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Flako’s ‘Natureboy’: Songs For The Great Open Cathedral

“And in the evening
When the sky is on fire
Heaven and earth become my great open cathedral
Where all men are brothers
Where all things are bound by law
And crowned with love
Poor, alone and happy
I walk by the surf and make a fire on the beach
And as darkness covers the face of the deep
Lie down in the wild grass
And dream the dream that the dreamers dream”
– from ‘Full Moon’ by Eden Ahbez

Among the many motivations which inspired one of 2015’s most beautiful albums ‘Natureboy’ (not a hyperbole) was the music of Eden Ahbez – a long haired, vegetarian, robe clad songwriter and student of Oriental mysticism who lived a pastoral, peaceful life in and around California.

While we were struggling through independence and partition in 1947 at one end of the world, music was playing miles away on the other as Nat King Cole charmed and crooned at audiences in Los Angeles. Ahbez met Cole’s manager backstage the Lincoln Theatre and handed him music for his song, titled ‘Nature Boy’, before leaving without a trace. Cole loved the song and performed it a number of times before deciding to track down Ahbez (who was discovered living under the Hollywood sign), and credit him.

Much before Flako’s ‘Natureboy’ album was fully developed, Chilean-born Dario Rojo Guerra’s father told him of his love and nostalgia for Cole’s song. This was at a point when Guerra’s love for the sun, water and soil was ripe, when he spent a large amount of time outside in his garden studying his plants and all the little insects and animals that lived off them. He had been introduced to Ahbez’ music before by Kutmah (his energy and love for the record is infectious here on FACT TV) and took Cole’s ‘Natureboy’ as a sign for an album he went on to describe as a “bridge to a new musical identity”.

But while Ahbez had a large role to play in the album, Guerra’s inspirations are far, far further reaching. He breaks down the entire album track by track for Clash and as you’ll see, Flako pays homage to avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (in particular, his words on 'The Holy Mountain'), science fiction leviathan and author of one of the genre’s defining series ‘Dune’, Frank Herbert, German bassist and minimalist jazz pioneer Eberhard Weber and Brazilian experimental composer and multi instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal. Half of his inspirations come from seemingly nowhere (“I see myself riding a yellow plastic duck” for ‘Shape Of Things To Come’, “I like to imagine someone dancing to this song, it looks odd and beautiful” for ‘The Odd & Beautiful’) and some like the sparse and very short ‘Reprise’ (“this is a Reprise of a song for you Bonita”) remain nostalgic, romantic enigmas.

He tells us that, “Trying to understand myself and expand my horizon, I watch movies or read books or look at a bird landing on the branch of the tree by my house. Enlightening moments can be found in little things and randomly, as well as in more obvious life changing experiences. Influences are as widely spread as life is big and complex.”

‘Natureboy’ was one of the most prominently unique albums to emerge in recent times, evoking the same kind of awe and feeling of smallness that standing at the base of a tremendous mountain, or at the edge of vast, open desert lands (Dune-esque, Shai-Hulud and all). Whether it’s in the form of more frantic, footwork referencing songs like ‘Kuku’, more cinematic pieces like ‘12 o’ clock Shadow’ featuring Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, or introspective songs such as ‘Spice Melange’ and the hypnotic ‘Shipibo Icaro’; Guerra chooses to forgo any rules to make 'Natureboy' work. There’s even bits of grime in songs like ‘Lyrebird’, vocals from his Dirg Gerner alias in ‘With Me Now’ along with generous doses of South American soul, folk, funk and cumbia throughout.

It’s curious to think then, that Flako started off making warped, Dilla influenced hip-hop, garnering the most attention for 2012’s ‘Eclosure’ EP (side note – Flako’s dream collaborators include Kendrick Lamar and Missy Elliot, aside from Micachu and mad jazzman Hermeto Pascoal, so the hip-hop love hasn’t gone anywhere). This shift, however, wasn’t a conscious one – “I have never felt a need to change nor ever made a conscious decision about what kind of music I make. I have not described it myself, but the press release correctly articulates that I am progressing naturally as a human being and my music is progressing/changing accordingly.”

In an interview with FACT, Flako stated that he isn’t a religious man. The only thing he believes in already exists all around us – “As much as we evolve and develop in all kinds of directions, I feel we are pretty basic animals at the end of the day and not so different to many other beings on this planet either. It makes more sense to me to worship the sun for instance, providing elementary energy without which there could simply not exist as much diverse life. If you think about it, we basically just try to understand and copy Nature. Science and Art especially is inspired directly or indirectly by what we look at or sense. Mother Nature is just everything.”

‘Natureboy’ is his contribution to our Mother. A set of hymns and prayers for what’s left of this fragile, pale blue dot. In an age when humanity is finally coming to realise how much damage and abuse the only home we’ll ever have has suffered, when doomsday vaults and potential Martian colonies might be the only logical next step, 'Natureboy’s ode - and lament - bellows loud and strong.

Gig Details:
20 March: Bangalore, Indie March
23 March: Delhi. antiSOCIAL with Lifafa (live) and Moniker
25 March: Mumbai, Bonobo with Sandunes (DJ) and Kumail

Words: Diya Gupta

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17 March 2016