Anahata the Brave

I recently had the opportunity to hang with the talented, gorgeously quirky and boundlessly energized musician Anahata LaBaw, known musically by the monikers Anahata Sound and, more recently, Hopscotch. We met at the Berkeley Rose Garden in the dusky magic hour, and Anahata caught me up on her new projects and inspirations.

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Anahata in the Berkeley Rose Garden I

Hi Anahata. So I took the liberty of looking up your name, and found that it’s a yogic breathing term. What does it mean to you?

Well, the translation from Sanskrit to English is “the sound without any two things striking,” so it literally means “the unstruck sound.” To me it’s the place within everyone’s heart that’s golden and beautiful. I always wanted to be able to see the world through those eyes, so I gave myself that name as a reminder. Keeping it light and from the heart and real is something I’ve always focused on.

That lightness is something I want to talk to you about. You emit an aura of playfulness and seem to have this childlike vision of the world – from the name “Hopscotch” to your humorous style choices to the fun in your songs. There’s this line from “Moment” that goes “I chant merriment into existence.” That just struck me, and I wanted to ask you about the role that play and fun have in your life.

Pretty much the biggest role. I had a really fuckin’ hard upbringing. I think I adopted the clown early on to bring out who I really was. My parents say I was always smiling and jovial, that when I was born I didn’t even cry. I guess that’s the core of my spirit, and that’s what I’ve kept through the storm. The depths to which I’ve felt pain and suffering  – others’ and my own – I feel like that is exactly how much I can feel joy. So that depth has given me this totally clowny side. Being Native American, I’ve connected with just my blood lineage as a Heyokha [sacred clown], saying the things that others don’t want to say, in a way that suits the palette. It’s definitely not always an easy role to play. Sometimes it makes me the odd man out, but I often feel that by being the clown it actually invites people into a space where they have permission to goof off.

Tell me about your new project, Hopscotch. When did you start that project as something unique from Anahata Sound? What’s the difference between the two?

Hopscotch has become a hub for everything I’m doing now. With Hopscotch, I’m bringing the clowny vibe and experimenting a lot with the way I make and produce music. The electronic music scene can be so competitive and aggressive musically. I wanted to step up my music from the downtempo electro acoustic that I’d been doing [with Anahata Sound] and give people something to dance to that wasn’t aggressive. I can really appreciate music that’s like BAMBAMBAMBAM, but I can’t make music like that. But I can make something that people can dance to. The music tends to be like 120 – 145 bpm, though I have made a couple tracks that are 170 bpm – scary! Hopscotch has got this electro pop edge. I LOVE dancing to some electro, some electro pop…some soul thrown in there….it feels really good to be making a style of music that I actually love to listen to.

 

Hopscotch & Russell Scott – Golden

 

How did sound come to mean so much to you? At what point did you realize that it was something that spoke to you to such an extent that you wanted to devote a large portion of your time to bringing it out into the world?

I think I was just born into it. My mom was an opera singer while I was in the womb, so I got that vibration, you know? Opera singers, woooo, they’re using their fucking diaphragm, you know? I idolized my mom; I thought she was the coolest. She left when I was five, so I idolized her even more – I made up this story about who she was. But she really influenced me with her music. My father also had really good taste in music.

I just always had this inclination to want to be singing. I was in church at a young age, and immediately I was like, “I want be in choir.” So I started choir, and did plays in church, and then started doing that in school, singing and acting.  I also learned violin at a really young age. I also had a lot of experiences with what they call “speaking in tongues” as a child. I was always speaking in another language. I was always like “mashque it’lly gooshe de doo!” My dad still has this word banzillo that I always said. I’ve always been really expressive and just wanted to do things in a different way. I don’t think this world would work without, you know, at least a little drum – at least a little reminder of the heartbeat.

I recall hearing that you’ve gathered recordings in many different locations around the world. Are there particular places that have had a profound influence on your sound?

So many different places. I’ve always carried around a field recorder wherever I go to capture sounds. I have, like, a terabyte drive of recordings that are mostly really useless, but you know, sometimes you’re just travelling somewhere and you hear something that sounds cool, and you’re just like “Oh yeah. That’s it.” On my first Anahata Sound album, I recorded a lot of samples from Turkey and Egypt, and some in an Anasazi ruins cave in Flagstaff, Arizona. I also did a lot of layering sounds together from nature to make what would sound like a high hat or a snare – a lot of flicking leaves and hitting sticks on leaves…I even got into breaking them a little bit for delicate little glitchy stuff.

