Roxana Vilk, British/Iranian artist who works in music, film, TV, and live performance.

Sophie Wales catches up with Roxana Vilk, British/Iranian artist who works in music, film, TV, and live performance.  

We’ve been checking-in with jazz artists and musicians throughout the South to see how their lockdown experience has been, and how they’ve been adjusting to the new normal.

What was your first ever encounter with jazz? 

I grew up in Tehran, Iran, surrounded by lots of family. I lived with my siblings, parents, grandparents and my great grandmother all in one flat! We all loved dancing; most Iranians, generally love to sing, and dance. ALL THE TIME.

My Iranian grandfather Baba jun, LOVED music. He had a shiny record player and I have wonderful memories of dancing around to jazz records he would play. It was an incredibly inspiring time musically for jazz in Iran in the late 70’s, as musicians and bands were mixing eastern instruments and scales with western jazz motifs and creating crazily original sounds. True experimentation.

Pre-Revolution and pre-Iran/Iraq war it felt like anything was possible. Everything changed for the music scene after the 1979 Iranian Revolution of course, but that is another story…

Name a track you wish you’d written.

That is such a hard question, as I don’t wish to have written anyone else’s track really. I believe that inspiration for songs and ideas go to who it’s meant to go; I have a spiritual take on it…

But, in terms of how a track makes people feel it’s got be Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘Mustt Mustt’ (recorded at Real World in 1990). He starts off deep and low in his voice, getting you into the Qawwali hypnotic rhythms and then his voice opens up  and soars to the high notes, right up to the sky, the moon and the stars, and he takes you to that place of true magic. What a gift he had.

Who have you been listening to recently?

SO much! I’ve been getting really into switching off my phone and listening to the whole album by an artist, playing both sides of the vinyl and really immersing myself in the sound and storytelling of the album form.

The albums I have been getting into recently are ‘Chicago Waves’ by Carlos Nino and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson on the incredible International Anthem label; Melody Gardot’s ‘Currency of Man’; ‘Thunderbird’ Cassandra Wilson; Yussef Kamaal ‘Black Focus’; Anouar Brahem ‘Barzakh’…I could go on.

Favourite gig you’ve ever been to and why?

It was recently: our friends Dubioza Kolektiv when they played Bristol at The Fleece in February just before lockdown. Their live shows are insane! Their energy on stage is so infectious that the audience goes wild. Plus they use humour and wit in such a great way.

We know some of the band from just after the war finished in Bosnia. We were all working, playing music together and hanging out in Mostar and Sarajevo when we lived there. To see how far they have come since those tough post-war times, and how dedicated they are to their music journey is TRULY INSPIRATIONAL. I love them.

Any livestream concert recommendations? 

YES!!! ACT4music jazz concerts set up during lockdown by the brilliant music genius Anthony Tidd, (bass player and producer with Steve Coleman and The Roots).

ACT4Music is an artist-centric organisation, dedicated to the furthering of creative music and the uplift of the many musicians who contribute to this community.

We were lucky enough to play a gig for the festival curated by Eugene Skeef. There are literally hundreds of jazz concerts you can listen to through their website that showcase and celebrate jazz music from all over the world.

What advice do you have for fellow musicians adjusting to the current situation, and the new normal?

There is no doubt about it, this is a really tough time for all of us in our community.

I remember right at the beginning of lockdown, when everything came to a grinding halt, I applied to the Musicians Union hardship fund. When I got the email saying my application had been successful, I burst into tears.

It was such a relief to know that I wasn’t alone and there was a union and support system. Even though the fund wasn’t a huge amount, it was the fact that there was a union, and other organisations like Help Musicians and Jazz South there that I could reach out to and talk to.

My advice would be don’t suffer alone, even though most of us creatives are probably introverts at heart and crave the quiet time to be creative. This is also a vital time to reach out, join a union, talk to other musicians, create a dialogue and talk to loved ones about how you are really feeling. We will get through this together.

Have you been working on any new material recently?

Yes! I write music with my partner – drummer, guitarist and producer Peter Vilk, and together we have a new Vilk Collective album coming out in early 2021!!

What are your post-lockdown plans?

Get playing live gigs again and go dancing!

Our next ‘Catching Up With…’ will be posted on 21st October. Follow the series on our social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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