INTERVIEW

“From our music, we just want to get people to feel something, and dance, and have fun.”

rainbowarabia

A fine cure for the winter blues: ‘Ethnoronica’… dressed as Jacko

Boy, do we need Rainbow Arabia right now! There’s something submissively comforting about wrapping yourself in a blanket of melancholy as a New Year crawls out of the starting blocks, over snow, then ice, then sludge, then plain ‘ol dry and uninteresting despair, but it’s not January anymore so where’s the Indian Winter that Channel 4 promised? 2010 clearly still needs some coaxing into life.

“We spent some time in Brazil this January, so it was alright for us,” says Danny Preston, the hat-less MJ of Rainbow Arabia. It was Rio’s summer, 90 degrees under a damp cloth and a carnival city ready-oiled to welcome this duo’s “Ethnotronica,” as they call it. They played some shows that, considering Rainbow Arabia’s ability to make a corpse dance, were, rather predictably, “super awesome.” And then, before jetting home, they filmed a video for new single ‘Holiday In Congo’, dressed as two Michael Jacksons [that’s what that picture’s about] in a goofy pastiche of the great one’s goofier ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’ video.

But it’s not as if Danny and Tiffany Preston needed Rio to thaw their New Year blues. They live in LA, for one thing – hardly a dilapidated seaside town of grey dampness. And then there’s that music they make – a mixture of various Afrobeat sub-genres, tribal house, raggaeton beats and gentler MIA vocals, influenced by African and Middle Eastern culture, and played on microtonal instruments bought from Lebanon. It’s music that’s gleefully celebratory of everything non-Western and cynical, and is more than capable of transporting any listener to a land as vibrant as Brazil without you leaving your hovel of self-pity.

“From our music, we just want to get people to feel something, and dance, and have fun,” says Tiffany in a Californian accent as sprightly as her husband’s. “But to me I like changing up the mood. We’re mixing in a couple of darker songs into our set,” she warns “and I think it’s interesting to see how people will dance and move and interact with it.”

These darker songs include ‘Haunted Hall’ from Rainbow Arabia’s new 7-track EP-come-mini album ‘Kabukimono’ – a song that seductively slivers between the Kia-Ora-supping, tropical ‘Holiday In Congo’ and the record’s dance-inspired, polyrhythmic title track, sounding like a spectre-ish ‘Jimmy’ by MIA. Even if it were infinitely more sinister, it’d probably get people bouncing like beans on a drum skin though, because that’s what happens when Rainbow Arabia play live, unless it’s in LA… to over 10s.

“LA audiences are the worst,” says Danny “but it’s good practice because if we can get them dancing we can get anyone into it. But we had a show yesterday on the college campus here at lunchtime, and there were loads of students walking by and sitting around but really distant and then there was all these 10-year-olds that were on a tour from local schools – about 150/200 – and they’re all sitting on the outskirts on a lunch break so we directed the show toward them and they also started going crazy, so we got them involved in the show…”

“We did an interactive thing at the end and it was just awesome,” adds Tiffany. “We gave them our percussion instruments and it was so fun. But since the last time you saw us [Rainbow Arabia played our club night last May] I’ve really stepped it up a lot as a performer. I play pretty much half of our songs from in the audience now. I realised after watching videos of myself that, ‘oh my God, I look so stiff’, so something clicked inside of me that I needed to get out there and move people, and if you’re crawling on the floor while singing, people will move.”

Danny duly credits Seattle World Music label Sublime Frequencies for turning him on to African and Middle Eastern punk. After hearing prolific Syrian star Omar Souleyman (a man who’s released 500 live albums on cassette tape) on one of the label’s compilations, both he and Tiffany were instantly obsessed. “We were like, what the hell is this?” remembers Tiffany. “It’s total, like, PUNK, but in a different way. It was pissed and fast and the sounds were so in your face!” ‘Kabukimono’ is a record forged with similar intent. It’s as multi-eyed and multi-limbed as its Indo-Chinese artwork and as reluctant to discredit ideas and sounds from any available source. That’s how ‘Harlem Sunrise’’s steel drums add a mellow taste of the Caribbean, and how their interest in The Knife and straight up dance music allowed remixes of the previously released ‘Omar K’ and ‘Let Them Dance’ to feature also. As Tiffany says, Rainbow Arabia want you to “feel something, and dance, and have fun.” And with infectious giddiness, they do just that, whatever the time of year.

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Originally published in issue 14 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. February 2010

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