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Art in Action: “Whale Song Skank feat. Losso Keita” Benefits Ocean Cleanup Efforts

I’ve only had so many ocean encounters in my life. One particularly memorable experience found me with a snorkel, mask, and flippers, coasting over a very shallow coral reef. If I just let myself float, the waves would carry me intensely over canyons of wild and beautiful reef, abundant with majestic color and light. It felt like Earth’s roller coaster. I was not in control. Entrances to endless caverns darted in my periphery as the water would carry me up and over steep coral cliffs as I thought “how to God am I not getting absolutely wrecked on this reef right now?!” My bare body (200+ lbs) just smoothly gliding over what seemed at times like six inches of space between my face and the rough jagged coral. It must have been a little bit of faith and a lot of luck that kept me without a scratch. Somehow at the time, it seemed totally natural that the waves would carry me, if I let them.

I may live in Indiana, but those times in the ocean and the sea have always stuck with me. I’ll never forget the sway of the waves, the rhythm they showed me, how they pulled me and calmly delivered me to shore.  Surviving the ocean is a human feat.  The privilege of being able to enjoy the ocean’s insides though, is one of those unique human experiences that helps us understand how to feel cosmic – truly part of a planet, revolving in a universe amidst all the real elements that make us and everything. Floating in space with steady grace. For now. The earth quivers and breathes in this balance and you are of that breath when you let the waters take you. 

So I do know a bit about the ocean and I can say with confidence that Zion I Kings has synthesized this feeling of being confidently carried by waves. They are presenting the depth and beauty of ocean life below with a sonic biome of dub reflection and exploration. Melancholic waves of sunshine dart through the “Whale Song Skank,” and Zion I Kings feature Losso Ketia playing the Ngoni on this beautiful dub version. The Ngoni is an ancient traditional Malian guitar. Griots have been entrancing audiences with its subtle folk appearance and realm smashing resonance for many hundreds of years. This timeless instrument seems to play into our DNA receptors that trigger meditation and resilience. You are a lucky one if you find it in the music you are enjoying. It’s quite the reward.

Once again, throughout “Whale Song Skank,” beneath the surface you will find a steady current of bubbling hi hats, beats and bass, pushing the rhythm over the submerged hills and valleys of an oceanographic projection, architected by musicians, and mixed inspired by the serenity, mystery, and vast infiniteness of the world’s waters. 

There is more deep diving, floating, and wave riding to come as “Whale Song Skank” is part of a greater collection ZIK will soon release – an all instrumental dub album, titled “Future Oceans Echo” coming this spring. A percentage of funds raised from the project will be donated to climate action in the Virgin Islands.

A percentage of funds raised from the project will be donated to climate action in the Virgin Islands.

We were fortunate enough to link with Andrew Moon Bain of Zion I Kings to inquire more about this pleasant Oceanic experience to come, to learn about the origin of “Whale Song Skank,” and find out more about how the ocean inspires music creators and artists of all kinds, and what responsibility, if any, they have to reflect or bring attention to the plight of ocean life today.

SS: Describe an ocean experience that has stayed with you. 

AMB: My cousin lives on Maui. I was visiting her one time, years ago and went swimming with her husband who’s a boss surfer. Some of his buddies do all 6-7 mile ocean swims, surf off of reefs in the middle of the sea, way out etc. They well fit. I consider myself a strong swimmer and love being ocean side but this day I went way out to where the land seemed but a sliver far away. I’ll never forget that rush of fear, weightlessness, buoyancy, insignificance and pure energy charge, all at once. Floating, exhausted, infinitely small in the grasp of a void so vast I barely existed anymore, yet in that moment, I felt so alive.  

SS: How did the selected music make its way to an Oceanic theme?

AMB: Everything on this album is real fresh, just written and recorded in the last few months. We have been doing a lot of work with Roberto Sanchez playing drums. InI been making a whole heap a new tracks. So, I have had the concept for this album in my meditation for quite a while. As I been writing and working on all this new music, it just started to support that vision. Just kinda flowed that way naturally. The album has a real consistent energy from start to finish. All the same core musicians involved. Jah David, Tippy I, Roberto and I self. Also, Pau Dangla Valls plays additional keys. As well, Okiel McIntyre and Zoe Brown play and arranged horns on a few tracks. All instrumental dubs. 

