First they travelled the world, then they conquered it with their languid, cosmopolitan funk. Now KHRUANGBIN have pulled off their most impressive musical fusion to date, covering the songs of Ali Farka Touré in a seat-of-the-pants collaboration with the Malian legend’s son VIEUX FARKA TOURÉ. “We were all flying blind,” they admit to Sam Richards in the latest issue of Uncut magazine – in UK shops from Thursday, August 18 and available to buy from our online store.
The idea of escape to distant climes is baked into Khruangbin’s soul. After all, they are named after the Thai word for aeroplane – a tribute to the psychedelic Southeast Asian pop that, according to bassist and occasional singer Laura Lee Ochoa, “was one of the first seeds in the Khruangbin DNA”. Ochoa is a seasoned traveller; her uncle worked for the American embassy and she used to go and stay with him in various far-flung corners of the world. When she was 17, she visited him in Singapore, hopping up the Malay peninsula for that first life-changing visit to Thailand. By contrast, drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson didn’t have a passport until he joined the band. But it turns out that their home city of Houston is a better place than you might think to hear music from across the globe.
“It’s actually the number-one most diverse city in America,” explains Ochoa. “As well as the oil and gas, it’s the biggest medical research centre in the whole of the United States, so you get people from all over the world. There’s the Mahatma Gandhi District where you can go to find Indian cassette tapes, there’s Little Saigon where you can find the Vietnamese and Korean VHS tapes which I used to get. It’s pretty easy to find these different parts of the world in Houston.”
But while Khruangbin’s music is proud to flaunt its cosmopolitan hues – you can add dub, cumbia, Ethio-jazz, Turkish psych and more to the mix – the band are careful not to evoke any particular destination. “I hope that the music takes you somewhere in your mind,” says Ochoa. “Not a specific country, just in a daydream sort of way. I don’t want to paint the picture for everyone, I want them to paint their own.”
Their latest project, an inspired mindmeld with Mali’s Vieux Farka Touré, continues their global voyage of the imagination. So it’s a surprise to find that the collaboration took root in the distinctly unexotic locale of a London pub. Touré was looking for a Western group to help record an album of songs by his father, the legendary Ali Farka Touré, and he’d gone to watch Khruangbin on the suggestion of his manager, Eric Herman. Within moments of sitting down to a dinner of fish and chips with the Texan trio, he knew he’d found what he was looking for.
“I was so impressed with them as musicians and as really cool people,” says Touré. “It is clear in their music that they have wide-open ears and hearts for music from around the world. But more than that they are sympathetic and thoughtful people. They told me how they loved my father’s music and I could feel that in their hearts they wanted to honour him. It felt like a perfect fit.”
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