OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS Q&A with Bex Burch, Vula Viel
Bex Burch is a percussionist specialising in the Dagaare xylophone or Gyil and composing. Following a series of chance encounters and a keen interest in groove based music / minimalism Burch was invited to be the apprentice to master Ghanaian xylophonist Thomas Segkura and lived in Dagaare, Ghana making and playing Gyilli for 2 years. On passing out of the apprenticeship, she was given the name ‘Vula Viel’, meaning 'Good is Good' and shared the name with her own group on returning to UK. She also composes widely for Vula Viel and other projects. Ahead of Vula Viel's performance at Jazz Connective, we chatted to Bex about feeling her way through music, a secret series of improvised gigs, and the influence of other musicians.
Q. What’s the most important thing to you when making music?
Feeling. The only thing I'm sure about in my job is when I'm writing or rehearsing and always when performing and I feel the music. It's inspiring and expansive. Those moments tell me I'm on the right track. And teach me to get out of the way.
Q. What inspires you at the moment - be it music, art, politics or your personal life?
Inspires: music. As in the first question. And in allowing all the music that wants to come through me, I'm learning who I am, and what is my voice.
Influences: Every musician I've played with this year has a big influence on my music making, and although my previous answer seems very vague, I feel like my 'voice' and feel are shaped by each of my playing experiences. In the last 12 months I've been secretly (no one venue, promotor, audience, musician knows it's any more than a one-off) curating and playing in a series of improvised gigs, often meeting the musicians for the first time. These musical happenings have ranged from Ghana, Germany, and majoritively London. And I've learnt something from every single one. This has both fed into and been fed by an incredible year with Vula Viel and my dream team of Jim Hart and Ruth Goller. We are not the same band we were last year. That's what inspires me! It's music, art, politics and very very personal. Making a band and making albums.
Q. How do you see the role of improvisation in music?
Improvisation, for me, is the discipline of listening in a different way. Of listening, or perhaps opening, as it's not just about ears. Opening to when my hands need to change what they're doing. Listening to what I 'hear', that no one else is actualising. Sometimes listening to the space that needs to be carved out too, or that my hands need to stay on. Improvisation can be notes or silence, change or staying. Improvisation means composition too. Writing music is improvising in a different setting.
Q. Is connection an important concept to you in music?
Yes. I've been learning how to connect with myself, and find much strength and trust there. Now from that place of trusting myself I am learning to let go of myself and connect with others too. This happening in Vula Viel is what has begun to change this year.
Q. Can you tell us about a seminal experience, project, or encounter that had a significant impact on your career?
This last 12 months have been full of them.
Every encounter, and every gig with Vula Viel is having a significant impact on my writing, and what I think of as my career.
Thank you to each musical meeting... from Stevo Atambire, Koo Nimo, Peter Zummo, Tom Skinner, Robert Stillman, George Bird, Tom Herbert, Dave Smith, Moers Festival Global Improvisers Orchestra, Evelyn Glennie, Kuljit Bhamra, Charles Hayward, Dean Valentine Smith, Sam Beste, Leon Brichard, Magnus Mehta, Beanie Bhebhe, and most of all, to Ruth Goller and Jim Hart. Every note we've shared is part of me now