Yarrow by Zazim x Rua Soul was released earlier this summer and has barely been out of my ears since. It’s a Celtic-Futurist blend of electronic rhythms and traditional Scottish music, featuring regular vocal collaborators Paix and Jackill, traditional song from Jonny Hardie of Old Blind Dogs, and spots from Brazil’s Monkey Jhayham and Nyasha Kanyimo from Senegal. As they’re just about to release an EP of remixes, I caught up with DJ and producer Zazim about what had inspired the project.
I was intrigued by your artist’s statement, particularly the part that says: ‘Yarrow documents us beginning to address our ancestral disconnection and to embrace our own culture. We have worked reflectively to begin healing our ways of processing, communicating and making decisions.’ I wondered if you could expand on that a bit?
A big part of this album’s process for me was about reconnecting to my Celtic roots through music – before this album I was making a lot of beats drawing on different styles of Black music.
When we started this process Rory (Rua Soul) and I chatted about this a lot – why we aren’t drawing on our own culture, on our Celtic culture, through a dance music lens. I guess people like Martyn Bennett opened these doors and we just want to keep walking through them – keep expanding on that. I realised I was pushing aside, I was ignoring my own culture, and through this process I really started to embrace it and to be proud of it again.
What kind of commonalities have you found in Scottish music and electronic dance music? Are you planning to push that further?
Yeah, I definitely want to push that further. I think it’s something that can be blended more, a lot more. There’s plenty of fresh ground in that area. A lot of cultures around the world have successfully regenerated their folkloric music through modern dance music and it’s created whole new scenes: for example, Cumbia going into digi-cumbia, which reinvigorates young people’s interest in folkloric music. I think in Scotland we’re on the road to that, but it hasn’t totally popped off yet.
There are some incredible, unique voices on the album: Jackill, for example, who raps in Doric. Was it important to you to have that expressed?
Jackill is one of my favourite rappers in Scotland at the moment. What I love about Jack is when you hear him perform you’re experiencing him straight up, no frills. He’s very much himself: his flow is amazing and what he talks about is amazing. I’m really happy to have him on the record. It’s lovely to have a Scottish rapper rapping in Scots, in Doric – proudly and fully embracing that.
How did you choose the collaborators that you worked with, both on the original album and the remixers?
It was kind of a blend of friends who we’ve known for a while and played with in different constellations, those who wanted to explore this idea of making more Scottish-focused dance music. So there’s a mix of people that we’ve known for a while who we wanted to work with and some other artists who had been on our radar. We wanted to have a blend of familiar faces and new collaborations.
What was the process of recording – was it all done remotely?
A mixture of studio-based stuff, in Glasgow and up in the Clashnettie Arts Centre in the Cairngorms, but then a lot of it was done remotely. A lot of the vocalists and musicians are abroad.
We approached it quite bizarrely, which made for some interesting results. For instance, ‘Ancestors’ started off as a totally different guitar idea and we decided to remove the guitar and make a vibe synth part out of that tune. Some of the tunes were kind of reverse engineered, starting from the vocal and adding on top of that.
Can you tell me a bit about the incredible artwork for the album?
The artwork is done by Shaun Azrak down in Manchester – I was looking for futuristic knotwork and Shaun was one of the few people I could find. I really loved his vibe straight away. The brief was to create this spacious piece of knotwork that you could identify as knotwork but was skewed through a digitised lens. It’s kind of how I think of the music as well: rooted in the culture here but skewed through a globalised, dance music lens
Any plans for more remixes?
No plans at the moment – with this project I’m just looking forward to making some new EPs and mixtapes, getting some new collaborators in, and just keeping on playing with this idea and seeing what happens.
Image Credit: Alasdair Watson Photography