Light in Babylon, a world music band from Istanbul was formed in 2009. With two albums to their credit to date, the band promises its listener with a fusion of a variation of ethnicity and cultures. An Israeli singer, a Turkish santur player and a French guitarist that have come together to collaborate with eclectic musicians from around the world. Emaho talks to the band about their music, their plans for the future and their interesting collaborations.
EMAHO: Firstly, what does Light in Babylon signify?
There are two reasons we chose the name Light in Babylon as our band name. Our first stage was the street. In the street, people are walking home, going to or back from work, nobody looks, and nobody smiles. The moment you put music in the street it makes people stop, to listen, to smile, to cry, to dance and to communicate with each others. Babylon is a name for the system that forces us to look in only one direction. At the moment you put any kind of art in the system you create light, making the people also look to a different direction.
The second reason is the story about the Babel tower, the time when cultures separated and people started to speak different languages. Also, in our band we are from different places and we speak different languages, but despite that, we have a common culture and language, music
EMAHO: The sound of your music belongs to no particular genre. Does that make it liberating?
We find it sometimes little difficult to put words to described our music; the category that describes us best would be world fusion music. Indeed it is world music; we are living on the planet Earth so we make world music. If we were living on the moon, we would be making moon music! Seriously we don’t feel borders in what can influence our choices. But we still have this concept of acoustic sound, so if you listen to us you can definitely recognise that it is us.
EMAHO: The band is a mix of ethnicities and nationalities, with the vocalist and drummer Michal an Israeli of Iranian descent, the French guitarist Julien and Metehan, the Turkish santoor player. Did that pose compatibility challenges?
Yes, we do have different nationalities. Between us, we are very happy to be from different cultures, each of us brings from their own culture and it is beautiful. For our audience also it usually also open their heart. Our singer, Michal Elia Kamal, is from Israel with Iranian roots, and we have fans from Israel and Iran and from many countries she cannot even visit as a holder of an Israeli passport, like Lebanon, Pakistan, Dubai, Iran, Palestine and more. Happily the fans from these countries are following us and reach us through the Internet.
EMAHO: What appealed to you about being street musicians over the conventional stage-style concert performers?
First of all we don’t like to be categorised as street musicians as we don’t belong to the street, it is the street that is ours. We played also on very big stages and we play also in the street. We think it is important for any kind of musician to have this range of experience. Playing in the street is humbling; it exposes you directly to the audience. It is also service to society, not only in the superficial level as a distraction but in the deeper level it becomes a healing tool as well.
EMAHO: How has the experience of living and making music in Istanbul been?
Istanbul is a big centre for music, especially for the Middle East. You can find a concert every night, from Manouche jazz to Gypsy music, passing though Flamenco, Reggae, Trance, Turkish pop rock, Indian classical music and more… Being part of this cultural hybrid, it makes you lose yourself and find yourself each day over and over again
EMAHO: The band is both multi-cultural as well as multi-lingual. Why did you guys decide to write your songs in Hebrew?
The lyrics of the songs are written by Michal Elia Kamal, it is not only her native language, and it is also a very old spiritual language that she sings closer to its original pronunciation. A word that is pronounced out loud carries a vibration that as the power to affect life. That said we are planning to have few songs in French, Turkish and Farsi in the future.
EMAHO :Tell us about the formation of the band.
This project began when Michal and Julien, met in 2009. Later in 2010 we decided to come back to Istanbul, build what we call today the `Light in Babylon` band and turned from covers of folk songs to original compositions. Then we met Metehan Cifti (santoor player). Since then we cooperate together and have enjoyed playing in the streets, and cafes and well-known performance halls in Istanbul as well as world music festivals in Europe and many more gigs. One of the things that brought the three of us together was that we chose to follow our heart and take the path of making music. This path is not easy as it might seem and carries with it much judgment and risks but I guess it is this life that is choosing you, and you are not choosing your life.
EMAHO: Briefly walk us through the themes and sounds of your demo albums ‘Istanbul’ and ‘Life Sometimes Doesn’t Give You Space’.
Our songs talk about many different subjects that are connected to our life, experience, feelings, and lifestyle. The song “Istanbul” talks about the mixed feeling you can feel about this city, the song “Wind” talks about the travelling life, and the changes of cultures, languages and people. The text of a few songs is from old Hebrew poetry or from the Bible that brings it an old spiritual quality. By the way, you can find the translations of all of our songs in English and Turkish on our website.
EMAHO: Tell us about the most memorable travel experience for the band.
Travelling is something exciting; travelling and making music is something very exciting, so many memories. But the most exciting thing for us as a band is to perform in a new city, in a place we haven’t played before and discover that all the audience already know the lyrics; that feeling I can’t describe in words.
EMAHO: How do you see music unifying the world?
By our music we are not telling people what to do, we are sharing a piece from our soul, from that moment it is not up to us anymore, it is about the listener and their personal experience. We think that music has indeed a power to open the heart and mind of people, but we don’t think it is powerful enough to heal the whole of humanity. We also believe that politics and their consequences are merely a symptom of the illness of the individuals. Each of us need to consciously decide to make a change in his life to actively seek and realise a thoughtful morality, a mastery of the mind and an inner wisdom for bringing peace and harmony to the world.
EHAMO: What lies ahead? Tell us about your third demo album and the first studio album you guys are working on.
The commercial quality album is ready; we will be releasing it on CD in March. We are now composing songs for the next album; it will be also a real album, not a demo. We will make one or two video clips soon. For now we are independent in all matters. We will see what the future brings us…
Art & Culture Interviewed by – Suchi Kedia