Jo Frost speaks to Al MacSween and Giuliano Modarelli, the driving force behind the London collective who are on an upward trajectory
Good things come to those that wait. That seems to be the case for the collective known as Kefaya and their long-awaited debut. The group’s name means ‘Enough’ in Arabic and, after months of anticipation, their album launch is the not-to-be missed gig in November.
Songlines readers got their first introduction to the band back in April when ‘Indignados’ opened the Yorkshire Festival CD (#117). Indeed, there is a Yorkshire link as the founders of the group, Italian guitarist Giuliano Modarelli and keyboard player Al MacSween, met studying jazz in Leeds.
They recorded Radio International over three years, featuring musicians from India, Palestine, Spain, Italy and the UK. The two other key players in the band are drummer Joost Hendrickx and bassist Domenico Angarano.
The album is modestly presented in a cardboard wallet and depicts a fist smashing through a globe, brandishing an antenna – underlining the concept of an international radio station with no borders. It starts with crackly radio interference and samples of a clipped English broadcasting voice, then kicks into the pulsating, heavy bass lines of ‘Indignados’. “We decided to dedicate the track to the spirit of protest and political resistance,” the pair say, paying tribute to the “inspiring anti-austerity movement that had been developing in Spain, known as the ‘15M Movement’ or ‘Indignados’ (the Indignant).” It’s a big, bold number with yearning flamenco vocals of Chico Pere, samples of the left-wing Spanish activist and writer, Pablo Iglesias, speaking on Spanish radio and Éthiopiques-inspired horns. It’s been getting a tonne of radio play – and no wonder, it’s a killer track.
Clearly socially and politically motivated, there are big themes of immigration, freedom of movement and struggle addressed on the album. “There’s a market for this kind of music,” asserts MacSween, “what with Bernie Sanders and Podemos [Spanish political party], all these social movements happening.”
Beyond the heavy-duty stuff, both MacSween and Modarelli are consummate musicians who voraciously absorb styles and techniques. “We try and choose to play styles of music that we’ve actually had experience working within,” says MacSween. “We don’t really want to approach it unless we feel we have the basics,” continues Modarelli. “We try to compose around things that we have an interest in studying.”
This approach means they collaborate a lot: MacSween has recently been working with Cuban violinist Omar Puente and Modarelli has been touring with the choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. They’ve also been working with Sarathy Korwar on his album Day to Day (a Top of the World in #121).
Their live shows feature an eclectic mix of guest vocalists, including the Afghan singer Elaha Soroor, who was a contestant on Afghan Star in 2009 (Afghanistan’s equivalent of Pop Idol). Other frequent guests include vocalist Deepa Nair Rasiya, Cormac Byrne on bodhrán and Gurdain Rayatt on tabla. “These collaborations, they open lots of doors for us,” says Modarelli. “It’s great,” agrees MacSween, “It’s the ethos of what we like to do, keep this feeling that it’s a collective.”
Kefaya have only done a handful of choice gigs this year, but they’ve certainly made an impression, with the FT proclaiming them as: ‘One of the hottest acts on this summer’s festival circuit,’ after their Larmer Tree appearance. “We’re just dying to get out there and gig!” says MacSween, a sentiment their rapidly-expanding fan base will undoubtedly echo.