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Çaykh – Groove Podcast 404

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Photo: Press (Çaykh)

Most listeners will have probably first heard the name Çaykh in the context of two mixtapes for Hamburg’s V I S that looked unassuming from the outside, but whose contents were positively mind-melting. Across different genres, tempos, and moods, Nicolas Sheikholeslami weaved together a tapestry of rare gems in idiosyncratic ways—e.g., not always at the intended speed—to critical acclaim. That the currently Berlin-based musician, producer and DJ has a knack for finding obscure, wonderful nuggets has even scored him a GRAMMY nomination, but Sheikholeslami does far more than just mixing and matching music: After debuting as a solo producer in 2020, his latest releases include a compilation of live performances with V I S co-founder F#X with their joint project Circuit Diagram and there’s of course the fluctuating, hyper-prolific collective Spiritczualic Enhancement Center, for which he plays the drums and that has recently teamed up with none other than Damo Suzuki. Oh, and he’s also been making a bit of techno on the side in recent times. Can anyone be truly surprised then that Çaykh’s contribution to our Groove Podcast combines music by Ghanaian and US-American tricksters such as Wanlov the Kubolor and Frank Zappa with those of two different Yellow Magic Orchestra members, Herbie Hancock, the Meridian Brothers and much, much more? Yes? No? Both? Exactly.


You have been nominated for a GRAMMY in 2018 after putting together the compilation Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes From The Horn Of Africa in collaboration with Vik Sohonie on the Ostinato label. What got you into Somali music in the first and how did you organise your research around this topic?

During a YouTube deep dive back in 2015, I found myself stuck in the Somali knots of the World Wide Web. Having being mesmerised for many months, I decided to share what I have experienced down there and put together a mixtape called Au Revoir, Mogadishu Vol. 1 – Songs From Before The War. One of the people whose interest it caught was Vik Sohonie, who had just launched Ostinato. He suggested to team up to present a „proper“ panorama of vintage Somali sounds. Following an initial research we ended up traveling to Somaliland, where we were granted access to the vast cassette archive of the Hargeysa Cultural Centre. After a two-year-long process of tracking down the artists—if they were still alive, they were scattered all over the globe—and getting their blessing for the release and hearing their stories, we finally released the album in 2017. Shortly after, the album was nominated for a GRAMMY in the Best Historical Album category. The nomination came in the same year that president Trump introduced the so-called Muslim ban, which affected Somalia as well as Iran, from where my family name originates. For us and especially the Somali community, it was beautiful to see that the compilation could finally present some sort of counter-narrative to all the negative coverage that shaped Somalia’s public image. This nomination didn’t just acknowledge the beauty of the music itself, but in a way also gave back a bit of dignity to the Somali people. I feel proud and grateful for having been able to help facilitate this process.

You’re also responsible for the Somali band Dur-Dur Band, whose members live in the diaspora these days, releasing a new album: The Berlin Session came together during rehearsals for a 2019 concert at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt which you have organised. How was it, sending this band into the studio for the first time in three decades—and how did it feel to hold the finished result in your hands a few years later?

Those sessions capture the moment of a historic get-together, a re-union that is really deserving of this otherwise overused term. Some of the musicians in the room had literally not seen each other since they had to leave Somalia three decades before. There was incredible joy in the room, but you could also feel the humbling realisation that a big chunk of life has passed sink in. There was the joy of revived memories and the beauty of the moment, as well as a melancholia about so much that the country’s history didn’t allow to happen. As you have already mentioned, the sessions were more of a rehearsal for the upcoming concert than an attempt to craft an album. Once the band felt that they had mastered one of the arrangements, they basically jumped to the next song they wanted to present in concert, so there was basically only more or less one complete take of each song. Intimidated by all the work that would have to go into an album to make it sound like it should, I put this project aside. By 2021 however, it dawned on me that I was sitting on a musical treasure that might be way bigger than myself—bigger even than the musicians involved; a music and a story that could potentially inspire and empower people. I felt ready to accept the challenge, but it was also a very humbling to be the person to decide how the first studio album of its kind in 30 years should sound like. I tried to understand which artifacts of all those dubbed cassette tapes contributed to the magic of those old Somali recordings, and merging that with some fresh crispiness, which I hoped would make the players happy. The final album was well received by the musicians and resulted in yet another expansion of international interest in Somali music, getting the band some nice bookings. So how did it feel to hold the record in my hands in the end? Pretty overwhelmingly crazy, taking into account that this whole journey started for me in front of my laptop. Now, seven years later, I have produced an album for some of those YouTube-enigmas-turned-friends.

