13 September 2013

Interview: Afenginn

Today our guest is Kim Rafael Nyberg, frontman of the Danish contemporary folk band Afenginn. This band is one of the heavy players in the European field of contemporary world/folk music. They are continuously seeking new borders and projects to push the limits of their music and are highly active on the live scene with numerous tours and performances in the past years, including a recent gig at Faroese G! festival.

Welcome, Kim! Let’s start from one of your latest performances, the gig at G! Festival with the Copenhagen based Faroese chorus Mpiri. How and when have you started working with this particular ensemble and why have you chosen Mpiri as a support for this gig? 

Thank you! The album Reptilica Polaris from 2008 featured (as a part of a bigger setup) a male-choir and back then we toured with a brassquartet and five singers to perform that. Already then we wanted to do some shows with a complete choir and now was the time to do that. We started the collaboration already last year, with preparations and meetings and stuff, and started rehearsing in May this year. We chose Mpiri because they are a high profiled choir with some good singers and has been doing cross-over projects before, which is an advantage.  

A couple of years after Bastard Etno, you have released a new album, called LUX. How would you describe it? Are you satisfied with what you’ve realized or has the band already started working on new ideas and materials?

LUX is a more calm and lyrical album than any of the others, and show Afenginn from a different and more cinematic view than before. We wanted to make an album that has the same kind of vibe throughout and I think we succeeded with that on LUX. We're really happy for the result (and the reviews are hugely positive as well) and we really enjoy playing concerts with that material. This being said, the progress to make something new, and probably quite different, is already rolling. 

Saying that your musical genre is contemporary folk is just an understatement, since your style offers to your fans a different and unusual experience in folk music. You label your own style as Bastard Etno: what does these particular terms really mean? How would you describe the music you create to someone who’s not given it a listen yet?

It's true that there are a lot of influences in our music and it seems to be very hard for everyone, including us, to describe it properly. It's a organic mix of the melodic melancholy of Scandinavian music, with the speed and odd meters of Balkan and Klezmer and the sophisticated, cinematic feel of classical music – to mention some...We've called it Bastard Etno in the meaning of ”illegitimate and sporadic mix of ethnic musical influences”

Another typical feature of Afenginn is the specific outfit that the band wears during every onstage performance, making its members look sorta like they’re coming from somewhere in the past. Why have you chosen to maintain it the same throughout all your gigs?

The ethos behind the dresscode is that we want to look good on stage, so no casual outfit as jeans and t-shirt and so on – it should be more like the dress you'd take on to a wedding or a big party or something. But within those limits, it's up to everyone how we want to interpret that. Most of us usually wear a three-piece set and a hat. It may looks as we come from the past, but it is a try to be properly dressed. There are some obligations when you get to go on stage and we want to pay some respect to the audience by dressing well.

Every release you’ve so far produced included a very colorful and clear cover, featuring work of art by illustrator Jakob Bendix. How would describe this experience and long working collaboration?

Jakob Bendix is an old, both personal and professional, friend of Afenginn and he's been onboard ever since the very first posters and demos and been doing (almost) all Afenginn artwork from then on. He has a great understanding of our music and has played a big part in creating the visual side of the band. He has a very clean style and always has good ideas and is a fantastic sparring partner when it comes to concepts and good to tell the story in the artwork. 

Time for one classic question: how does an Afenginn song come to life? Do the studies each one of you has completed in different musical academies in a way influence the way you create new music?

The music of Afenginn is coming to life through a fairly uncomplicated process that has seemed to work well for us. The music is composed and written down on scores by me (Kim) and we meet to play and rehearse the first ideas. Sometimes it's all pretty ready when we start, and sometimes it needs more work. In that case we talk about it and people throw in ideas for the compositions and I go back home and work it out from there. Then we all work on the dynamics and general feeling and it pretty much shapes up from there. All the musicians have different backgrounds and bring in their personal flavour to the melting pot, but after many years of playing we have a good collective vision of the music and mostly have a shared understandning of what to do.

From the very beginning of your career your tracks and albums have been characterized by very original titles. So, how these peculiar names come to life? Is there any particular reason behind these choices?

Most of the tunes has a small, and usually surreal, story connected to them and some of the titles come from there. The language of Afenginn is a homemade lingua called ”street latin”. It's a mixture of a whole bunch of languages (almost like esperanto) and the idea behind this is that it should be available for everyone with a little knowledge of the most common languages. And many of the titles have references to that....with a little humour in it as well.

You have stated that Afenginn is continuously seeking new borders and projects to push the limits of their music. So, which are the current plans for the band’s future?

There are many plans for the band's future, sometimes more than there is time actually. But right now we're having a couple of tracks from LUX being remixed and will be released through our webpage later this year. In January we'll go on tour in Australia, which we're really excited about as it's our first time there and we'll continue the tour in Germany right after that. During the spring and summer we're working on some more shows with the Choirnevale concert (with choir and marimba) and in June we're planning to release a mini-album with some dancable music. And we're working on a really cool project which includes food as well. These are some of the plans for 2014... 

Now our interview its coming to its end. Thanks for the precious time you’ve dedicated answering my questions. Do you want to add anything more?

Thank you so much. If you like what we do, you can find us online at Afenginn.com. Take care of yourself and follow your heart! 

Afenginn discography
Retrograd (2004)
Akrobakkus (2006)
Reptilica Polaris (2008)
Bastard Etno (2010)
LUX (2013)

More on Afenginn on their official website and Facebook, Twitter and Bandcamp pages

All the photos in this article, courtesy of Afenginn
Afenginn + Mpiri live at G! Festival, photo courtesy of Ditte Mathilda Joensen