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An interview with French didgeridoo player Zalem

Zalem is a very gifted didgeridoo player who resides in France, but has spent quite a lot of time over the years traveling the globe, morphing his unique playing technique along the way. We recently discovered Zalem and have just added his CD “Tribes” as our ‘featured artist’ selection for January. If you haven’t checked it out yet definitely treat your ears to his unique playing style of didgeridoo beatboxing mixed with a wide variety of percussion. His latest release is also available in our new MP3 music section as a downloadable file.

Zalem in Concert

Zalem in Concert
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Mark of LA Outback had the pleasure of interviewing Zalem in November of last year, and we’re pleased to post the question and answer session in our blog as our first session of artist interviews.

LA Outback: You’ve been playing didgeridoo for about 10 years now, tell us what first inspired you to pick up the instrument?

Zalem: The first time I saw the didgeridoo, was 15 years ago during a trip in Australia with my family. There was an Aboriginal guy playing in a market, and I fell in love with the sound immediately. It was something I had never heard before, something strong and soft at the same time. I did not asked the guy a lot of questions, i was 10 years old, but I always remembered the impact of this instrument. The same day my parents bought me a CD of David Hudson’s “Yigi Yigi”. This CD gave me the inspiration, 6 years later, to try the didgeridoo for myself.

LA Outback: Tell us about the inspiration behind the names of your songs on your CD “Tribes”.

Zalem: The songs on “Tribes” are actually the names of tribes from New Caledonia. I had the opportunity to live there when I was 10 to 12 years of age and we lived in a tribe named “warai”. All the name of tribes came from kanaks tribes in this territory.

LA Outback: When did you first develop your beatbox style of playing?

Zalem: The first person I saw playing didg and beatbox merged was an artist named Luc, whom I saw during the Airvault festival in France in 2005. I then began to slowly try some new sounds in my didge, later I learned some techniques thanks to Gauthier, and Dom (Hungarian beatbox from the Band “Airtist”) but I really developed my style of playing with beatbox something like 3 years ago. My playing is constantly changing and evolving, there is so many things to discover when we merge didge and beatbox. Of course I talk about this occidental kind of playing with the greatest respect the aboriginal style, but I consider it like a completely different way of using didgeridoo.

LA Outback: Who are some of your key influences?

Zalem: My biggest influences in the beginning were players like Ash Dargan, Mark Atkins, Denra Dur, and then I learned a lot of by playing with Gauthier and Gregoir de Ryckel (a belgium didg player). Listening to them play and spending a lot of time with them helped me discover a new way of playing that I still use today. This technique involves a lot of diaphragm impulse and cheeks breath. Regarding beatbox styles, my key influences were Roxorloops, Dom, Ezra, LOS and Reeps.

LA Outback: You have a lot of unique instrumentation on the “Tribes” album accompanying your songs, what do you envision for the next Zalem recording?

Zalem: For tribes, I wanted to make an album entirely acoustic, with only didg and ethnic instruments. The last several months I’ve been working on a new album which will be very different. I like a lot electro-music: Dubstep, down tempo, trance, etc., so i wanted to put all these things in an album, where the beatbox will really be present. For sure, I will collaborate with Yshar, who is a bassist as well. I don’t no yet how it will all work out, but I’m always learning news things, what is sure, is that the electro will take a big place on this new work.

LA Outback: What are your plans for touring if any for the coming year? Any chance we’ll be able to catch you here in the States?

Zalem: I will hopefully be going in April or May to Quebec, Canada to do some workshops and little shows, then in Italy for more workshops. With Zalyshar we would like to tour this summer in United State or Quebec. To make this possible, we have to book many shows. We’ll have to see what works out.

LA Outback: What was your approach on collaborating with Robin Vassey on this album?

Zalem: I have already worked with Robin Vassy in a track from the JMPZ album “Sound asylum”, and during that time we both agreed we had a good chemistry working together.
For this album, I first showed him my tracks, and he played on different instruments following his feelings for each one. After he returned the songs to me, I rebuilt my tracks according to what he added, and recorded some of the songs again working with his additions, to make the final feel more “live”. I like to play in live with other musicians, it is so much more interesting than recording with a click.

LA Outback: I understand the name Zalem you adopted from a Japanese comic. Is this true?

Zalem: Yes, Zalem comes from a Japanese comic named “Gunnm”. To sum it up quickly, there is a world where people live in a city floating in the air, but they are  kind of prisoners of this land and don’t have the ability to revolt themselves. Other people live on the ground, in a kind of garbage world. Anyway, I chose this name as a forum nickname because I like how it sounds and the comic. Then it remained and now a lot of people just know me as “Zalem” and don’t know my real name, it’s funny.

LA Outback: You’ve been involved with a number of different musical projects, what’s your favorite part of collaborating in a group environment?

Zalem: What I prefer in a collaboration with other musicians or artists, first it’s the time where we discover ourselves, the time where we share our “abilities” meld them together. In each case it’s the way to learn new things, about music and relationships. Then after, the big pleasure it’s to play in live! It’s always a big satisfaction to share with the audience what you have built, and see the reaction of the people. The complicity you have during a concert with your “friends” is magical as well!

Thanks LA Outback for the interview, and I hope people in the States enjoy what I have achieved on “Tribes”.

Cheers, Zalem

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