. The second mission is to join the East and the West. The main message is that it does not matter what genre you are into. The essence is to ensure that music is fulfilling its primary task – provoking emotions. This works with a little child, an old man, a homeless person, and a President. Music that does not provoke emotions is not good music.
You call it crossover music.
Yes – if we are obliged to put a label on it.
How did you come together as a band? It’s clear that you and Antons have played together for a long time, but where did the Lithuanian pianist and Iranian percussionist come from?
It's a coincidence. At one point “DAGAMBA” ceased to exist in a sense, because we had conflict with our “electric guy” Ričards Čerenkovs. He left the band and we understood that we either have to change or put an end to the band. Gradually, we turned to playing more acoustically. We met the Iranian in Latvia. He came here and lived in a Sufi temple in Zolitūde. He taught music there. In the band, he plays an instrument that dates back 8000 years! I was invited to collaborate with him in a concert. We did it and the result was successful. Then we played together with a drummer, also DJ Monsta (Latvian DJ) joined and we continued working. In the meantime I began to immerse myself in ethno music and Eastern music.
It’s an easy guess that meeting the Iranian musician was the reason for it.
Of course. His instruments were a huge surprise for me. The sounds that he can get out of his instruments are… electronic. When you listen to them, you think that it might be some quality sample. Therefore we thought that we should evolve in that direction. I met the pianist on the TV show “Radīti mūzikai”. We were invite there as guests. He got eliminated in that specific episode, but it was the first time that we performed together. That first composition, “Carmina burana”, marked our new direction, which is to supplement an old composition with contemporary sound.
Is this the concept of your new album too?
In essence, yes. It will include, for instance, Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” combined with the “Radiohead” song “Paranoid Android”. Or Handel’s “Sarabande” in the direction of Irish dances. Those things seem incompatible, but they fit together well. This is the greatest surprise and joy for me. The album will be launched in Autumn.
This idea becomes increasingly popular, basically thanks to musicians of different nations, cultures and backgrounds playing together. I guess that artificial combinations of such kind are difficult to make.
They can fail, and therefore I am so glad that we succeeded. Another great factor is that today we have the Internet. You can immediately see whether people are interested in such idea.
As you can see, people love things that they recognize, but in new interpretations.
That’s right. And instrumental music is understood anywhere in the world. I’d like to emphasise that we keep the original composition as the foundation. We don’t pick classical music and add club beats to it. The original piece is maintained as the foundation, and often we spend a week making one composition.
This method of creating music is similar to that of electronic bands, “Massive Attack” for example, that use the original music as a foundation and add different samples.
It’s the same thing. We, for instance, take only Prokofiev’s theme of “Dance of the Knights”, but the rest of the composition is an original piece. So it turns out to be a live sample.
What is your history? Your duo with Antons was not made yesterday.
We began with “Melo M”. It was the beginning. Antons joined later, but I and Kārlis Auzāns started such manner of playing cellos in Latvia. Eight years later I understood that I have to move on. To the left or to the right.
So, as “DAGAMBA” you began experimenting with electronics and with other musical directions, instead of playing covers of popular songs.
We wanted to do something original. I guess, the new band of “Melo M” will have an original album as well. It was not like that then. I kind of could do it as a side project, but I wanted to devote myself truly to original music. We chose the new and unknown path.
You keep experimenting in other new directions as well. For example, by collaborating with choir “Juventus”.
It’s something else. We collaborate with the most different kind of musicians, including a rapper, a French singer, a DJ… Everyone goes on with their lives, but we like to gather musicians together at some point, because there are no good or bad genres, only bad or good music.
Could this romping and experimenting be possible without having background in academic musical education?
It would be possible, but the level would be slightly lower. Academic music gives on the foundation, so you can do everything in good quality. Particularly, when talking about a cello. You can learn how to play a guitar on your own by watching “Youtube”, but it is impossible with the cello. This instrument has too many specific features one has to understand when they begin to play it – at the least. Learning to get something acceptable out of that instrument takes long years of education.
Did you and Antons go to the same school?
Yes, we met at the age of five at First Riga Music School – and we still play together. Afterwards, it was Emils Darzins Music School. After that we went to the Latvian Academy of Music. He also studied in Petersburg in the middle of that, but I went to Germany to study at the Felix Mendelssohn University of Leipzig and to Brussels to get my master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Music. Basically, I have studied cello from the age of five or six and I completed my studies only two years ago.
I suppose that such educational background lets you play almost everything.
I guess, yes. I also considered “Melo M” as a great opportunity, because I could learn a lot there in addition to classic music. This is how I look at it now – I studied many long years and now I want to let it out! Now I can finally live my life.
What was the role of your father (composer Valts Pūce) on your road of music? Did he just sent you to the music school and you had to evolve further on your own?
You’re completely right. I and my sister had only one condition for us, we had to learn music at least on the basic level at the music school for children. Further on we could choose on our own. And cello was chosen, because my father’s sister was a cello teacher.
It seems that it was the right choice!
Yes, already then I knew that cello is the one instrument I want to learn.
What have you chosen from your extensive range to play in the Showcase programme?
I think that we will emphasise our new programme. Classic, but with a taste of modern. Perhaps, some original piece as well, I don’t know yet. But I really want to show that new idea and concept of the band. It’s important for me that the audience understands us. We are in no way ridiculing classical music. On the contrary – we are trying to help classical music with our work, because it deserves a bigger audience. That music contains unbelievably huge amounts of information and evokes fantastic emotions. Most people do not listen to it at all, because it does not seem current. Some study revealed that three per cent of people listen to classical music. If the percentage was four, closing of orchestras would not be necessary… We are trying to make people interested in the genera with our work. At some event a person will hear our version of Prokofiev or Handel; they will think about it and put on the original version on “Youtube” at home. I consider it my mission.
Still, the combination is very unusual – you put a very old German classical music together with even more ancient Eastern themes!
Of course, there always is a risk. We are afraid from exaggerating. Sometimes we feel like we are walking on the edge. Still, you can’t win, if you don’t take a chance! I am sure that some classic and traditional academicians would turn grey when hearing the whole thing.
You are consciously working with such music also to the foreign audience and not only on the Internet.
Of course! We have great plans to perform at concerts and festivals. But our thing began working thanks to the Internet. Even crazier – it was that first time when we played together on that TV show. That video was published online afterwards and in we have benefited a lot as a result of that.
Let’s conclude our conversation with the ring composition – what is “DAGAMBA” purely in the sense of the name?
“DAGAMBA” has several meanings. There is a village in Africa with that name, but it has nothing to do with our music. We took the name from the title of an instrument viola da gamba. Earlier I thought that it is an ancestor of a cello, but smarter people explained to me that it is more like a cousin to a cello. It was an instrument without a spike and it was played like a cello. If we eliminate the word “viola”, then in translation from Italian into Latvian it means “I don’t care”. This name matches our work quite well…