Lil Obeah is a Romanian-based artist who introduces himself as a musical experiment that combines traditional folk sound and deep beats of all dub subgenres. Released at his independent record label, Sound of Art To Come, his latest chapter, “From Transylvania”, ponders national identity, religion, local myths, and the legacy we leave behind for future generations.
In a world filled with “dubstep”, here you are making good old traditional dub-why?
The “Lil Obeah from Transylvania LP” is inspired by traditional dub, but it has evolved into something else, a beast of its own. This album is just as much inspired by Jamaicans like King Tubby, Lee Scratch Perry, The Scientist, Niney the Observer, Joe Gibbs as it is by British producers and performers like Mad Professor, Dennis Bovell, Jah Shaka, Dub Colossus, Transglobal Underground. I want to add to that list dubstep artists and art like Digital Mystikz, Mala, and Shackleton. Even if those influences are not that evident on the album.
Songlines Magazine has called “Lil Obeah from Transylvania LP” Balkan dub/ world music/ global sounds. All I know is it is something very personal and I would be extremely proud to play this record to a Jamaican and English audience, where this sound has been most popular. I realize though this sound is far from an orthodox Caribbean or UK dub sound, or even the present days’ trends in the islands. But the reaction in the UK, Germany, and France has been incredible.
Truth be told, I like and make music as an art form, a cultural product, or a series of cultural products. And the dubstep I love is very much art too, from sound to vision, music, and artwork. Some of my favorite records in the Universe are labeled and boxed in that genre by “music critics”. The albums I have to mention are from UK innovators The Bug: London Zoo, Kode9 & The Spaceape: Memories of the Future, Burial: Untrue and Pinch: Underwater Dancehall, and US pioneers Dub Gabriel: Raggabass Resistance, Deadbeat & Paul St. Hilaire: The Infinity Dub Sessions. Those are milestones in my collection and a constant inspiration. And even dub/post-punk legends like Adrian Sherwood and Mark Stewart of On-U Sound Records have dubstep-influenced tunes and albums.
I just like to imagine trips, music as a soundtrack for journeys and this is why the Lil Obeah from Transylvania LP has a steady tempo and it is fit for walking in nature and in the city.
So, I really embrace all quality music and remember that ten years ago again critics and people were talking about post–dubstep and squeezing in there artists that have become pop stars like James Blake, Jamie xx, and Four Tet. I loved and still do our own dubstep of post–dubstep Romanian hero Liar, and his album “Strange Love”.
In our Sound of Art to Come catalog, we do have a remix in partnership with Underdog Records, for Oigăn & Ana Ularu’s “Meteorologie“ collaboration and that is some sort of dubstep. Our latest unreleased Denise Sherwood remix has that vibe too.
What we aim with Sound of Art to Come is for a modern sound that knows where it is coming from, quality dubstep comes from dub, and this is the reason why our catalog is made of duppy dubz and duppy riddimz, to balance that classic sound with the contemporary productions.
How did you get into producing and making your own music initially?
A lot of people say that “music” chose them. I am a visual artist and curator, but thanks to my mother, my youth was filled with music, and sometime after I was over seven I started hearing drums and guitar riffs while walking around in the street with my walkman.
Rock music in my young years is the reason I love hardcore punk, my favorite band is still Bad Brains, so while listening to them, I began writing lyrics and the next thing I know, I start giving them to musician friends. Because what they came up with didn’t sound at all like what I heard in my head, I decided to touch the mic.
But I have this way of knowing what I want. Sometime around six years ago, my soul music became dub and even though I am making music for over ten years now, I have only now decided it is time to do a solo album, and it is all about love… for dub.
I just like to imagine trips, music as a soundtrack for journeys and this is why the “Lil Obeah from Transylvania LP” has a steady tempo and it is fit for walking in nature and in the city. Most of the songs are over 5 minutes so that you can immerse yourself in them. Also, the spaciousness of dub offers room for reflection on the outside world.
Please describe your process of production!
Me and Marius Costache of Studio148, my musical partner, always dive headfirst in sound. Most of the time we surprise ourselves with the sonic outcome, and that is the beauty of our chemistry. Less compromise, more experiment, and playfulness. Probably the playfulness element is what I love the most in Jamaican music. The musicians and artists in there had nothing to lose, careers or success promises, they were having fun, in spite of their hard lives. And this inspires us. When people come and ask for a remix, we always try and assure total freedom so we can have fun working and making music. Just like the classic manele album by Adrian Minune, we chase “Autocompetition”, our aim is to surpass our past work and not try to align to a trend or follow the rigors of the genre.
But from song to song, each release has a different process behind it. The “Lil Obeah from Transylvania LP” was done on a foundation by Horseman, with his drums and percussions as the basis. We added the vocals and harmonies were created. Then all the session musicians and producers involved added the electric bass, keys, santur, theremin, piano and I came up with samples and concepts to keep the feeling of a sound collage.
