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Solaa interview: Solaa Power

Author: Benjamin Preiss
Saturday, 15 April 2006
COMING FROM MANY DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS, NEW ZEALANDERS SOLAA BRING A MELTING POT OF INFLUENCES TO BEAR.

Since 1997 New Zealand hip hop fusion outfit Solaa have morphed from a two piece to a line-up that now includes 12 members. With a solid instrumental foundation Solaa was formed in "the spirit of improvisation" as well as a love for urban music. The band sources its sound from hip hop, breaks, funk, soul, R&B, and Latin styles.

With such a large band it is unsurprising that a broad set of musical and personal perspectives should be present, but the band's official biography claims that strong friendships in the group have bridged both socioeconomic and cultural divides. Keyboard player David Wright explains that the band grew organically from "a number of different directions".

"Some of us were from more affluent backgrounds and privileged to formal musical education, while others came to music by collecting different sounds and replicating these in their own way," he explains.

"Regardless of how we got there, it was a simple passion for music that brought us together. Culturally Solaa is a real mix, with Pacific Island, Maori, Asian, Guyanian and European backgounds. While this is coincidental, the whole idea of bridging cultural gaps is a reoccurring theme in our music."

The band has just released their debut album, 'Steps in Time', which Wright concedes was a long time in the making. It has also been a strong learning experience for several members of the band who developed production skills in the process despite starting out as a group of live musicians. Wright says 'Steps in Time' took three years of good friends lending their time and experience.

"The album in effect is a story of our musical progression over the last five years. There was no real theme overall. We recorded together, but the album was produced from Christchurch to Auckland to Melbourne," Wright says.

Capturing the energy of a 12 piece live band on an album must have been a daunting task, but Wright maintains that the group set about creating a record that would be suited to a club or the home. "The album is quite distinct from the live show. We created it to be a solid listening album with tracks that would stand up on radio and in the club. The live show with the full band is almost a couple of steps ahead of the album. When playing live we like to flip the tunes in some way and give the audience something unique," Wright says.

It may be a big project but a shared love of hip hop, funk and soul has been the main factor that brought the band members together. Each individual in the group contributes a different musical perspective ensuring the band continues to "grow, evolve and keep things interesting".

Wright says the varied contributions from the Solaa's musicians helps to "keep an open mind to what Solaa can be". It is Solaa's collaborative composition process that has allowed the group to reach a comfortable creative meeting ground between electronic and instrumentally based music.

"It all comes out of the diverse music we listen to and dig on. When you try and put ideas into a band format that are influenced by heavily produced music it is always a challenge. In the end it just has to feel right in the context of the band," he says.

The band is now focused on bringing the album to punters at home in New Zealand, in Australia and Europe. Wright concedes that touring as a 12 piece band can often be a logistical nightmare. So when Solaa hits Australian shores, it will be with a stripped back line-up. For now Wright is just happy to be taking the group's soulful hip hop grooves to international audiences. " Our recent Australian shows were as a six-piece (band)," Wright says. "To even get over to Australia as a six piece is a mission."
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