Words by TOM PROCTOR. Photo by JAMES LOCKRIDGE.
David Cooper, Said “Jilib” Bulle and George “MG Man” Mnyonge of A2VT joined host Brent Hallenbeck on ‘Rocket Shop‘, Big Heavy World’s local music radio hour on 105.9FM The Radiator. You can stay up to date with them at www.facebook.com/A2VTmusic
A2VT are quite a unique act, part hip-hop, part African pop and part dance troupe, they combine mixed influences to create a sound seldom heard in the Green Mountain State. Hailing from various areas of Africa they have embraced their shared cultures and accentuated their differences to bring Afro-beats to Burlington and beyond.
With a new album on the way and a bundle of tour dates across the border to promote they came in the studio to discuss the merits of multi-lingual songwriting, why kids make the best audiences and how the Governor has become a lifelong fan:
Tom Proctor: You’ve be working quite hard recently, what are you current movements?
George: We played at The Point on Monday and we went on WVMT to do the morning talk show earlier this week.
David: We just released a single and hopefully we’ll have an album out later in the year . We’ve got our Montreal debut a week on Sunday as well, which does clash with the Superbowl but luckily most of the African population don’t watch the game so we’re hoping for a good audience.
TP: Is this your first international gig?
Sayeed: This is our second. We are going back a second time. This show will be bigger than the one in Quebec, and we have another show at St Johnsbury Collage.
D: That’s a week this Monday for about 600 students at Fuller hall, two shows because it’s sort of sold out, for students only. They pack these kids in tight.
TP: Do you often play in front of schools?
S: We be everywhere. We’ve played with kids everywhere.
G: I love working with kids. They’ve got a lot of energy, they’re not looking for a lot when they see you and when they watch us they love it, they jump around they sing and dance. With adults they are always looking for a message, they want to hear what your saying first before they start dancing. Kids love our music, they understand what we’re saying.
S: We play everywhere, the kids love the songs. When we got our music video out we became really popular.
D: When we played at Blue Mountain School, a Junior High/High School, rural mostly white farmer kids. They were very polite but they weren’t dancing, so the band invited them to come down and learn some African dance steps. It was great, by the end everyone was dancing with them it was bouncing. When the gig started it was a little scary as they all just sat and stared.
G: We’ve also performed in a private party for the Governor. He’s a big fan, he’s been to three or four shows. I got a letter from him telling us to keep up the good work. He likes the entertainment that we do and we should keep it up.
TP: How is the development of the album going?
D: Well a lot of the songs have been performed for a while now, so it’s just a case of getting them recorded at this point.
G: We just got to get in the kitchen, cook it and put it on a plate ready to serve.
D: The studio is actually called Creamy Goodness (Laughs.)
TP: You’re all from different areas of Africa and so use a range of dialects in your songs, how does that affect the creative flow when forming a song? Does it happen naturally or is it intentionally placed?
G: Sometimes it happens in your head, like you’re trying to go back and forth but ‘cos we know what we want to do we organize and set each area to be in a certain language, this part Swahili this part English. We know our home language so well, it flows easier.
D: They sing English too, but of course it’s not their first language. When Kadoo was in the band we used to encourage him to rap in French, it just sounds good.
TP: Do you guys understand of the whole range of languages that you’re all singing?
S: Not really
G: He speaks Kirundi, I speak Swahili so we don’t know each other’s languages. But when we sing the song has got be the same message as the hook. If the hook is ‘Baby, baby’ then the verses have to be ‘baby, baby’.
TP: The hip hop scene in VT isn’t great. How have you found it difficult to get to the point you are now as there isn’t many resources for hip hop artists?
D: They walk a fine line between Hip-hop, afro-pop and world music, they’re not any one of those exactly. Some people perceive them as hip hop but there isn’t a huge amount of rap on the tracks, it’s more about the live shows and the dance aspect of it. We don’t know exactly what the genre is really.
G: You’ve got to try it out in so many ways. You don’t know your destination until you see your destination. Where ever you throw your hat is where your home is until you can throw your hat no more. You got to try many ways until you get the right one.
TP: You’ve evolved as a group quite drastically then since you first started. How did the group start out, what sound did you represent at first?
G: I started out just by listening to music, Indian Music, Somali music, but I’d never written any until I came to Vermont. It started out a twist of Indian, Somali, but also bits of Akon. We all come from different areas so we have different influences and they all mix.
D: They we’re singing along to Toto in the car the other day, they told me they had heard it in Africa.
G: Also Bob Marley and Shaggy but I didn’t hear many American artists before I came here. I didn’t listen to a lot of music because I was in a camp, there’s no radio, you have to walk five miles to get water. I didn’t have no time for radio stations.
TP: You come from drastically different background to what you see in Vermont, how does that affect the music you make, does it have a major influence?
G: When we were in the camp we were young, you always have the story so you have this memory of it when you grow up. It comes out when you write the songs, there are flashbacks.
D: A guy who owns an African hip-hop label mentioned to me that they should write about their experiences in Africa, so I put it to them and challenged the group to take a verse and write seriously about where they came from. Really deal with it, whatever feelings come up. It was really heavy, quite sad and really heavy. One came up with a hook and then each of them wrote a verse in their own language, one in French one is Somali and one in Swahili. All three verses dealt with very deep issues and was very heartfelt. They really took the challenge on.