Letter to the listeners of ON
ON is a play of words. First and foremost this is an electronic project, and all electronic devices necessarily have an On button. But the word ON in English also means about (as in my upcoming book “On the nature of being and pastries”). Each of the songs in this album reflect on specific subjects that with the passing of time seem to become more and more important for me (such as pastries).
But this album is not just about me. Not at all. Around five years ago, I was somehow able to leave behind my unfounded (and quite stupid) prejudices towards electronic music. As I started to get myself into it, very quickly I realized that, in a very different way, it was as deep and complicated as Tango, Jazz, Cuban music, and all the other things that I love to listen and play. Doing the demos of these 10 tracks, it became clear to me that I needed help, and I could only think of one person. I sent an email to 程杰 Jay Cheng (cause he doesn’t use any messaging or social media apps at all) and he agreed to meet me. From then on, this became our album. On paper, he is the producer and I am the artist. In reality, we are just two craftsmen with different sets of tools working on the same pieces of wood. To introduce this album I will share with you all the short texts I presented to him on that meeting when I gave him the 10 demos:
I was lucky enough to have been born into a family that gave me a strong sense of Freedom. I was taught from a very early age that even if my freedom was reduced only to choosing whether or not to end my own life, there’s always a degree of freedom in the things we do, and that it is essential not to lose sight of that. But not only was I lucky for the sense of freedom I was given, but also for the Love I was given too. I am because someone cared for me, or else I wouldn’t be. Someone fed me and gave me warmth, which is why I think that without love human life wouldn’t be possible.
Unfortunately, I used that freedom and love to pursue things I didn’t actually need or even liked, just because I wanted to fit in. I thought that being part of my family and the society I was born into was more important than being honest with myself, which only brought a lot of pain. So when I was finally able to be sincere and to accept and live my inner Truth, as ever changing as it was, and still is, I found the person with whom I would start my own Family. Over the years we realized that the relationship upon which our family is built, based in freedom, love and truth, is nothing but a profound form of Friendship, which seems to be the only kind of human relation that lasts a lifetime. Unfortunately, it seems to me that in every form of human interaction, the emergence of Violence is always a latent possibility. When violent emotions arise, if I let them take over, the feeling of regret is the only possible outcome. To avoid it, the simple act of Breathing is essential. It allows for the space to realize that the violent feeling, like any other emotion or feeling, will ultimately subside. If done daily, this act of breathing showed me that it is possible to live in a somewhat less defensive state of mind. With the passage of time, I came to see this as a cycle that tends to repeat itself in different forms, from love to violence and back to love, which seems to end with our last action on earth, Dying. So, I guess that if I try to be aware of the delicate balance of things, not attaching myself to the darker aspects of the journey and seeing their relation to the brightest one, I’ll be all right (I hope). Where does this journey happen? in Taiwan. This island and its people have provided me with all the tools and opportunities I needed to develop myself in the way that I did. This is why when now, almost into my 40th birthday, I look back and think of all the love, the tears, the joy, the fears, the happiness and the pain, and of all the people that in places as different as Argentina, Taiwan, South Africa, Trinidad, Japan, Brazil, the US and China gave me so much love and support, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of Gratitude that is behind this album and every single thing I do.
From a musical point of view, this is the first time that I venture into songwriting, which was a huge risk because I’ve never written any lyrics before. Other than that, the main goal of ON was to take all the rhythms that made me dance back in Argentina growing up and try to develop them completely using computer-generated sounds but retaining the human feel. We used the computer exactly like we use instruments, playing everything by hand, but using the palette of sounds that only a digital medium can provide. Here’s a brief description of each of the tracks:
This is the first song that is part Xhosa, part Paiwan language. From South Africa, artist Liso GcWabe did the vocal arrangement and recorded everything in Capet Town and 阿爆 here Taiwan. The music is based on Brazilian Axé which is itself a fusion of many different South American music styles. We were very lucky to have Brazilian guitar master Fabio Moreira to bring the real flavor to the track.
This is nothing but a love song I wrote for the love of my life, my wife Pipi. Again collaborating with great artists was the key. 9m88 here in Taiwan and Liso back home in South Africa did a beautiful job bringing this lyrics to life, which was a very complicated job considering it is in Spanish, Chinese and English, which I’ve been told is also the first time it is done. The arrangement is based on the Cuban style of music called Bolero, which is the latin romantic ballad music style par excellence.
This would be the track that more closely resembles the music I did on my previous albums. An electronic fusion trio track, where my brother 張為智 (大頭) on Double Bass and I on the piano occupy the regular roles of a jazz trio and 程杰 Jay Cheng does all the other crazy stuff that we hear on the track, which happens to include some drumming. The idea behind it is that just when we thing we got it all figured out Truth keeps always slipping away from us.
This track tries to put into music the never-ending stream of energy that is my son 明柏光 (Akira). He loves congas, drumming and rhythms as fast paced as possible, which is why this track is based on Cuarteto, which was an immensely popular dance style of music when I was growing up.
This is a song that was originally an instrumental chill track that mixed Brazilian Samba and Argentine Tango music. All that ended when 阿爆 heard it and decided to throw in some Paiwan language rap on it, setting it on fire with a chorus that makes me wanna dance every time I hear it.
This track is based on Uruguayan Candombe, which is a very old rhythm from what today is Angola that was brought to South America in European slave ships. In time, Candombe, both in Uruguay and Argentina, became a form of bonding, of creating community, uniting all the different minorities and poor and working class people of the Rio de La Plata area in the act of playing, dancing and singing. With 程杰 Jay Cheng and 徐皮 (arranger) we tried to re-imagine this rhythm in an electro-punk way. The melody is played by 二胡 erhu master 梁文賓 aiming to be the voice of those who lift their voice demanding for this violence and oppression to stop.
This is a very peaceful track based on an Argentinean old and slow folkloric music and dance form called Zamba. We recorded this on an upright piano, trying to bring forward an intimate sound, with the intention of exploring how deceptively complicated is to simply sit down and breathe for 20 minutes.
This track is a mixture of Cuban Son and Post Rock. The image behind it is of a person on its last moments of life in a hospital going in and out of consciousness. The arrangement was made by famous Taiwanese jazz violinist Wei-Jun and recorded by his Interstring quartet. They personify the family members of the bedridden person in their last moments of life.
The music in this track is also heavy influenced by the Cuban musical tradition, but the melody comes half from a traditional Hakka sample and the other half from a traditional Aboriginal sample. I think the essence of this island, Taiwan, is that of mixture, of an uncertainty about the roots of its people, and of a strong need to build identity on top of that uncertainty; the impossibility of solving that uncertainty and the quest to build a powerful identity by embracing it. This quest is exactly the same as the one all Latin American countries had and still have, none more so than Cuba. So in a profound way, this track reflects and peacefully tries to celebrate the calm and slow paced strength of the people on this two very different yet very similar islands.
This song speaks for itself. I worked very hard on the lyrics and I will be forever grateful to my brother Sherwyne Pereyra (originally from Trinidad, but living in Taiwan for more than 20 years now) and to Chemu, (from Kenya but also living in Taiwan for the past 3 years) for bringing this lyrics to life in such a way. I am also grateful to my brother, and bass superstar, Michael Ning for helping out in building the groove; and to Liso and his vocal group back in South Africa for all the vocal goodness they bring at the end.
That’s pretty much all there’s to say about this project. I will always be very grateful to the 文化部 for making this dream a reality. I love music, but making it doesn’t come easy to me and I never know which album will be my last one. So, until the next one (if there’s a next one), I send you all hugs and a lot of love.
Thanks for listening!