Interview: Oshan ‘Danger’ Mahony, The Turbans – ‘Gipsyness from Head to Wheels’ (April 2018)  

Ladies and gentlemen, come near and bask in the earthy sound of the oddest band alive!

Believe it or not, the most free-spirited, erratic and whimsical collective of the UK global sound scene has finally settled down for a bit – just long enough for The Turbans‘ wagon to roam the UK roads on a tightly scheduled tour meant to promote the band’s recently released debut album.

They are undoubtedly the ‘gipsyest’ musicians you can possibly listen to in England and its surroundings; the indisputable evidence is their namesake record published for Six Degree Records on the 6th of April and representing a pan-Romani scented collection of songs gathering inspiration from India to Andalusia with stopovers in Turkey, Northern Africa, the Mediterranean Basin and Celtic countries.

A few days ago, we reached The Turbans in their natural environment – on the road – between one stage and another, and had a free-wheeling chat with one of their founder members, Oshan ‘Danger’ Mahony, starting from the phrase they use to define their sound: ‘music from manywhere’…

“It comes from Cabbar Baba, our percussionist. The first time we met him, around five years ago, he couldn’t speak a word of English, he wasn’t even able to say ‘hello’. We played together in Istanbul and then he came to India with us. Since he couldn’t speak English, we invented this kind of weird language in between English, Turkish and Hindi, which we called ‘Japalish’. That was when he came out with this phrase, which in his mind made perfect sense: when people were asking him ‘Where are you from?’ he would answer, ‘manywhere’. For him, we are not from somewhere, not even everywhere, but we are from many different places, so ‘manywhere’!”

In one way or another, the manywhere were successfully brought together by the band. For this reason, we asked Oshan how it happened.

“That’s a secret that we don’t divulge…

To be honest, I’m not sure, because I haven’t ever played in any other band so I don’t know how other musicians do it. It’s like everyone says his thing and we listen to what everyone has to say. Then we add to that, coming up with things that slowly melt together. For example, Morski [Miroslav Morski, vocalist and guitarist of the band] comes up with this beautiful Bulgarian rhythm, and, when he plays it, the percussionist recognises it and says “Oh yes, I know this rhythm!”  Even though it has a slightly different feeling, they are already on the same wavelength.  We only need to play a rhythm a few times and we suddenly find a middle ground where things fall into place naturally. Also, we play a lot together, so things then change and evolve all the time’.

Is it possible to say, then, that the secret is represented by the band’s live performances and what happens when the musicians are on stage together?

“We used to busk a lot together and through that, we also understood what might work and what might not work with an audience and what we need to do to engage with a crowd. Playing live, we also discovered how to relate to a particular audience, because, when we play in Europe, people have a different sensibility and taste than the people who come to listen to us in India. So we make sure that we play a set that can fit wherever we are playing”.

Being an ever-changing project, we tried to make things neat with Oshan, starting from the current Turbans’ formation

“Today we are six, but usually we are seven [members]. Unfortunately, Cabbar hasn’t got his visa for the UK yet, so we don’t know when or even if he will join us for our tour. That’s the way it works with immigration here. They usually say that it will take 10 days, but then it goes on for weeks, and only two months later they give the visa to him, and by that time the tour is already over. To be honest, it’s a horrible feeling for him because he feels like a third-world citizen in the band, and it’s a horrible feeling for us too because our sound is rounded off by this amazing darbouka player”.

If the size of the band is constantly fluctuating, it goes without saying that the musicians’ residency is variable, the only constant being London and its all-embracing character…

“Even if we feel that we are a global band, the project is based in London. We are people coming from everywhere, and in London, you can find many, many people like us: people who are not from one place but from the world. London is so multicultural, there are not many other places in the world like it. I can only think of New York as another city which is so multicultural and where people are as integrated like London. Because of that, more than feeling like living in London, we feel we live in a global city.

However, we’re not 100% part of the London music scene. Each member of the band has his own scene. We’re connected to a specific movement of the worldbeat sound. At the same time, the band spends half of the year far away from London, not even in England. I can say that in some ways we’re a travelling band and we’re not really connected to any particular music scene”.

Still, The Turbans have a chosen place where they love to go back and play…

“We have had many amazing gigs where we were shocked by the energy of the audience. Actually, it happened almost everywhere…

We played in Hong Kong and had thousands of people who never had the chance to listen to our music before, and they were like: “What the hell is going on?” That was quite exciting because we brought a new sound to a new place. Then there are other places where we usually spend a lot of time and often play, like Goa – that’s the place where you really feel you can be yourself and express yourself, without people judging you but appreciating who you are as a person. As a band, Goa is an amazing place where we play because we have had so much support from so many amazing people. That’s always happened, since the beginning of our music experience. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you go there and show who you are, people appreciate that. So, yes, I think Goa is the best place we have played”.

Also, when it comes to his own music listening, India is one of the main inspirations for Oshan…

“It’s difficult to say what we listen to at the moment because we have such different music tastes, so it’s impossible to highlight one thing or another. I can only speak for myself. Recently, I have really been into traditional music, traditional folk and roots music from anywhere in the world, or any of these modern world music bands. We call them ‘ethno-hipsters’ because they are cool kids playing electronic beats together with some unusual instruments. I like that music a lot.

For the last few months, I have been listening to a lot of Indian raga. I lived in India as a child and I was exposed to that music from an early age, but I never really connected with it, and even if I went back to India and lived there, I still didn’t connect with it. Then, just now, I’ve listened to it again and I’ve finally started being blown away by it. I think I’ve finally started to understand that music!

Then, in London, we work with a wonderful agency called Wormfood and all the musicians working with them are really well-connected with each other. So, obviously, I love the other bands that are part of their roster, the likes of Afriquoi and Nubiyan Twist“.

Just a few days ago, The Turbans released their first album. We recently reviewed it, but it’s always better to let its authors do the honours…

“I’ll be honest. We have never done anything like this before! Actually, we never even knew how to do it. It was a complete miracle! It literally happened in 10 days, during which we stayed together. Try to imagine, 13 guys all together for 10 days… I don’t really know how it happened!

Today, everyone has his own outlook and opinion on the album. Everyone has something he loves and something that he doesn’t like about it. It’s like a collage of everything and it’s also a collage of feedback. We’re all amazed at the fact that it happened and how it happened. The sound is so good!

Then, from my side, I can say that it’s so beautiful to have the opportunity to work with all these guys and make an album together. It really is a miracle, so I just hope people will like it too”.

The Turbans have also recently embarked on their first UK Tour, which is bringing them up and down the UK. They are playing no fewer than 20 gigs in a two-month period, with a special show happening in London on the 21st of April which celebrates the album launch.

I hope that we’ll be able to play our songs properly by the end of the tour. We played in England a lot during the festival season, but we have never really had a chance for people to come and see our show. When we play at festivals, we usually adapt our music to the type of event, while what we’re doing now is our album show, so we are trying to do a different kind of set. We have to focus on the artistic side more and perform our album.

From our shows, people should expect our usual high-energy and craziness, the love and sweating, and dancing and tears… but they can also expect to see the personality of each of the band members coming through“.

That is not simply an invitation, but also a sort of ‘warning’ from Oshan, because, as he affirmed closing our chat cruising on the band’s van in the British countryside…

The Turbans are the craziest group of musicians ever brought together!

Our mission is to bring people together from different countries and let them play their music, but I’d say that we’re not just actively pursuing this mission because it’s our way of thinking about music and life – that’s what we believe in and I hope people can see that”.

Photo ©: Zoe Savitz