Drawing his inspiration from Yoruba spells to cure diseases or solve problems (collected in Benin and Nigeria), Gabriel Severin shook the dust off his interesting project Rob(U)Rang and, with the assistance of a few multi-instrumentalist fellows – Xavier Klaine (Winter Family) on organs, Alain Lefebvre (Digital Dance, Durutti Column,Tuxedo Moon) on percussions, Quentin Hanon (aka Johnny Superglu, Fan Club Orchestra) on bass and guitar, Gil Mortio (Joy As A Toy, P.V.) on bass and guitar, Laurène Laroche (Babelouze) on flute and Céline Mouffe on clarinet – he cast a powerful sonic spell with “Ofo” (Sub Rosa). Let’s get deeper into it.
Chain D.L.K.: Hi Gabriel. How are you?
Rob(U)Rang: Fine, thank you.
Chain D.L.K.: You signed “Soliloques” for Sub Rosa some years ago, didn’t you? Can you tell us something about that release for the readers who don’t know you?
Rob(U)Rang: “Soliloques” is essentialy made of readings of French “écrits bruts” (raw literature) by, most of the time, mad people, and some by writers like Rimbaud or Michaud. It is my own interpretation of what we can call “the inner voice.” The voices I used were as strange as the texts I chose. But this is not my first record for Sub Rosa. The first one was in fact “Musique du Garrot et de la Ferraille” by Jardin d’Usure in 1994. It was a duo with Marc Moedea. after that, we made some other releases under the name of Silk Saw.
Chain D.L.K.: Your moniker Rob(u)Rang appeared even years before… I’ve listened to your debut “Rang 1” dating back to 2000, and I have to say there’s a tribal dimension that resurfaced more clearly on your upcoming “Ofo,” even it sound more techno-oriented… first of all, can you tell us something about your very first steps into music?
Rob(U)Rang: Indeed, the first Rob(u)Rang was already very tribal in a way, although quite everything is made with rhythm boxes.
My first steps into music are very trite. around 14, I received a bass guitar with an amplifier. I played a bit, but I was more interested by the transformation of the sound. So, I quickly bought some effects, then more and more. At that time (the seventies) I listened mostly to psychedelic and kraut music, then post punk like Cabaret Voltaire and This Heat, then Nurse With Wound, etc., where the use of effects was dominant. Later I became the singer of a band, where I encountered Marc.
Chain D.L.K.: According to many listeners, techno has something ancestral and primitive… did you feel the same?
Rob(U)Rang: For sure. This is what I immediately liked about techno music, especially the acid scene and some artists from Tresor, for example.
Chain D.L.K.: …and do you think it has lost some of its similarity (if you think there is) over the years?
Rob(U)Rang: Well, techno is so old now: everything is changing, and this is a good thing. But there are still people that are catching a bit of this spirit: a lot of the artists of the new acid scene, or people like Ancient Methods, Perc or The Maghreban, and of course the musicians who have been doing this for decades like Surgeon or, in a different way, Autechre.
Chain D.L.K.: You founded or became a member of many bands… are there any of them that are still surviving? Any of them that are really unforgettable for your artistic growth?
Rob(U)Rang: Some of them are still alive and well, like Silk Saw and Babils. And of course it’s more the people I encountered there that I have to thank. Indeed, there are a lot of people that were important for me. Like Marc, who is still doing music with me. Together we created a new album on Kotä records, one year ago. (https://www.chaindlk.com/interviews/silk-saw/)
Another very important person for me was Michel D., a guy who has participated in the underground scene in Brussels since the 60’s. He was a kind of living testimony of that time. Like me, he was a digger. I made a lot of music with him, first with our duo The Joint Between then with Babils (now a rock quintet). Sadly, he passed away 3 years ago.
Chain D.L.K.: Let’s talk more about the above-mentioned ‘Ofo’… I partially relived some Yoruba rites I was lucky enough to see in Cuba… did you study Yoruba before getting deeper into it?
Rob(U)Rang: I was only reading books about Yoruba culture a bit by chance (for years I have collected books about sub-Saharan Africa). This part of the world has interested me since I was a child (one of my favorite places was the “Musée de l’Afrique centrale” in Tervueren, where I grew up). I liked the children of the Yoruba religion (Voodoo in Haïti, Santeria in Cuba, etc.) but when I found some books with incantations in Yoruba, it was clear for me that I must dive into it and make music with it. Also, since trance is a strong component in these religions, it was inescapable for me. Generally speaking, anything that has this trance thing interests me.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the most difficult aspect to catch (besides the language) of Yoruba culture and religion for “civilized” whites ?
