Interview: Q&A with Amami – Let’s Dance to the World (October 2021)

Amami are far more than a Geneva-based global-electro trio, they are the joy of dancing. 

Throughout 2021, the hype around their name has exponentially grown. Single after single, they build up a loyal following of music lovers and global beats dancers and the release of their debut LP, Soleil, via Les Disques Bongo Joe, has only magnified their positive and energetic musical attitude.

We thought it was the right time to reach one of the most up-and-coming acts in the global dance scene and ask them a few questions, ranging from their colourful and zesty sound to their little-big city on the lake, and from their global-local record label to all-encompassing music taste and influences.

Then have a dance and read to Amami…

Let’s start with the basics… What’s behind your name? Is it a romantic/sensual invitation in Italian, a geographical reference to the Japanese island, or what else?

First of all, AMAMI sounds great. At the beginning we were looking for sounds like AMAMA, IMAMI, etc… Then AMAMI appeared, which means LOVE ME in Italian. Every artist, everyone wants to be loved… And then we saw that AMAMI is a tropical island in Japan. We love the idea of a tropical environment, but not as everyone imagines. A tropical fantasy. Which is a bit similar to our music. We don’t play real dub, real afrobeat, we play our view/fantasy about these tropical music sounds.

I know that your musical careers started long before Amami. Can you briefly retrace your “musical past” and tell us how and when you met each other?

I [Raphael Anker] played in Imperial Tiger Orchestra, which was an orchestra who played music from East Africa, mainly from Ethiopia. I was playing trumpet, EVI and keyboards. We had the chance to tour a lot, all over the world.

Ines Mouzoune is a young musician, who just finished jazz school in Geneva. She plays keyboards, bass guitar, and percussion. She also works a lot on her own musical productions.

Gabriel Ghebrezghi, aka GHOSTAPE, is a musical activist. He played in a lot of different bands (UBERREEL/The Proteins/Oha Aho) with whom he has the chance to tour a lot. He produced music also as Ghostape.  He  also has  dozens of different solo and duo projects! In these projects, he sings, plays electronic instruments, sampler, effects, guitar. Even saxophone.

When it comes to the music you play, the picture is a bit clearer. You indeed look at Pan-African dance styles and blend them with Caribbean rhythms, Tropical sunshiny vibes and plenty of electro arrangements. 

Now the question is… how did you develop your sound? What was/were the starting point/s and where are you heading to?

The starting point was the collaboration between Raphael Anker and Gabriel Ghebrezghi. Ghebrezghi recorded vocals on the last Imperial Tiger album. From that time, we both wanted to work together, but didn’t know how to do it.

Musically the starting point was me bringing the beats with a rhythm box, and playing riffs with an analog EVI. Ghebrezghi brings an old CASIO and voice/delay.

All the styles you mentioned come naturally for different reasons. I had the chance to develop a little knowledge about these “tropical” musics via tours in Africa. And Ghebrezghi got his double/triple/infinite culture: Eritrean and European. But also he has got family in the US which gave him this culture. All this made the basis of the band. Then we missed a bass player, but also someone making harmonies. We had the luck to meet INES, a very talented young lady who made the magic triangle possible: the trio.

With such a broad range of musical influences, I’m wondering if you can name some of your main “influencers”. By that, I mean musicians/bands/DJs who have inspired your sound and you can’t get enough of listening to…

Mahmoud Ahmed, Muluqen Melesse, early Aster Aweke, Martha Ashagani, all traditional music from Ethiopia from different tribes, Mbalax music from Senegal (Ndongo Lo, Youssou’n Dour, Omar Pene), Music from Zimbabwe, Marabenta music, Music from South African electronic music, Bikutsi from Cameroun, Coup-décalé from Ivory Coast, Funana from Cabo Verde, I cannot stop…. Also the Dub masters, Lee Perry, Scientist, Mad Professor, King Tubby. 90s Jamaican dancehall.  But also a lot of Latin music, from Salsa Brava to Reggaeton Duro.

But the problem is that we also love New West Coast Funk, Post Punk, Noise, Warp Records, Mo Wax Records….

Let’s say from The Internet, Thundercat to Boredoms and Liquid Liquid. Movie soundtrack etc…

How was it to work on and release a new album in these mad pandemic times? How much has the Covid bedlam happening around affected the process and influenced your work?

So Covid times, strange times. What I can say is that we had more time working together on our imaginary world. We had a lot of shows cancelled, so instead of touring like crazy, we rehearsed, and rehearsed. And made new tunes. We tested them in one or 2 shows, not more. Response of the audience was good. We released this album at the peak of the second wave last year, I nearly cancelled the recording 2-3 days before, but the label said “No-no-nooo, go record!” And that was the best thing I did all this era. We recorded in the countryside without internet, making music, cooking food and making fire. That washed our minds and souls.

