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60 Seconds With The Shaolin Afronauts

What's your name… and the name of your band…

 

"My name is Ross McHenry and my band is called The Shaolin Afronauts."

 

And what do you do in the band?

 

"I am the bass player."

 

Who else have you and your band closely worked with?

 

"We are a reasonable new band so we haven't worked with anyone as such."

 

When did you form the band or did it just stumble upon you?

 

"The Shaolin Afronauts were formed a couple of years ago, I guess, with the intention of playing Afrobeat music in the city of Adelaide. The core of the musicians joined from a band that a lot of us are a part of, called The Transatlantics, and I guess when I started writing for the group it was just natural to share the music with the people that I played with the most. Also, I think The Transatlantics have been big record collectors and fans of Afrobeat and various other soul music from around the world; it was very easy to do it in that way. So in a couple of years it has grown to kind of an eleven-piece original instrumental afro band. We've just been signed to Freestyle Records, who are based in the UK, so hopefully you'll see a lot more of us."

 

What was the driving force behind the idea?

 

"The driving force was my desire to play Afrobeat music in Australia! Musically, the main influence is Afrobeat, particularly the music of Fela Kuti and The Africa '70. Then, I guess the secondary influence is the avant-garde jazz movement of the 1970s, particularly artists like Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders; now, I don't want people to get freaked out by that. That's not in terms of the lesser enjoyed elements of that, but the pretty spirited intensity of that music. I guess the other primary influence is always going to be, if you enjoy that music and you're from my generation, you're most likely to have started out listening to it through hip hop. Certainly, jazz and Afrobeat are very important to the music of hip hop. I think it's now in this generation that you're starting to see hip hop directly influencing the making of that music and not the other way around."

 

Where has the name come from?

 

"Although the name is important, I guess, it wasn't something that was the most considered part. The music is foremost important and the name, The Shaolin Afronauts, is really just drawn from the fact that we play on stage wearing hooded cloaks and try to keep our identity a little bit obscure. And the music we play is Afrobeat, so certainly 'Afronauts' comes with the sort of spacey, mysterious vibe of the music, with its roots in 1970s Afrobeat and some elements of free jazz that we really enjoy and that we like to draw parallels to the group with."

 

Do you think that you have achieved what you set out to do?

 

"Yes I think what I love about this music translate in our live shows."

 

If you weren't playing music you would be?

 

"Skiing in North America!"

 

What makes you happiest about what you're doing?

 

"Playing Afrobeat music is a pretty intense and exiting experience. Such a large band playing music with such fire, when you come from a culture which doesn't have many bands that are that big and perform with that kind of intensity, that colour and excitement, it's bound to make a pretty strong impression on you. It's just being involved with something so powerful that makes me really happy."

 

How do you all find time to work with so many musicians?

 

"It is that hardest part of what I do. I'm not sure how it happens but it does. I guess everyone just tries their hardest to be accommodating because they love music."

 

When are you doing your thing next?

 

"We're playing Bar Open this Friday February 11, and then at the incredible WOMADelaide festival on March 12 and are pretty exited about that. I think that in Adelaide we're lucky enough to have festivals like WOMADelaide. Afrobeat has become an important part of that festival; there seems to always be someone who's doing it on the line-up. So, I think from a young age, if you attended that festival - which I think pretty much every member of the band did - that had a big impact on us young people."