SOUTH AFRICAN GUITARIST AND SONGWRITER, ROBBI ROBB, PIONEER OF A GENRE OF MUSIC FUELED BY THE FIRES OF REVOLUTION
08/21/2013 11:31PM ● Published by Steve
Robbi will be performing 2 shows with Swedish Stoner Rock Band, Truckfighters Aug. 30th at The Hood, Sept. 1st, at the Indio Performing Arts Center
If the truth be told, the first time I ever met Robbi Robb was when I was playing drums with Teddy Quinn, probably on one of his famous open mic nights at Pappy & Harriets. I was a novice drummer at best and when Robbi stepped up on stage, he knew it and instructed me to follow him and keep it simple....which I did.
It was one of those sink or swim moments and what sticks out in my mind most is thinking, "holy shit....this guy smokes", followed by, "Dear God in heaven, let me keep it solid and don't let me mess up too bad...please?". He played this sort of chunky train-like groove, chugging out powerful chords, and he had this wonderful singing voice with a South African accent and who the hell was this guy?
Later outside I overheard him talking about his band, Tribe After Tribe, and how he had this crazy drummer that had this irreverent way of attacking fills and rolls that was completely far out. A couple of weeks later I learned Tribe After Tribe was playing at the opening of The Red Arrow Gallery in Joshua Tree and I just had to catch him. But, I didn't for some ungodly reason.
I also used to jam with a friend, keyboardist Al Swanson. I met him at the Beatnik......I meet everyone at a Teddy Quinn shindig. Al and I jammed for years. He began playing with Robbi at a time we were hanging out a lot. He toured with Tribe After Tribe and came back telling me stories of how Eric Burdon opened up for them at festivals with enormous audiences. Later, when Robbi hooked up with Dug Pinnick, world renowned bassist for King's X, Al played me the rehearsal recordings while he filled me on the happenings of their European tour.
Somewhere in between all of these events I saw Robbi play with Bingo Richey at the Joshua Tree Lake in the area where late night at the Joshua Tree festival usually occurs. We may have seen the sun come up listening to the music, the band was enchanting and hypnotic.
Robbi has intrigued me because of his tribal rhythms, his hard rock sensibility, and I always sensed a bit of inner struggle within him which seems to come out in his guitar solos, giving him an edgy sound. There is a very psychedelic vibe to the way he moves around time and space. When I began listening to Tribe After Tribe and his most recent project, 3rd Ear Experience, I understood the meaning of the genre tag, South African acid rock.
I have become a fan of Robbi's various projects because his music makes me want to move. He explores space that you can lose yourself in, and it's often a primal dancing experience. Robbi can be seen around Joshua Tree in a number of musical situations. He also plays with his wife Amritakripa who plays synthesizer, and creates a different kind of wold music. I have been fortunate enough to listen to them prepare for their upcoming performance at this years Bhakti Fest ( September 5-8), http://bhaktifest.com/ and spent some time with Robbi, Kripa and the rest of the group.
I have also gotten to hang out and experience Robbi's playing at recent performances with Clive Wright and Bobby Nichols at various events and venues in the high desert . It gave me a chance to learn about the significance of him as a pioneer of a genre, World Rock (according to Billboard Magazine), I have also learned about his plights as a young man and musician growing up and creating music in a very troubled South Africa. I learned that my connection to his music through dance might be rooted in his upbringing, his spirituality, and his mother.
With 3rd Ear Experience Robbi is playing with drummer Erik Mouness. Bassist Jorge Bassman is like the earth, the ground, he feels what is going on and gives way to the music without losing the way of the groove. The exact kind of bassist you want when looking to explore a groove as Robbi often does. All of these reasons and more are why I got together with Robbi for the following interview. I had questions. I wanted to know more. I would just ask him when we are hanging out, but.....that would be nosy of me. This interview was the perfect opportunity to learn what I was dying to know.
AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBBI ROBB by Robin LinnRL) I remember you once telling me about your mother, her spirituality and how her life was centered around dance. You spoke of her instructing others to dance and only taking on students who she felt she could embrace both her spiritual teachings and dance together. I found this concept intriguing as I feel that music and dance allow the spirit to soar beyond the limitations of the human body and mind. Tell me more about your mother and how her philosophies and her own art influenced you as a musician, a creator, and a man?
RR: Interesting that you should be bring this up Robin. All your questions may be answered in this one. Mother was a recognized by the 16th Karmapa as being re-incarnation of a fierce protector of the truth and was made the president of the Karma Rigdol center which was one for the west. As she stepped into her role as teacher/guru, after many years she became disillusioned by the tendency of westerners to intellectualize spiritual practices. People going around spouting spirituality and talking about peace yet living lives of the destructive ego. Obama is the perfect example of this right now – Nobel peace prize winner…blah, blah. Talk is cheap. Anyhow, so she became a dancer and she dropped teaching in words and began to teach through dance. By exposing her devotees to beauty through movement she hoped to override the tight grip of the ego on the psyche. She began to teach Ice ballet as she loved the flow and movement of that form but then settled for Modern ballet. And now that you ask this question I notice that I too have become really weary of songs with words – having been raised on the greatest from Dylan, Bowie and the lot. What do you suppose Justin Bieber can tell me that would thrill me to my soul? – Anyone for that matter – really – even myself… there are only a handful of poetic champions left in my life. Ted Quinn is one. (Sometimes I tease my daughter when we listen to her music and I chant, “ I,I,I- me, me, me - mine, mine, mine “ over the songs – because these words come up so many times – I find that extremely boring) So I don’t know if this has come about as an influence from my mother or what– but I have been moving toward wordless music for some years – hence the name of my band – 3rd Ear Experience. To make beautiful music that has no words in it allows the listener to project their own beautiful meanings on the music and to awaken the creative centers of the brain where beauty is perceived and expressed. This is truly where I am at. It may also be the peace that I experience in the desert…it’s just so lovely to be…What anger should I shout into the sky at night under the beautiful milky way? What rage should I indulge in? And, what words can possibly express such infinite beauty and silence of the desert? So, I am now on the wordless way – I heard that when Moses went up the mountain he first heard Musike, musike, musike, which means “listen listen listen” so, we have the 3rd Ear Experience – although, I have been working on an album that is all about love and is filled with love songs and based on the wonderful idea of parallel universes. A girl and boy – soul mates incarnate on parallel universes and their longing for each other creates a wormhole – its really a huge metaphor of uniting the opposites within – in a spiritual way – thru Love. You can watch the process of that album unfold on the LOVE blog – and you can witness how I write lyrics – through listening to the unknown song as I am singing it. Dig: http://www.robbirobb.com/blog/
RL) I listened to an interview with you by Leon Lazarus & Brett Lock. They refer to troubled times in South Africa during the eighties and how you had to "exit stage left" as they put it, and came to America. Can you tell me more about what it was like in South Africa at the time you left and what brought you to the states?
RR: Hmm strange – My first impulse is to describe living in South Africa by describing what is becoming America….wow….who would have guessed? I was brought up in the time of apartheid and revolution. Slowly as the Government began to lose their grip on power they implemented what you now have in America called the “Patriot Act and its by-laws. One could be locked up indefinitely for any subversive act. They declared it by calling it a “state of emergency”. One could be locked up for owning a picture of Mandela. If you were caught using the word Mandela in a group larger than 2 people you could be put in jail. Any subversive act which included protesting, lyric, rebel art etc.. It was tough time and I was a wild man…. fearless and wild! I raged against the injustices and I lost friends who, as I used to say “Hung themselves from bars of soap.”. Neil Agget, a well educated member of our little community was the first white man to be murdered in prison. It was a confusing time. We became expert fundraisers for the rebellion, helping the kids who got shot in the riots to get doctors to care for their wounds…a terrible time…and the snake hissed at me and came creeping to my life and began curling itself around me…and my manageress plucked me from the madness and flew me to America where I was granted political Asylum. “Exit stage left” as you said.