Rob(U)Rang: I suppose the most difficult thing is to reconnect with our own past, when animism was ruling the world everywhere. There must also be the fear of becoming mad if you go deeper into this world. I must confess that during the recording of the album, it was difficult for me to go back to the regular show.
Chain D.L.K.: The composition you made is really amazing and entrancing… how valuable was the support of guest musicians for this project?
Rob(U)Rang: For most of the compositions, the help of a lot of guest musicians was indispensable. I’m not a good musician, and I can’t play all these instruments like the flute or the clarinet. I had some really precise ideas of the compositions, but it was sometimes hard for some musicians to translate it. For some parts of the record, there were a lot of takes.
Chain D.L.K.: As I haven’t received the booklet, I didn’t have the chance to check the English translation… could you make a short comment about a selection of a song?
Rob(U)Rang: Most of the tracks are made around an incantation in Yoruba, which always contains a kind of medicinal recipe (but you need also snake’s blood, mashed insects, etc.) and a more poetic side. In order to get an idea, let’s see the translation for the lyrics for “Ajidèwe” (track 4) which means “To Feel Young in the Morning”. I’m sure anybody could use this.
“Four hundred leaves of Calyptrochilum christyanum, Orchidaceae 95. 21 nuts (àbàtà) of Cola acuminata, Sterculiaceae. 21 nuts (ifà) of Cola acuminata, Sterculiaceae. 21 nuts of Garcinia kola, Guttiferae. A leaf of Crossopteryx febrifuga, Rubiaceae. A leaf of Uraria picta, Leguminosae Papilionoideae. A leaf of Eleusine indica, Gramineae. A leaf of Marantochloa leucantha, Marantaceae. Aframomum melegueta, Zingiberaceae. A vulture’s head, or a whole vulture (enough for several individuals). Unidentified bird species. Estrilda Molpoda Molpoda, a bird. Sixteen shotgun shells. Mash the ingredients together. Grind a snake’s skin separately. Blend together and put in a calabash. Kill 7 pigeons and pour their blood in the calabash. Grind a leaf of Èrúwà òdàn (unidentified) and 16 Ifá nuts. Put that in the calabash. Add the blood of a goat. Drink with warm corn dough or an alcoholic drink. The Olongo bird is always elegant and in good health. The Írórè bird is always elegant and juvenile-looking when it moves. Èrùwà gets younger as each year passes. The Ifá nuts are always healthy and strong. Orógbó says I will grow old on the Earth. Obi shall chase my enemies toward the great beyond. Ataare is not so small that we cannot feel the warmth in his/her mouth. Gúnugún never dies at a young age.”
Chain D.L.K.: Do you believe in the healing power of Yoruba spells? Any direct experience?
Rob(U)Rang: Well I believe a lot of Yoruba spells have a healing power, simply because there is a real medicinal knowledge inside, not to mention the power of a placebo effect. Someone said: there’s a voodoo sensitivity even in those who do not practice it. I never experienced it, maybe because I’m never sick.
Chain D.L.K.: What’s the spell you would recommend to the typically stressed western citizen?
Rob(U)Rang: I guess I would recommend “Ajidèwe” so you could get “younger as each year passes” and go back to your child-like imagination, and finally maybe recover a certain freedom. But beware some ingredients will be hard to find in our countries.
Chain D.L.K.: In between the songs, you inserted a song titled “Begin to Understand”… does it mark the beginning of your understanding, or the moment when the listener is supposed to get deeper into the understanding of the record?
Rob(U)Rang: Exactly. It’s like a door you have to pass or the “chicane” (zigzag) in a Sumerian temple. But it is also a play on words, as the main rhythm of this song came from a preset of my Rhythm Ace called “beguine”, which is a musical style from Guadeloupe, where there is also the voodoo religion…
Chain D.L.K.: Are you going to bring Ofo on live stage?
Rob(U)Rang: Alas, certainly not for the moment: if I want to do something similar to the record, I need a big pack of musicians and we would have to practice a lot, what a pity! Maybe next year or later, if there is a second record (as I have still a lot of material from the same sessions). I’m now going to try to concentrate for a while on the rehearsals for some concerts I have to do with Silk Saw and Babils.
Chain D.L.K.: Any work in progress?
Rob(U)Rang: Always… We’re doing new tracks for Silk Saw and for Babils, with records at the end. I’m also working on some new material for Rob(u)Rang with, believe it or not, a more acid touch.