Last year they were the stars of Brasil Fest Brno. This year they will be welcomed to Náměšt’ nad Oslavou, where they will perform on 25 July at the Folk Holidays as part of an evening called Poetry in Every Song. In the meantime, they have played at the WOMEX world music fair in Portugal and the sold-out spring festival Budapest Ritmo. Above all, they were awarded the prestigious prize of Songlines magazine, today’s most respected periodical in world music. They call themselves Ayom, and alongside Brazilian singer Jabu Morales, they are made up of musicians from Angola, Greece, and Italy. Our questions were answered by accordionist and composer Alberto Becucci, guitarist Pedro Bastos João, and of course the charismatic singer and drummer.
You come from different countries. Where and how did you come together as Ayom?
Jabu: We met in Barcelona, where the other musicians came to play. We decided to create something together, and that’s how the band Ayom started to gradually form.
Alberto: I think the most important thing was that we perceived music in a similar way. We all like to combine different genres of music and create our own style out of them. We like to be inspired by traditional music and the masters who played it, whether it was in Brazil, Angola, or Cape Verde. We see this music as “old words” from which we create a “new language”.
Only Pedro is directly from Africa, but the African rhythms are very clear in your songs. Was that the intention from the beginning?
Alberto: You can find traces of European influence in many African cultures. These have often been rather negative, but in the case of music, this interplay between two cultures is good. So we also combine the European tradition, which is based on melodies, with the African tradition of rhythm. It is easy to combine the melodies of the old continents with the energy of Africa. In addition, our music follows a route from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, and it can be said that the history of the sea is also the history of music. The fact that people met and exchanged their cultures while sailing the sea is interesting to us. We, too, travel the same routes as they did.
On the other hand, because of the cultures you come from, you can sometimes work with contrasts and go against tradition artistically. Do you do that?
Jabu: We don’t try to go against the individual cultures we represent in a primal way. But just the fact that we use different languages and don’t set any boundaries can lead to going a little bit against tradition. We try to create music that everyone can understand. It’s like musical Esperanto.
We mentioned the sea, which you see as important for your music. Throughout history, the sea has divided and united people. How do you see it?
Alberto: Yes, the sea can divide and unite, but in our case it definitely unites. Music is a journey, and for us every song is a journey around the world. That’s what characterizes us as a band. We love movement and we try to do something new every day. So we see the sea as something that connects.
Jabu, how do you decide which language to sing which song in?
Jabu: I sing most of my songs in Portuguese because that’s the language I can write lyrics in. But besides that, we also sing in Yoruba, Spanish, and French Creole. We are always inspired by the sound of each of these languages. In Yoruba, for example, we sing an old prayer. But otherwise I don’t see these languages as languages in the first place, but rather as a kind of melody that leads us somewhere, and we just highlight its characteristics.
Now let’s try to describe how your song is created...
Pedro. It can’t be described so simply like that. You’re asking too rationally, but we don’t work that way. When we first met and started playing together, we didn’t try to rationalize what we were doing. We just tuned into the same frequency, looked each other in the eye, and knew what we wanted to do together. It was completely spontaneous and we didn’t need to communicate any ideas to each other. But you could say that Jabu and Alberto are the main writers of our songs. Sometimes they come up with a new song and I, as a guitar player, feel like I already know the song. I’m hearing it for the first time in my life, but it brings back some memories.
Alberto: Usually we have an idea for a melody and then we all create an arrangement based on that. We think together about the rhythm and other elements, get inspired... We also listen to a lot of music together and tell each other what we’re interested in. For example, we are inspired by old songs from Angola. And this joint work is very interesting for all of us.
You’ve released one album so far, but you’ve had a lot of success with it. You’ve made it to the World Music Charts Europe, and you’ve been selected as a performer at WOMEX, which is a great honour in itself. And you got a very prestigious award from Songlines magazine. What does all this mean to you?
Pedro: It’s part of our journey. We travel freely and we don’t worry about where and when we arrive. But when we get an award, it’s a confirmation for us that our journey is going in the right direction. So we were happy that our first album was so successful.
Alberto: When you get noticed in an important magazine or get an award from people who know so much about music, it gives you strength and confidence. It makes you believe more in what you’re doing. So the awards we’ve gotten have helped us as band members to really believe in ourselves.
Your first album Ayom was released in 2020. Are you working on another one?
Alberto: Yes, we already have a lot of new songs that we would like to record at some point. It’s about ten new songs already. We’d like our new album to sound a little bit different from the first one...
Jabu: Wait, we haven’t agreed on that yet...
Alberto: Maybe not everyone agrees... But we could change something. We can go deeper, but we’ll see...