SS: How do you go about crafting such an experience so that the listener can receive it?

AMB: Keep it natural and fun. Keep real and honest. Trust the spirit of the intention and work with ones who are aligned with that. 

SS: Where is your mind when you are tracking these songs?

AMB: Quite blissful really. Let biodiversity increase. Let this work be pleasing in thy sight, Oh Fari… Let Jah lead the way.

I just be focused on execution. Remain free, open… Searching to pull the best out and go after what vibes I’m feelin.

SS: What do you think of during the performance? 

AMB: Love, colors, moods, spirit, differing emotions, precision… Usually

SS: Is intention recognizably part of the process or does the music play itself?

AMB: Well, I don’t spend too much time putting concepts or idea’s before the inspiration. I’d rather like to think that any feelings and intentions are translated into the music.  If I want to heal, the music will be healing. As a day is filled with intention, so is art and life. Within that daily practice of creating, so much music made constantly and naturally so it’s kind of one and the same… No “or”.

SS: Who is Losso Keita? 

AMB: Losso is a bredrin I met in France. A powerful singer and multi-instrumentalist from Burkina Faso, I linked through my brothers Marcus Gad and Ugo Frazal. Ugo also manages Yele, Losso’s incredible trio. 

SS: Has Zion i Kings ever worked with Ngoni in their music before?

AMB: Hmm, I am not 100% sure. Tippy recently tracked Kora on a record called “Everything Bless” from Akae Beka that features Tiken Jah Fakoly. That player was a link through Tiken Jah. The Kora and Ngoni have a similar timbre but are not the same instrument. 

SS: Who is doing good work protecting the ocean in VI? Any organization you have settled on?

AMB: Well, there are a number of folks focusing on important issues related to ocean preservation, protection, sustainability and ocean clean up. Because of the family relation and I wanted to know where the action and attention was for the cause directly. We decided to work with Good Hope Country Day School’s climate action club in St. Croix. Tippy’s daughter Tsehai attends and is passionate towards the cause. It’s a student-founded and student run organization that aims to connect and fulfill the mission for a more sustainable environment for the island community. 

SS: What responsibility, if any, do artists have to reflect or bring attention to the plight of ocean life today? 

AMB: I don’t know if artist have a responsibility but we all have to live here. We are all connected to one source of life, one planet and atmosphere…all of us depend on it. Whether we feel a part of it or not. It is all connected. A lot of people can’t understand what they can’t see. Can’t feel for what they can not touch. Whether it is my responsibility or not, I do feel a duty to uncover some overstanding of the unknown through art, music and the glorification of Jah. 

I don’t know if artists have a responsibility but we all have to live here. We are all connected to one source of life, one planet and atmosphere…all of us depend on it. 

SS: Who is responsible for the beautiful art work? 

AMB: Hannah Greenwell @greenwellart

SS: What style would you call that? 

AMB: Irie coral whale style

SS: Where was the inspiration from?

AMB: Hannah is living in Hawaii. She is all about representing ocean life in her work

SS: How does the ocean inspire you as an artist?

AMB: 97% of the earth’s water can be found there. As mighty as any mountain or vast as any desert, the ocean still creates 70% of the earth’s surface…That is the definition of Awesome.

SS: Is it different from sonic art to visual art? 

AMB: Not really. One source, just different forms of expression. Sound and tone fill my imagination with colors all the time. 

SS: Are there ocean sounds and ocean colors to draw from?

AMB: Yes I! The ocean is an endless palette of rich hues, deep blues to light aqua, sounds, life forms, currents, tides, winds, power and inspiration. You can hear some of those moments on the album. 

SS: Will we be finding this collection on vinyl any time?

AMB: Rastafari know, InI woulda love that… Working on it!

SS: Blessings Moon. Thank you so much for the insight. Thanks for sharing this beautiful work with Rootfire and beyond. 

Bass player and songwriter for Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, James feels, plays and lives the music. Lucky for us he also has the knack for remembering what happened and writing it down in his own voice.

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