We love a good cause, and even more we love a good cause connected to good music. Heligator Records has begun to release a series of EPs from varied artists, all to support a Swaziland refugee library. The cause is worth it, and the music is worth it as well; these are no throwaway tracks, but new works that often represent the artists’ very best.
The project began when Ryan Hall returned from two years of volunteering down the road from the Malindza refugee camp. He helped to build the library and was able to see the effect that it had on the community. Refugees from Rwanda and Somalia were gifted the opportunity to learn and to temporarily escape their problems through literature. At times, the library has lacked chairs, a duster, soap and a working computer. The library’s official blog tracks the needs and the progress.
Dura‘s Conduits is a lovely 11-minute drone piece, a shorter work than those found on Mattson Ogg’s recent 10.25.12/Tired Waves and more effective as a result. That cassette, recorded during Hurricane Sandy, indicates Dura’s own experience with vast suffering. To see one’s own area devastated is to understand the travails of others, even when the traumas are separated by type. Each of these works shares a desire to provide comfort in the midst of a storm. On Conduits, the storm is metaphorical, represented by the dark drone running throughout the piece: a storm perhaps of genocide, or homelessness, or fear. Clear electric guitar tones tumble through the piece, offering solace. The clouds break late in the track, as electronic shimmers cascade around the puddles. The drone dissipates, leaving scattered notes in its wake like messages of hope.
Kurva Choir was once known as Kirtan Choir, and before that as The CJ Boyd Sextet. Boyd is still the leader of the band, whose members change with every incarnation. Hall finds a parallel in the refugee camp, where the faces are always changing, reflecting fractured families and communities. Like Conduits, Archaea is a comforting release, its strings perhaps more familiar in tone to the inhabitants of Swaziland. On last year’s understory, Boyd and friends (as Kirtan) took their time to reach the deep foliage, but Archaea‘s two tracks are as lush as the EP’s cover. Remarkably, the shortened format has been a boon to both Dura and Kurva Choir; while there’s no indication that the acts were asked to keep their works within a certain length, the distillation of sound has been a blessing. “Love in a Mist/Devil in the Bush” launches with somber, elegiac cello, and the mood holds throughout the remainder of the EP. Twinned strings imply mutual understanding, one heart speaking to the other with empathy and grace. No words are sufficient to capture the refugee experience; the instrumental approach allows the possibility of a deeper understanding. Even though the track wasn’t written for the library (it first appeared on Mine All Mine’s Colias 1 compilation last spring), its elegance – and the elegance of the slow, sorrowful “Tirzah” – speaks volumes to the listener. Somebody hears.
The latest release from Heligator is a four-minute track from Scissor Tale Editions founder Dylan Golden Aycock, also known as Talk West. This beautiful finger-picked piece lies in a soft bed of reverb and tape hiss, sounding lost and found at the same time. One imagines the track as a dusty, unmarked cassette found in an attic trunk. Once a cassette player is located, the listener tries to guess the era in which it was recorded. For the first three minutes, the track seems timeless, but the electronics of the closing minute tug it into the 21st century. This project echoes the work of the Malindza volunteers in a metaphorical fashion: it respects the roots while gently introducing the new ways.
Our congratulations to Hall for starting this worthwhile project. We urge our readers to donate a dollar or two to the Bandcamp bucket. The rate of exchange guarantees that each dollar really does go a long way. (Richard Allen)