It’s not often that an artist gets to collaborate with someone who has not only inspired them but is a living legend. Spanish artist, now UK based, Gizmo Varillas has done just that. On October 25th he released a new single titled ‘Saving Grace’ which features the legendary Tony Allen on drums. “Described by Brian Eno as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived”, Tony Allen was drummer and musical director for Fela Kuti‘s band Africa ’70, and has most recently been heard playing with Damon Albarn (Blur), Paul Simonon (The Clash), and Simon Tong (The Verve) as drummer for The Good, the Bad & the Queen.”
“‘Saving Grace’ takes us on a journey beginning with a distorted flute that rises into the driving rhythm guitars and then pulsates with Tony’s afrobeat drums. The journey moves swiftly along the narrative bassline while Gizmo’s softly worded story plays out along the horizon.” It’s a great track and I hope to hear more from Varillas in the new year.
We wanted to find out more about Gizmo Varillas so we asked him to pick the three albums that have influenced him and his music. Check out his picks below.
Ariel Ramirez – Jaime Torres Con Piano y Charango
Jaime Torres is a renowned Charango player from Argentina. This album showcases how powerful simple arrangements can be, it brings forward the incredible musicianship between Jaime Torres on Charango and Ariel Ramirez on piano. There’s a magical connection between both players, almost like a dialogue between them. Two musicians at the height of their careers in South America which sets the scene for an incredible album.
I have a very strong connection to South American culture even though I was born in Spain and was raised in UK. I’ve always loved to discover new music from across the globe. In my research for new music I stumbled across the Charango and fell in love with it ever since. Now I use it in my own music and it has become one of my favourite instruments!
Francis Bebey – Psychedelic Sanza (1982-1984)
Since I was a kid I’ve always had an appreciation for tribal culture, and so today I am passionate about indigenous instruments and their role in music. Even though I only just discovered Francis Bebey 2 years ago, it had a profound effect on me. It was his Psychedelic Sanza album which blew my mind at the time, it was something like I never heard before. It had very authentic roots that made it so pure and joyous. As the title suggests it also had somewhat of a psychedelic feel to it which is an unusual mix, but I really loved it as it was so different from everything else.
While writing my song ‘Out of the Darkness’, I got inspired by the pygmy flutes of Cameroon, which Bebey often uses. I became obsessed with the sound and called up music shops across London asking how I could get those flutes. Nobody really knew exactly but after a lot of research I found out that it was a single note flute and the special thing behind this instrument was how you play it. It’s all about the interaction between the player singing vocal melodies and playing the flute simultaneously.
Fela Kuti – The Best of The Black President
Fela Kuti and Tony Allen were both pioneers of Afrobeat, an incredible fusion of Nigerian Highlife with Jazz. And since I moved to London almost 10 years ago, I studied and admired these two legends. Fela was also a political activist that used his music to send out his message of unity to his people. He inspired me to question the role of the artist, should we only sing about our personal struggles or should we speak out about the injustices that happen around the world? Time and time again music has proven to be such a powerful tool to move masses and with that comes great responsibility.
I listened to The Best of The Black President album a lot this past decade, I love this album particularly as it is a homage to his best work. Now it is especially important to me because my dream collaboration came true when I met Fela Kuti’s musical director and drummer, Tony Allen. We went to RAK studios and recorded his incredible signature drumbeat on my song ‘Saving Grace’. After so many years of me admiring his work, I’ll never forget sharing that experience with a living legend.