“From Transylvania LP” is blood flowing. I mean Obeah for me is a traveller between the worlds of the living and realm of the dead.
Nick Dubulah played bass, guitar, and synths and he wanted santur solos as a local instrument to give it a cultural basis, to create a proper Transylvanian duppy dub sound. He called it gothic dub. And I proposed to Transglobal Underground aka Tim and Hami to complete the santur solos with the eerie sound of theremin. Thank you Leon for that! With Marius, I wanted to go further with a jazz-inspired sound, his “Ascuns LP“ by Environments really has this ambient jazz sound that I loved, so we went with that. Piano and electric bass was added by Adi Stoenescu, Laura Benedek, Mihael Acker and Mihai Moldoveanu, and on Titan, Alexandru Arcuș gave us lots of colorful flute solos. Both me and Marius love industrial dub from the eighties, like Bauhaus, Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Pop Will Eat Itself, and Mark Stewart & The Maffia, with added distortion and strong harsh reverb and delay, so we had to add a bit of that to ‘Chaos‘, Urma and songs that will feature on the third Lil Obeah LP.
I like collaboration and I can sing melodies and vocals, but usually, I prefer professionals pushing the buttons. I create a concept and paint a picture, but freedom for the artists brings out the best results.
In what way do you think the Romanian roots sound system culture and dubplates are different from what is happening around the world?
Romanian dub reggae and Soundsystem culture are imitated a lot. Not that doesn’t happen in other countries too. And that is a good thing, you know, giving people what they want.
Whereas Sound of Art to Come is about the future, we love the past, that is where we are all coming from, but we are very much interested in where we are going and pushing a “sound” people need. This is the reason why our reach is thousand of people and not more. But all for the best. Music is a weapon… for peace and we are contributing to that, with both sound and message. ‘Copii’ for example is a dub fusion song with a peace message. I recently featured it on The Asymetrics War + Peace mixtape I did.
I am a collector/ archivist/ sound and vision lover and my sight is on the past, but with an aim for the future. I am not interested on imitation but on evolution and creating a fresh connection with communities of music as art lovers.
We respect how dubs’ philosophy can generate new sounds and we love what Tavi Scurtu did in this genre, his reputation precedes him. His work in Timisoara with BAU and Pacha Man is Romanian innovation. Even his style with jazz musicians he is working has elements of dub, dancehall, drum and bass, jungle, etc We also like the record label Dancehall Tradition, I Sheba was my colleague at University and he has put out some great vinyl in the last couple of years with Romanian produced instrumentals and Jamaican artists deejaying on top. His work with Injektah is Topper the top, Jamaicans perform on it to great results. But Romania has a stronger rock and hip hop reputation than dub/ reggae or dancehall and that is obvious. Not even local popular artists like Pacha Man, El Negro, and Nicole Cherry have been booked for European or international genre festivals. It is hard to break outside your country clearly.
I think even bands I appreciate like Basska and Tony Baboon want success and they seek to appeal to millions, which is not wrong why not make music and be happy, but what if Dub is a weapon? Shoot to chill!
So, which artists influenced you as you were growing up?
As I mentioned earlier, rock music was at home in the Bucureci household. I grew up with bands Tatiana (my mum) liked, like Europe, Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits on vinyl, with cassettes of AC/DC, Eagles, Queen, Nirvana, and CDs with Led Zeppelin, Gary Moore, Lenny Kravitz, HIM, Guano Apes, and Rammstein.
Mom had a Bob Marley Bulgarian bootleg cassette, but only liked a couple of tracks, like ‘Natural Mystic’, and ‘I shot the Sheriff’. My first encounter with Dub was much later in college through Bill Laswell and Sly and Robbie, Lee Scratch Perry, Matisyahu, and De Facto, the At The Drive-In/ Mars Volta side project. It’s fun even today to hear John Frusciante soloing on dub. No wonder now I have in my collection Dub Trio, Mano Negra, Black Flag, Frank Zappa, and Velvet Underground, I still love that electric sound.
What is your view on “From Transylvania LP”, where do you derive spiritual inspiration from?
“From Transylvania LP” is blood flowing. I mean Obeah for me is a traveler between the worlds of the living and the realm of the dead. Therefore spells, chaos, darkness, haunted places, have all bled into the concept songs, the samples, and the vocal melodies. To me, they are all incantations. Someone said there is too much whispering and not enough signing, and that is true. In my Universe, a sigh is louder than a scream, or an octave, so go figure!
Most of my inspiration comes from horror films, both classics and modern the likes of Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers, Pădurea Spânzuraților, The Exorcist, Coppola’s Bram Stokers Dracula, Oasis of the Zombies, Autobiografia lui Ceaușescu, Under the Skin, Hereditary, and Color Out of Space, but also from books like Les Fleurs du Mal, The Gold–Bug, Naked Lunch, and Ballard’s Crash.
