Junto Profile: Michel Banabila

From the Netherlands: "Be open for anything that can happen."

This Junto Profile is part of a new series of short Q&As that provide some background on various individuals who participate regularly in the online Disquiet Junto music community.

What’s your name? Michel Banabila.

Where are you located? Rotterdam, Netherlands. Born in Amsterdam, then I grew up in Hilversum, Bijlmermeer, Buitenveldert, Amsterdam. There were always instruments at home. My mother, who is Dutch, played piano, my half sister played harp, my Jewish grandfather played violin and mandolin. The abrupt change when I was 9 — from living in nature (bird sounds, lots of trees, owls) to a flat apartment in an Amsterdam suburb under construction (ongoing sounds of pile driver hammers) after my mother and stepfather separated — made quite an impact. I was raised by my mother, as I did not know my biological Yemeni father, who left us when I was two. I met him once, for the first time in my life, when I was in my late 30s. Because of stories about him, I started to listen to all sorts of Arabic music. (However, I do not speak Arabic, so I just follow the music, not the lyrics — but I guess I do that actually most of the time with songs in English as well. I never pay much attention to lyrics.) I left home when I was 15 and started to live on my own in Amsterdam when the rest of the family moved up north. Listened a lot of different music at that time. Around the time I was 20 I discovered an 8-track studio in Amsterdam. I quit school and have no formal musical education. I pretty much tried to discover a lot by myself. I would say that listening (to music but also to sounds around me) was my education. Hearing Music for Films by Brian Eno was one of the things that gave me the direct motivation and inspiration to record. In that 8-track studio I made my very first recordings. They have been lost.

What is your musical activity? For years I recorded on a very regular basis at home with a computer. It was a huge liberation when the first Macintosh HD recording became available and I realized that with that I could record whenever and as long as I want. I record music for myself (these days available in self-released limited editions) and music for assignments (dance, theater, film). Some of my music has been published by labels like Steamin’ Soundworks, Bureau B, JJ Tracks, Séance Centre, Eilean Rec, and Knekelhuis. I record a lot outside, as well, using a field recorder, or simply my phone. I do not really seriously control any instrument but I play some keyboard and use my voice and any possible found objects. I performed live in bands, as well, and I still often love to collaborate with other artists. I feel I am not active in one particular genre, but more exploring different ideas, and the sort of music of course also depends on who I work with or the project I am involved in.

What is one good musical habit? Be open for anything that can happen. You can plan or compose whatever you want, but many things can and will happen that are not foreseen, whether it is a mistake, or something unexpected, whatever, and this can be to your great advantage. So you need space in your mind to tune in — not always easy, but necessary. Holger Czukay, a great composer, used to say a lot about this in his interviews. So although I can be very persistent and eager to get something in a way I want, whatever effort or time it will take me, I still have to admit that I feel the nicest and best things that happened to me musically so far actually took very little or no effort at all. When your brain is set into “playfulness,” great things can come in and then I actually never feel like I “did something,” but more like that I tuned into some stream from where everything happens naturally.

What are your online locations? I love Bandcamp. I have all my recordings there (artist account: banabila.bandcamp.com / listener account: bandcamp.com/banabila).

Instagram: instagram.com/michel_banabila

Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/michel-banabila

What was a particularly meaningful Junto project? Although I have been a Junto member since 2012, I did not record that much (compared with others) but still have about 54 recordings so far (banabila.bandcamp.com/album/disquiet-junto) and I am listening to all that right now. It is so nice to listen back, and it all feels quite playful and experimental. And each track is so different! Very hard to chose one particular one really, but:

Grey Bird With Guitar Commutes Through Ice and Fog To New York [Disquiet 0010 – Reflect]” was really nice to mix sounds from so many Junto members, including J.Butler, Ben Carey, mGee, R1ch, Open Heart Sound, Dance Robot Dance, Freaky DNA, Mike Bullock, Ted James, and Robinsoncobras.

– I enjoyed KrakRot Noise Remix [Disquiet 0334 – Mass Branca]” a lot because it gave me the idea to remix an older song to get a huge wall of sound I made on electric guitar.

– The very collaborative “Disquiet 0431 Solitary Ensembles x 3]” was great fun.

“[Disquiet 0500 – Humming to Your Selves]” was a bit scary to do but gave me a lot of ideas afterwards.

– For Disquiet 0207 I had the honor to have my first LP from 1983 being remixed by the Junto members (Remixing Marilli), which brought amazing results and it was great to hear all these different contributions. 

– Last but not least, I still miss my dear cat Tapu, who unfortunately fell from our balcony and died — but I still have her lovely calming purr sounds in my very first Junto recording ever ​

Could you tell people what the music scene is like in Amsterdam? I don’t know that much of it, but I recorded several times with Gareth Davis (bass clarinet), who lives in Amsterdam (though he is mainly on the road performing abroad nowadays) and recently I recorded with a very old friend from Amsterdam, Olaf Keus (drums), who was also present on my very first live gig in Paradiso, in 1984. I love that beautiful old venue. You have a couple of interesting places / scenes, like Splendor, De Ruimte, and of course Bimhuis. A few weeks ago I went to a concert by Anton Goudsmit there, an Amsterdam based guitar player that I like a lot. He plays on some of my recordings. The Bimhuis is now in het Muziekgebouw, beautifully located at the water close to Central Station. I went to the Bimhuis in the ’80s already, when it was still situated at the Oudeschans in the centre, where me and my friends saw mind-blowing improvisations with people like Martin van Duijnhoven or Micha Mengelberg or Han Benninck. It made a huge impression on me. Those were the first times I saw concerts like that, and very exciting. There’s also OCCII, a great place where I performed at the Haperende Mens Festival in 2017. Musicians I follow now are like Oene van Geel and Albert Van Veenendaal, who I saw live with Bora Kim in Splendor. These days everything in the city gets more and more commercialized so musicians and venues in general are hugely dependent on subsidies. So far I’ve never been to De Ruimte, I really should go there. I can not always afford to go see concerts in Amsterdam. However, I do look forward to seeing two concerts soon, one by Die Wilde Jagd, and one by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith.

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