RL) So, punk rock meets South Africa meets Robbi Robb equals......The Asylum Kids?
RR: I was about 19 years old with rebellion in my heart. Our gigs would often turn into riots with riot police and dogs and tear gas - a REAL riot! - I was terrified by the whole thing at times, and many of my friends got beaten up really badly at at those shows. You see the press was being censored. I was on stage sharing information through the music about what was going on. Stuff that I was learning from Neil Aggett and the men in our community who were politically savvy and awake. You don’t do this sort of thing under a Nazi regime – you stand to draw the heat – and we drew the heat! – There is an article on the Asylum Kids on Facebook that documents the story pretty well. The press at that time was censored and so when they would write about our gigs and the things I would do and say on stage – the journalists would leave these large blank spaces, the length of a paragraph, to show that the article was censored. We stepped into a great fire and had no idea how burned we could get – until one gets murdered – then another. And, these are your friends you sat with around the table bitching about the system and its injustices. We had no idea really until Neil got murdered. https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Asylum-Kids/216728251294
RL) How did music from America and Britain influence your generation of music artists in South Africa?
RR: Due to all the hippies coming to my mom’s ashram I was exposed at tender age to the psychedelic music of the 60s and to a lot of Indian music. I believe I was the first person in the world to scallop a guitar neck to try to get the phrasing of the sitar players into my playing. So it was the time of LSD and Yoga, Woodstock and Alvin Lee, Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar, and the kraut-rock bands – but I was going into the countryside with our good friend Alice Dee and we discovered in the mountains and besides rivers the music of the African shamans – and they would let us watch and I heard the power of the drums and that became the thing that I aimed to capture in my music – medicine drums and the strange ways of the shaman drummers. So I invented world rock. Billboard Magazine acknowledged me as a pioneer of the form which was nice. There was Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads too of course. But I think that sums it up. We called our music “African acid rock” and that was the band Tribe After Tribe. We did about 10 albums altogether. We toured the world and opened up for Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine open for us (god help us) and we became a cult/underground favorite….too black for the white radios and too white for the black stations – NPR gave us good support.
RL) How did you end up in Joshua Tree?
RR: Its not “end up” Robin – life is still flowing through these rebel veins!! When I got to America I needed to decompress from all the shit we went though under the state of emergency back home. It was recommended that I go to the desert to find some peace and quiet. That was 1986. I fell into Harriets welcoming arms and became a regular thanks to Dusty Wakemen who owned the Rimrock Ranch. I met a little waif once pouring drops of Echinacea into everyones mouth….her name was Victoria Williams. Many years later I got to partake in a fundraiser for her healing. Giant Sands was another great band that I met out here too.
RL) One of the first times I saw you perform live was 4 or 5 years ago with Bingo Richey, late night at Joshua Tree Music Festival. I was enchanted with your entire set. It was open, rhythmic, freeing and beautiful. Real space cowboy sounds that entranced the entire crowd.
RR. Yes – I did enjoy those shows. Bingo once said to me “Man you play like Miles Davis!” Whether he meant it or not it got me thinking for sure – and I got some great ideas into my playing since he said that. But I tell you something that I learned was very weird... My guitar playing at the time was going into a whole other space. I was playing more Vina than guitar at the time, and I was also playing a lot of Oud (a Turkish stringed instrument). I found that when I played Americana music with Bingo, which I enjoyed thoroughly, it would take me almost a month or two to be able to truly play the kind of guitar I wanted to play, especially in Kripas music. I felt all these bluesy habits sneak back into my playing. Habits that my Vina teacher worked hard on me to get rid of. Habits that had been ironed by playing the Oud and Turkish music. It was very apparent how strong that American music is - almost tied into the DNA…. almost! I told Clive Wright about this and he was intrigued by what I had learned and so I gave him my Oud and sent him on this strange path too. I think it has done wonders for his playing. It’s a real clique buster that oud!RL) How did you meet up with King's X bassist, Doug (Dug) Pinnick and what has it been like working with him on this new project?