What mental processes go into deciding how dub music should sound and what state of mind produces their surreal sound when you go about working on a dubplate?
The Kingston State of Mind. Just kidding!
But Marius always says that everything is dub to me, and I hold dear a lot of Dub producers and artists, so I find myself often pondering: “What would King Tubby or Prince Fatty do? What would The Scientist, Mad Professor, Adrian Sherwood, Dennis Bovell, or Youth of Killing Joke do?”
I am also constantly connecting sound with visuals, so I think of juxtaposes and hustler/artists like Andy Warhol, Raymond Pettibon, Jamie Hewlett, or Jean-Paul Goude. What picture would they paint to the audience/ listener?
I am a collector/ archivist/ sound and vision lover and my sight is on the past, but with an aim for the future. I am not interested in imitation but in evolution and creating a fresh connection with communities of music as art lovers. Those people who search for music are our audience, not trying to cancel the people who are lazy and have to be pointed in the right direction. But in the past year, Sound of Art to Come appealed to people in Britain, Deutschland, and France who have a thirst for new sounds and great collages.
Your record is accompanied by the visually striking collages of Cristiana Bucureci. While they have a great number of elements in them, the collages seem very holistic, homogenous. What excited both you and Cristiana about collating?
Both I and Cristiana appreciate Collage as a technique, but also because we are fans of surreal visual poetry and juxtaposition. The art we consume, the films we see, our Universe are about exciting concepts, a balance between aesthetic and Pop art.
We both love collage artists who have worked with bands and music artists, like Linder Sterling, Leif Podjanski, Peter Kennard, and artists who have set the bar hight for contemporary art: Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Saddo.
What are you most pleased with on this album, any particular track that stands out in your opinion?
The “Lil Obeah from Transylvania LP” is a concept dub album, something not so unique in dub, maybe a bit rarer in reggae, and it has eight songs that flow into each other just like on one of my favorite albums ever, “Dub Side of the Moon”, by Easy Star All-Stars from the US. On the digital version there are two more songs that didn’t fit the vinyl LP version, but those Marius Costache productions, ‘Titan’ and ‘Oamenii’, continue the vibe of the record too well not be included. I wanted a song called Urma to be in there too, but it has a life of its own and it is now an upcoming duet release with Ana Maria Irimia, one of the Sound of Art to Come female artists.
I could not choose a song to say I am proudest of, so the audience kind of chose the songs to become singles: ‘Vraja’ was the first song that took off on radio last year in February, it was played from Canada to Australia. We did a video for ‘Copii‘, ‘Iluzia’ is next, both made with Daniel Stanciu and people have really enjoyed those two Valeriu Sterian versions. And a full indie horror film is in postproduction for ‘Timpul‘/ ‘Vraja’/ ‘Tacerea’/ ‘Interior’ with Răzvan Dutchevici and his team.
If I really had to highlight some achievements it would be that Sir David Rodigan of BBC 1xtra was kind enough to mention that ‘Vraja’ was a song fit for loud play in dancehall on a big sound system. Then Bogdan Șerban of Radio Guerrilla supported all the singles and his personal favorite is Iluzia. And then there are DJ Alan B and Mizizi from the UK and Serbia who are constantly playing our music since day 1. I have nothing but respect for these people who have a genuine passion for discovering and championing new dub and fusion.
Anything in particular that you are working on that we should keep an eye out for?
Lil Obeah is working madly hard in the Studio148 with Marius Costache on both remixes for artists all over the world and here in Romania, but also on new songs in a more industrial dub direction. Some of those have been released and showcased like Everyday Is Halloween, the theme song for Intimidatah’s Black Rhino Radio show, and FVK (Fearless Vampire Killers), the yet unreleased theme song for the Devils Jukebox show Obeah has with Bristol postpunk legend Mark Stewart, of the Pop Group and The Maffia.
We have an upcoming new album, “Lil Obeah in Dub”, on April 1st, a digital instrumental album, a release of the “Lil Obeah from Transylvania LP” vocaless versions. And that is something special in the Jamaican and UK tradition, releasing a reggae album and then reworking the same songs with the art and science of dub. Usually, there is a different producer involved but lucky us Dub master Count Dubulah did ‘Vraja’ and ‘Tăcerea’ with versions, and Transglobal Underground also adapted our collaborations into dubs. Marius also put some special surprises in ‘Haos’, ‘Titan’ and ‘Copii’.
The remixes I mentioned will be featured on a remix compilation. But there is no deadline for that one yet. I only hope there will be a balance between the Outernational and local bands and projects remixed.
“From Transylvania” album is out and you can order the limited edition vinyl here.
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