Soleil is the very debut of AMAMI. You released a single and an EP in the last few years, but never an LP. How do you feel about the final outcome and about the work you have done to publish it? What do you love and, with hindsight, is there anything you’d have done differently?

Very happy to have an LP. Very happy about the result: musically and the artwork. Also the mix is good. Some little structure details in some tunes can be changed, but I like it like this.

Is there any track that you included in Soleil that you are particularly fond of? I personally love the North meets East African character and the hectic tempo of “Atlas” and the exotic psych-electropop scents of “Sempre Tu”… But what is/are your favourite/s and how would you introduce it/them?

I love ‘Atlas’. North meets East Africa is a very clever suggestion, because it’s a gnawa beat from Morocco, but we play some riffs that can be thought of as East African. The energy of this tune is very high. In live shows, playing this tune is crazy.

I love ‘Highway Dehli’, which is a strange crossover between an old dancehall rhythm, an Ethiopian scale, Eritrean singing and at the end a North African riff. I love this dark energy.

Also love the naive versus sad feeling of ‘Sempre Tu’.

Unfortunately​​, it doesn’t happen too often that we can get in touch with and interview world/global beats acts coming from Switzerland. 

Can you help us to shine a light on Geneva’s music scene, telling us what’s going on in the city, some of the not-to-be-missed music places and venues and suggesting some local musicians/bands to listen to?

Geneva is a little big city. For a small city, we have the chance to have a very cosmopolitan population. Through the immigration of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese people in the 70s/80s. Then an East-European immigration in the 90s. And all the international organisations which bring people from all over the world to this town.

Geneva had a very important and lively scene in the 90s due to a very permissive politics at this time with squats. A lot of bands all over the world went to play in dozens and dozens of little venues from all different artistic/musical genres.

The Mental Groove Records store has had a great influence on Geneva musical culture.  This label was a precursor of a lot of things in Geneva (Electronic music, Rave Culture, Alternative new music, etc.). There was also a huge squatted place called Artamis. It was a huge space with different bars, concert halls, radio etc. This place was very important for alternative culture in Geneva.

Cave12 is still alive, which was the venue for experimental music, but also open to all crazy adventures. USINE is the first venue opened in the 80s, a more rock venue. ILOT13 was a huge squat, still alive, with a small venue (L’Ecurie). I lived there for a long time…a lot of musicians, artists.

The youth in Hip Hop, the label Colors (MakalaSlimkaDi-Meh). R2L Records (with artists like ARIS1201,  Lool 2 LoolUser1201GabbaBoy..). Truckthomas with the label Word to the Wise Records and Sconsolato Records. Ozadya Collective (with artists like (LazzylifeNnnurahPekodjinn). CLR CREW (with artists like Abi2speeNetikosYung Home…).

A lot of musicians in Geneva… What can I say… Names like Cheptel Records ( with artists like Bandit VoyageMelissa KassabShadePOL is with the label Helvet UndergroundL’EclairOrchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamps, old and young jazz cats, etc.

There are a lot of Colombian musicians as well, like Acid CocoFrente Na MaPalenque.

What we know for sure about Geneva is that your label is based there as well. In the last few years, Disques Bongo Joe has become quite an institution on the scene. How is it to be part of the Bongo Joe family and is there any other act/project in their roster you admire in particular?

What is nice about Bongo Joe is that it’s a label with a record shop and concert place in the town. So you can go there, just chill, listen to records, meet people, make contacts, drink coffee, discover new bands, etc… So this label has a real basis. And you can feel it. Making concerts with different bands of the label is also a very nice opportunity. Humanly and artistically speaking.

Can you tell us what your most recent musical discoveries/listening are (tracks/albums and/or artists)?

Linda / Tokischa & Rosalia (Republica Dominicana / Spain)

With a new album out and the music world finally (even if slowly) reopening…what are AMAMI’s projects for the future? 

Finally playing for people. Meeting people. Talking to people. Vibing with people. 

And also, we’re working on new tunes, new instruments…

We always close our interviews with a canonical question, how would you introduce your music to someone who has never listened to it before?

You said it so well:

Pan-African dance styles blended with Caribbean rhythms, Tropical sunshiny vibes and plenty of electro arrangements.

At the beginning of the band, we used to say: 

Electropop Tropical Dancehall Over Vitamin Band from Geneva.