RR: Dug and I were signed to Megaforce Records at the same time – so we were label mates. He loved the African drum rhythms that Tribe After Tribe was fusing with rock and he loved the grooves we were coming up with. He came to our shows and raved – and so we loved each other and talked often about playing together. We eventually did an album under the Tribe After Tribe name and we toured the world together – much fun. Dug plays the bass on the two new 3rd Ear Experience albums we released this year.
RL) Is 3rd Ear Experience signed to a label? Or, are is this an independent endeavor?
RR: I am proud to say that it is DIY (do it yourself) project. I am lucky in that if I want a record deal I can make a phone call and land one in a day or two – but I am really really into this DIY approach and the viral marketing, etc – it gets things done the way I like it. I have had my share of corporations, believe me! I have had my share and I will not enter that dark place again. Kripa makes more money from music than I have…. me, being signed to the corporate labels.. It laughable!
RL) Do you have plans to get out and tour with this group?
RR: I have played some awesome feels over the last years since I have been in the desert. In Europe the 3rd Ear space rock type of music is still very much loved and the concerts are absolutely fantastic ! We have been invited to play some shows. I also might make a return to South Africa and tour. I haven’t been there since 1986 – which is a hundred years ago!
RL) The TruckFighters are a "stoner" rock band from Sweden who are the subjects of the Joerg Steineck film, TRUCKFIGHTERS FUZZOMENTARY. I understand 3rd Ear Experience will be doing several shows with them in the low desert later this month and in September. Fill me in on how you connected with them and give me all of the details about all of the upcoming shows?RR: Some of favorite bands hail from those Scandinavian territory’s. I must thank Brandon Henderson for putting us on the bill with them at the Hood. But, we are friends with the TruckFighters and they have asked me to put on another show for them – an all ages show. We are doing with the help of many wonderful people at the Indio Performing Arts Center. I want to make it a real special show for the TruckFighters as it is their last on their US tour . So we are going all out…. Joshua Tree style - with circus style performing artist FLOWBOX doing their fire show thing – the Races Cultural artist will be decorating the stage and the room, and we have two awesome local bands, Tribesmen who are a post rock Mogwai type project (also no lyrics ) and another band called Fever Dog...who I think are great. I thought it might do them a good thing to be onstage with the big boys. Its gonna bring the best out of them so watch out!! 3rd Ear experience will play 4 movements (as I call them ) and two will feature vocalist Greg Griffin from Manchester, UK – the front man for a band called Proud Mary. We will also be featuring a second guitarist Eric Ryan whom I call the “Dark Lord” as he really knows how to bring the infinite space in. Eric is also our go to producer for many years, so he knows how I think and feel…. he is very similar. Many of you know my new rhythm section Jorge Bassman and chon chon Erik Mouness. We met during the Machin’ experience and all I can say is; these guys know the warp speed and how to rock it!! So it’s going to be a most awesome evening!!
Upcoming show details, links, event pages...............
Robbi Robb and 3rd Ear Experience will be performing with Swedish stoner rock band, Truckfighters for 2 epic desert performances. On Saturday, August 30th they will play along with Truckfighters, House of Broken Promises (a super heavy guitar driven band featuring Arthur Seay) and Waxy for 21 and over crowds at my favorite low dez venue, The Hood (https://www.facebook.com/events/135266906681349/) There will be a screening of the Truckfighters Fuzzomentary, a documentary by German Filmmaker, Joerg Steineck at this performance which I am really looking forward to seeing. (Watch the trailer on youtube at: http://youtu.be/3ZyvY-ithBc. On September 1st the Truckfighters will finish up their US tour with an 18 and over performance at The Indio Performing Arts Center in Indio. https://www.facebook.com/events/538083189578899/
To listen to new cuts off 3rd Ear Experience's most recent record, Peacock Black visit:http://www.robbirobb.com/peacockblack/ or check them out on Youtube at:
Just off the presses.......the latest release by 3rd ear experience - many of the lyrics are written in a style called HOLO_Poetry.http://www.robbirobb.com/thirdearexperience/boi/