Last Summer, you released Werkschau, a, well, showcase of your collaborative project with Kris Jakob a.k.a. F#A under the Circuit Diagram moniker. The compilation consists of tracks from the mid-2010s, but tracks featured on your EPs released between 2013 and 2022 do not appear on it. Instead, those are live recordings. How would you characterise the difference between your studio work and your live gigs?

In the beginning stages of the project we were pursuing the idea of crafting arrangements that would move from one part to the next—think 1970s prog rock—as best heard on  “Amanar” from our first release for Pudel Produkte in 2013. In the live context though, we came to realise that this style of arrangement was taking a lot of our focus away from going real deep in the sense of Deep Listening. Over the years, we moved towards a more free-form style that allows us to really delve into what we are playing at the moment. For each gig, we developed a new idea and often perform it only once. Werkschau is a selection of those ideas cooked down to a sort of pop-ish executive summary of this approach.

You have also co-founded the Spiritczualic Enhancement Center and play drums in the band. Since your first release in 2018, the project has been more than prolific. What was your motivation to start it?

So there is this neologism we had: Spiritczualic, an esoteric melange of ritualism and spiritism; a term to describe music, but not as a genre and rather as an attribute. Folk, trance, jazz—music from literally any style could be labelled as such. Originally we envisioned Spiritczualic to become an event series, but then things took a different turn: Six years ago, we were occupying this Ottoman building in Jerusalem and called it the Enhancement Center. As we had just opened the hidden doors of the headquarters for our pseudo-cult, we wanted to, well, make music. The idea was to play with everyone who would be interested in joining us, which is why the project started out as a free-form collective. Not only the music would be improvised, but also the personnel. Easy come, easy go. Then our cult got exiled, i.e. we got kicked out of our squat. The walls of the centre shifted into the world of ideas and now the Spiritczualic Enhancement Center is a concept rather than a physical place. Now we are not only playing whatever and with whomever we want, but also wherever we happen to find ourselves.

As you have already mentioned, the personnel is constantly in flux—the group has between eight and 15 members at different times. How does such a fluid, loose collective organise itself?

Usually, we would have a gig coming up and then find out who can make it. Despite its volatile character, a sort of a core has crystallised over the years. However, sometimes we also make proper plans! If we have a cool idea or found a nice spot, we gather our team in some more remote places such as near a lake, in the mountains, or in the desert. Or like in 2019, when we set up our camp inside a 2.500 square meter warehouse in Brussels. Those concerts or residencies will usually result in the source material from which I piece together our albums, which then hopefully attract some more gigs to make more albums, to play more gigs to create more occasions to gather the folks around. We seem to need those fixed dates to bring everyone together, as everybody involved is pretty busy outside Spiritczualic.

You have recorded your latest album together with the legendary Damo Suzuki. How did it come about that you ended up collaborating and what did your working process look like?

Arkaoda, Turkish for back room, was named after the club where it was recorded. Five years ago the renowned Istanbul venue ventured to Germany, opening a branch in Berlin. They wanted to set up a show with Damo for the longest time. His concept includes getting support from local „Sound Carriers“ to back up his stream-of-consciousness vocal improvisations. When asked about some suggestions for the local backing musicians, our synth player told them to look no further, but to book the Center for this job. The meeting happened to fall exactly at the end of our first big European tour, so we were in good shape musically speaking. And if there is such thing as a base for the Spiritczualics, then that would be Berlin. That’s why it also was a very celebrative home turf. Playing with Damo was delightful in many ways. Despite his incredible history and experience, he was in no way patronising, but it rather felt like we were working with a true Damocrat. He’s a sweetheart and propelled us to new heights that night.

