Public Opinion Afro Orchestra (POAO) bring their hard hitting and fiery Afrobeat sounds to the Bellingen Global Carnival this October long weekend. Kylie Soultanian chats to the group’s trumpeter, Tristan Ludowyk …
POAO formed back in 2008. How did the group first come into fruition?
The band was put together by myself, DJ Manchild (aka Ethan Hill) and Zvi Belling. I suppose the three of us had the idea to put the group together because we are really big fans of Afrobeat music. We had been playing other kinds of African music, Punk music and Hip Hop for a long time but nothing really like this, and we just thought that it was something that should definitely be done.
No-one else is really doing it either, which meant there weren’t a lot of bands to jump in and play along with, so we decided that we would do it ourselves. We figured that the only way to do it would be to have the full orchestra, the full line up, so we started setting about putting together a big band.
Describe your sound …
I suppose the sound is quite energetic and groovy. It’s also like that groovy dance type of thing that can also transcend into a more trance like, brilliant and repetitive groove that can really suck you in. It puts you in kind of a trance in the way that it flows on and on, and there’s a whole lot of sounds coming in on top of that. A lot of our songs are quite long and they take you on a bit of a journey, and hopefully you like it when you get to hear it.
What and who influences the band’s music?
Well, I guess obviously the first influence would have to be Fela Kuti, who is credited with creating the whole style of music, but the Afrobeat style is really a mixture of things like Funk, Soul and Jazz used with traditional west African music and other contemporary African music. We take a lot of influence from a whole lot of artists from that part of the world, as well as other contemporary artists … we have the Hip Hop factor in our group as well. We are also looking to update the sound, with interesting rappers who are doing different things and talking about strong political messages – and we’re keen to see how we can work that into our stuff.
How long have you personally been making music?
Technically, I have been doing it for 29 years – and I am 33. I started violin when I was 4 (I played for my grandma and family), and I started playing the trumpet when I was in primary school. But since I came of age, I have been performing gigs and things. When I was 18, I went to the College of the Arts here and that’s where I met Zvi … we have been good friends and collaborators since then. I guess music has always been a part of my life.
What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
Being selected to play the Piped Piper in Grade 3 with a recorder … I am still living that one down! It’s really been the last 5 to 6 years of my life where I have really felt like I have created some of my own things that I am proud of. There are two groups that I have been involved with from the beginning, and that’s Public Opinion and LABJACD. LABJACD is sort of a Latin Funk and Hip Hop group, and we have been working together for about 6 years now. I guess that both of those groups are where I found a way to write original music with other people and turn it into something to show to the public.
They’ve given me the opportunity to get the show on the road and really make something of it, so that’s probably been the biggest highlight for me, rather than just playing in someone’s band or playing covers down the street. We create and own our original music, and I guess that’s what I am most proud of. I have also got a label now and I have been getting into recording and producing music, so I am really interested in taking that on and seeing where it goes.
You’ve played a number of gigs, including Bluesfest and the Australian World Music Expo. What do you enjoy the most about touring?
I think I consider it an adventure. The other people in the band are quite good friends of mine, and they have been for a while, and it’s a good group of people to work with. I just enjoy the time hitting the road and hanging out. Sometimes when we’re just here in Melbourne, we don’t actually get much time … when we come together, we are rehearsing or performing. At least on tour we can take time to just hang out together. POAO will be performing at Global Carnival in Bellingen this long weekend.
What are you most looking forward to about this event?
It’s actually my third time at Global Carnival, and my second time there with POAO. I am interested in seeing the Cuban trumpet player from Sydney, as I have been playing Cuban music for a long time. I went to Cuba ten years ago and spent a couple of months there, so I am really keen to see some of that stuff. But there is lots of great stuff on at Global Carnival this year, so you can’t go wrong.
What can festival goers expect from your performance at Global Carnival?
I think they will be in store for a pretty strong set of dance music. We have dancers in our show who will get the crowd going … they’re pretty enticing. Other than that, there will be some pretty powerful sets of music with some conscious lyrics. Overall, it’s going to be a great show!
You mentioned you’ve been to the Coffs Coast before for the Global Carnival. What do you like about the area, and what are you looking forward to about this trip?
I had some great oysters a little while ago from the river somewhere up there – I can’t remember where it was. I guess we won’t get much time to get out of Bellingen this weekend, but it’s a really great area to explore.
I have spent a quite lot of time at the Bundagen Community. Often when I have been on tour, there is nothing to do during the week, so I go there and just hang out for a few days and live the good life.