What’s influencing Hopscotch now is more my life here in Oakland, what’s going on in my neighborhood, what’s going on in the forests around here, my work with kids in juvenile halls, all my little trips and gigs, random things you find in hotels or in someone’s backyard somewhere. I’m using a lot more synthesizers. I don’t have all these instruments and layers and layers of textures, because I’m keeping it simpler.

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Anahata in the Berkeley Rose Garden II

Do you ever record with the kids you work with at juvenile hall?

I don’t record in juvenile hall at this point – I really wish I could. But I’m mentoring two kids on the outs now who I worked with while I was teaching meditation in the juvie hall. They’re super awesome and now we’re like, just homies, ya know. One of the kids, I got him a computer, and he’s writing a book; I’m teaching him how to make beats and he’s rapping on some of my beats. I’m just getting him used to the studio experience, giving him all these new experiences.

So I want to talk about your bold fashion sense. From what I’ve seen, your sometimes-crazy style seems to be this integral element of your being. It seems that there’s a direct visual representation of what’s going on inside of you through your clothes. What’s up with this visual representation of yourself?

I’m all about it. I’ve always wanted to dress differently than anyone else in school, wear the super crazy thing that nobody would wear. Fuck, in 7th grade I was wearing, like, a full African outfit one day. I was raised in an African American family, so it was like cool to me. …I was like, “yeh, I look good, I look colorful, y’know…” I guess I feel like, if I’m gonna be here on earth, I may as well be a walking piece of art…or at least just a piece of work! (laughs) I really enjoy mixing different patterns and colors, making the shit that nobody would wear. No one would wear half the shit I wear! But I’m always finessin’ it and being like “oh, does that work?” It does have a lot to do with how I feel. But, you know, once I find a good outfit, I’m ‘n a wear it for a week. Cause I feel good in it, like it’s home. I can’t do the change a bunch of outfits thing.

I get this sense that you are a very brave person. Does that word resonate with you?

That’s pretty funny, because I call my friends “brave.” I’m like, “Hey brave! Whassup brave?” I for sure connect with that word. I’ve always wanted to meet the challenge. When I felt resistance about getting up in front of people as a kid, I would be like, oh…I feel resistance…(hand shoots up) “OKAY, I’LL DO IT!” I’ve always been out on the skinny fuckin’ branches, and they get skinnier and skinnier. That’s what’s fun.

You want to conquer the things that scare you.

I do, I do. Just so I’m cool with this human experience and can share that with other people.

Are there particular images that inspire Hopscotch? Do you visualize scenes or images to accompany your music?

I’m really inspired by pop culture and everything from the 8os and 90s for Hopscotch – everything from my childhood. I’ve designed these images – E.T. with a unicorn horn, ALF with a unicorn horn, Gizmo, Papa Smurf, Yoda – I gave all these icons from that time unicorn horns and little sayings like “you’re so magical,” “you’re so tubular.” Black and white and native patterns also appeal to me…indigenous patterns and neon colors. Circles and triangles and diamonds and hearts and boomboxes! I was just writing a song about Bigfoot running through the garden, and I swear, while I was writing it, I fully saw the whole thing in my mind’s eye. The visual and the aural really connect for me.

You have a lot of music to get out into the world right now. Do you have a schedule for release?

I am releasing my Hopscotch debut album on Pok Pok Recordings, owned by Rena Jones. I will be remixing the album in the coming months with Christopher Norman. I really like his production style so I feel very honored to be working with him over the next month or so. I suspect it will be out in 3-4 months. This album has been a long time coming; I am thrilled to get it out and get started on mixing the next collection of music that I’ve been working on. I now work with a Taiko drummer, Sica Leggett, so we will incorporate that into the next album. She is playing with me live at shows and we now live together and are both coming up with new ideas for the music all the time.

Anahata, good luck with your upcoming Hopscotch albums and thanks so much for taking the time to talk with INKBRAMBLE!

Thank you!

 

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