Besides all this, you are also active as a solo producer, with the mini-LP on Akuphone marking the official starting point of your career as a recording artist. What role does that play in the context of all your other activities?

In the last years, Çaykh was rather busy with producing albums for the aforementioned group efforts as well as an external producer and mastering man for other people, but there is already a jam-up of ideas in the pipeline that I would like to pursue very soon. I hope to find some time for that in the next year!

Many will associate the name Çaykh with mixes such as Amateur Exocist or the two tapes for V I S, sets that apparently are not only looking for common aesthetic threads between different pieces of music, but always seem somewhat thematic. How do you approach mixes like these?

As with the live projects that I am involved in, I like to work site- or occasion-specific. Those mixtapes are actually a good example of my interpretation of the Spiritczualic concept that I have outlined before: traversing many different genres, but somehow connected via its Spiritczualic aspects. Sometimes I also create mixes where all the featured music has the same place of origin as I did for e.g. Somalia, Ethiopia, or Afghanistan. But any of my mixes will always be heavily focussed on sonic storytelling. It would be kind of hard to try to verbalise how those stories look like in my imagination, but I always have some sort of roadmap, pictures of imaginary or real places, or emotions in front of my inner eye. Of course I try not to kill the groove, but both my mixes and DJ sets are more on the conceptual side of things. At least inside my head it’s making sense somehow.

What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?

Well, I will try to put that into words! The occasion-specific aspect here would be that Groove is dealing mainly with electronic music, so most of the music in the mix is made with the help of synths and sequencers, or pretending to do so. I knew since the beginning that the mix should be centred around the Frank Zappa piece. It’s this hyperactive composition with way too much information going on at the same time. I tried it myself but yet couldn’t exactly imagine how a crowd would dance to it, but somehow I could see this beeing played in some clubs—if not in this world, then at least in some sci-fi movie or, yeah, a video game. That’s the image I had in my mind: music for pixelated video games. For meeting the final boss. Also some (imaginary?) genres popped up: molecular funk, braindance, jazz from hell, boss-bop, re-spawn rumba. You get the idea … For sure this is rather a „special interest“ than a safe-bet mix, but I feel it’s coherent in its craziness. It’s my idea of how people back in the 1970s thought the future would sound like.

What are your plans for the future?

It was initially planned as a promotional thing for the Dur-Dur Band record, but I only recently started working on a second volume of the Au Revoir, Mogadishu series. In the end this mixtape took me longer than half a year of full immersion and because of all the work that went into it I am still thinking about how and when to best release it. But this for sure shall come out in 2024! I also want to finish a Spiritczualic Enhancement Center magnum opus that I have been working on for already more than three years. It is going to be an attempt at displaying what was going on when we experimented for two weeks in this immense industrial echo chamber in Brussels. We also started this new techno trio called Small Breakfast, with which we did a few sessions already. I hope that we will find the time to advance it even more and maybe start gigging with it in the coming year.

Stream: Çaykh – Groove Podcast 404 (Mit 100 km/h in den Kreisel)

01. Laurence Pike – Drum Chant
02. Wanlov the Kubolor – Annointed Teef
03. Doris Norton – Don’t Shoot At Animals
04. Frank Zappa – G-Spot Tornado
05. Logic System – Prophet
06. Charanjit Singh – Raga Lalit
07. Fetisch Park – Off Line
08. Siria – Canção da Mulher Cão
09. Haruomi Hosono – Hotel Malabar Upper Floor …Moving Triangle…
10. Charles Cohen – Sleedermauseman
11. Colored Music – Heartbeat
12. Moebius & Plank & Neumeier – Pitch Control
13. Herbie Hancock – Rain Dance
14. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Plastic Bamboo
15. The Missing Brazilians – Ace Of Wands
16. Meridian Brothers – Cumbia De La Amistad
17. Egberto Gismonti – Fazendo Arte

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