Showcase Interview: The music of feminine senses – “Sus Dungo”
Rigas Ritmi Festival 2015 Showcase programme, as always, presents Latvian performers to foreign experts of music and guests of the festival. The programme will take place on 2 and 3 July at 14.00 pm at the New Auditorium of Riga Congress Centre.
The unusual six-girl ensemble – “Sus Dungo” – is part of this year’s Showcase programme, performing on 2nd of July. We talked with three of the girls – Diāna Sus, Anneli Arro and Marika Arro.
What is “Sus Dungo”?
Diāna: It is not just a band playing music. It is a combination of feelings. At first, we were a creative group, making not only music, but also poetry and different activities before and after concerts. Now we focus more on the music. The fact that the ensemble consists of girls only was not planned. It was a coincidence. Now we have got used to it and we deliberately maintain this feminine feel.
Marika: But we invite men to be our guest artists. They add different perspective – in a masculine way. For example, once we invited a drummer, and the whole picture of feelings changed.
There really is the feeling that your approach to music is very feminine and girly. So you knowingly maintain the idea that your music should be a little feathery and feminine.
Diāna: Many people felt quite shocked after our second album (“Down the River”). The first album (“Rasā Pēdas”) really was feathery and effortless, but the second one feels considerably heavier. Still, a person cannot run away from who they are, and this might be the way we feel most natural. Women have both – the light and the dark side of the Moon – when they prefer a heavier guitar solo.
You do not define your music style, and you don’t say that you play rock, funk or jazz – or any other style.
Diāna: Recently, we have begun defining our music as “feel music”, a music of senses. It can be expressed with different approaches – in the meaning of style – it has the characteristics of jazz, blues, post-rock, pop or folk. Each of us has been influenced by some music style. Together it make for a good formula.
You play a lot of instruments. Not only drums, guitars and synths, but some more exotic instruments as well.
Diāna: We really do, but without planning. We do not think that adding sounds of a flute or accordion will change everything at once.
Marika: It’s just added value.
Do you keep adding more instruments?
Diāna: Now we have almost completed the set of instrument we play. But we’ll perform a big concert on the 4 June at the Music House “Daile”, and our guest artists will play instruments, which we do not usually use.
Will the concert be a presentation of your new programme?
Diāna: We will play our new songs there too, so we can tell people about them, why suddenly in English and so heavy in terms of instruments and why the Irish and Celtic intonations, etc.
What are the origins of your creative group, as you put it?
Diāna: I met Anneli when I was 16, and it was a while ago. We had the idea that she could learn how to play drums. But everything started with a poetry performance at bar “I Love You” in Old-town Riga. People had the impression that we were a band. Marika played bass and she, Anneli’s sister, was automatically considered part of the band. Others were randomly people we had met randomly. It seemed nice to have a guitar and a flute in the band as well. Then I met girls who played those instruments and they joined us. The main factor for a person in our band is to have that spark of “Sus Dungo”.
“Sus” is the name of Diāna’s guitar.
Diāna: Not only. In the ancient British susurus means humming (“dungot” – Latvian verb for "humming").
So the name of the band is “Dungo Dungo” (“Hum Hum” or “To Hum To Hum”).
Diāna: That’s right.'
Do people hum in your concerts?
Marika: Yes. In Italy we had the biggest surprise when we played our songs in Latvian, but people in the audience hummed and sang along.
Diāna: It was interesting for them to hear songs in Latvian. In Latvia, we have a diverse range of fans. Some like the lighter songs, but the others prefer the new album.
Are there more guys or girls in your audience?
Anneli: One may think that if a band consists of girls, guys should be the majority of the audience – it not always the case with us. Also, the age range is very vast. Perhaps, because we ourselves are so different, it also shines through in our music. Some people are confused by such diversity, but to us, it feels natural.
Diāna: Our third album will be different as well. It's because the songs of the second album were added together for conceptual reasons.
Will you prepare anything special for the Showcase programme?
Diāna: Most likely, we will perform the songs from our new album. But it would be brave and nice to sing some Latvian song as well.
You may be the most unusual ensemble in the Showcase programme – girl band playing a mixture of many styles.
Anneli: The festival is associates more with jazz, but jazz is about freedom and improvisation. This concept matches the way how we make our music. So I think that we fit in well.
About your concerts - do you improvise or are your concert programmes prepared beforehand?
Diāna: It’s similar to event organizing. You prepare everything and then everything changes. There have been times when I check the set list and I feel that there is something missing and introduce another song. Then, the set list does not matter anymore.
Anneli: As I get older, I want everything to be in order. I want to know what comes after what. But then I feel that we are losing that free improvisation. I think that a listener feels what has and what has not been rehearsed before. Improvisation still is an important feeling for the ensemble.
Diāna: I think that improvisation may be discussed as specific means of expression. Not to disturb what others are doing, I can improvise when singing, i.e., within a song. I think that this Summer we will have some rehearsals where we will deliberately let go without thinking about boundaries.
Marika: That might take place in some meadow.
Do you have a particular image of the band and a dress code?
Marika: We always think about our appearance. It depends more on the mood; we dress up in the colors of the sea, in light or dark colors.
Diāna: It really comes down to the level of senses.
When one of you can’t make the concert, do you cancel the event or do you play without that person?
Diāna: Our opinions differ. I am in favour of playing in full numbers, because songs have been arranged that way. Each melody has its special story. I really don’t want to mess with that. But the balance must be kept, and therefore our opinions differ.
Anneli: I agree with the opinion that we are so many that we can afford to play also in other numbers at some events, compared to what we are used to. Sometimes such unforeseen changes let us find something new. Once Diāna was not able to participate, and first we were in shock – who will sing now? But in the end, everything turned out great.
Marika: It is a challenge, and we find it interesting.
Still, how does the sound of those many instruments comes into your music – do you consciously decide to learn how to play additional instrument?
Diāna: Yes, it does happen that way. In my case, it was the banjo. Of course, I am not saying that now I can play it professionally, but I don’t know any girl in Latvia who plays the banjo. Marika can some-what fingerpick an ukulele. The fact that all girls sing now and it is the most noticeable change in our music. There are more instruments that we want to learn. I think that glass ware would fit in our music very well. I have already tried how it might sound.
Does it mean that you are not afraid to experiment, and this basically is the foundation of your unique style? Do any of you have academic background in music?
Diāna: Two girls have higher musical education, but the others have learned how to play musical instruments on their own.
Does it change anything in your music?
Diāna: The girls without musical education bring the craziest ideas! Now I as well am trying to learn vocals more. Still, I have the feeling that all of us have grown a lot in terms of music.
Marika: I think that it is a wonderful combination – people with academic background and people without it. That academic factor sometimes is too specific and prevents crazy ideas from coming to life. But it is also very good that the idea can be adjusted for better sound, according to academic principles.
Diāna: You have someone to have discussions with, and it is very good. And, of course, having academic background does not mean that you have no ideas at all.
The Rigas Ritmi Festival programme also has master-classes. It is another fine way to gain more new ideas and change the perception of music.
Diāna: This Summer I will surely take the opportunity to participate in them! I have decided to immerse myself in music completely. I have a rockabilly project, called “The Foxtails” as well. Then there is a solo project, and several girls from “Sus Dungo” have solo projects too. This way we can avoid from getting rusty and maintain our creative alertness.