Five minutes with Michael League \\ “I think of Snarky Puppy and Bokanté as blues bands”.
Snarky Puppy‘s Michael Puppy is spearheading his International band Bokanté. He talks to Tina Edwards about composing across oceans, his music festival in Miami, and what his mind looks like.
It’s been a while! How’s life?
Life is great! It’s definitely full at the moment, but the things that keep it that way are all creative and stimulating, so I have no complaints.
In your new project Bokanté, there’s members from the US, Sweden, Japan, and Guadeloupe/Canada, which must have meant a lot of file sharing for compositional ideas… How do you get in the zone when you’re essentially writing and playing via a computer?
I try to make sure that the ideas don’t start on the computer. It can be different with other projects, but in this band, organicity is important. I don’t use the computer or the software as an instrument- only something with which to document the music. The music is on the guitar.
You’ve described Bokanté as ranging from “Zeppelin-esque blues stomp to folkloric Caribbean kaladja”; where do you sit with the concept of genre?
I’ve never cared less about genre than I do now. With the internet exposing everyone to everything from everywhere, lines are blurrier than ever. And I like that. Established genres and even folkloric music all have origins in a combination of influences. It’s kind of like race. With Bokanté, I really think of it as a blues band. Actually, I think of Snarky Puppy that way, too. But the blues is deep, and it’s wide. It’s touched many cultures and has a different accent depending on where you go.
Playing with these musicians from around the world must have exposed you to some pretty cool instruments; outside of the guitar or bass, what instruments did you feel a certain affinity with?
I feel in love with the daf, a Kurdish frame drum with rings on the inside, my third time in Istanbul. I have one on tour that I try to practice every day. I also bought an oud in Turkey, which I’m going to get serious about studying next year. Ngoni (from Mali) and Gimbri (from Moroccan gnawa music) also fascinate me… I fear I’m going down a deep, dark hole here, so I’ll stop.
How does your mind work? A friend recently asked me, and we drew them out. To give an example, hers was a very tidy filing cabinet, mine was lightening through fog… yours?
Tangents of tangents of tangents of tangents of…
What affect have your experiences with Bokanté had on Snarky Puppy?
Writing for and playing with Bokanté has very much reinforced ideas of minimalism and simplicity in my own mind, which I think directly roll over into Snarky Puppy. But to be fair, the whole band has had a collective mentality shift in this direction over the last few years. You can hear it in Culcha Vulcha. Music is like politics – it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. When people change, the music changes. And I think it’s changing for the better.
You hosted the first ever GroundUP festival in February on Miami Beach; will there be another, and would it be in Miami?
Yes and yes! It’s going to be held annually on the exact same grounds in Miami Beach. We don’t want it to get bigger, only better. 9-11 February next year!
JS | Tina Edwards