Orchestra Gold is an amazingly grooving band that fuses psychedelic Malian rock, mostly from the “Golden Era” of music in Mali from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and Malian folk songs with American psychedelic rock and funk. The result is a unique sound that, when heard, is hard to keep from dancing to.
BW snagged an email interview with Orchestra Gold’s lead singer Mariam Diakite and guitarist Erich Huffaker to find out how the band formed, what music they’re working on currently and what people can expect at the upcoming show at Treefort. People can also get more information on the show times at treefortmusicfest.com and the band at orchestragold.com.
For those unfamiliar with Orchestra Gold can you please explain how the band came together and the current members?
Erich: Orchestra Gold formed out of the partnership between Mariam Diakite (lead singer, dancer) and myself, Erich Huffaker (the guitarist). We became friends in 2006 in Bamako’s burgeoning local music scene, while I was working for a non-profit, and studying djembe and dunun [drums.] Over the years, we started writing music together. It came together one fateful day when I arrived at Mariam’s house with my guitar and we played LEMURU. Based on that really profound musical connection, we then decided it was time to take the next steps and put a band together!
Mariam: After that, we started working on getting my papers to go to the US. It was a slow process, but luck and divine order was on our side. Even though everyone was telling us it was impossible to get to the US under the Trump administration, my case was approved and I relocated to the Bay Area in 2018. We put together the band with other musicians from Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco. Our music from Mali is not easy and it was not simple to find musicians who can play the styles and rhythms. We have been very lucky to have found some amazing people to work with: Luis Andrade on Saxophone, Aaron Kierbel on Drums,Yousef Javier on Bass and my friend Moussa Camara who is also from Bamako.
The sound of the Orchestra is described as “groovy psychedelic rock from Mali,” but the sound is also modern. How do you combine the two?
Mariam: When we started, we played lots of cover songs. Now, we are focusing on our own creations. Erich and I write the songs together. I bring songs I write, and songs from our folklore, and Erich fuses his knowledge of Malian music to get her with the things he likes. On the Malian music side, I love old music, whether it’s from the Bambara, Malinke or Bobo peoples. The music of the 60’s and 70’s (Mali’s Golden Era) had lots of deep songs that fused ancient wisdom with the “modern” sounds of that day. Our music is somewhere in between that, and American music.
Erich: Speaking of the American music, I really love psychedelic rock, and funk. Sonically, we are very inspired by the older, raw vintage sounds of tube amps and tapes. We love minor melodies. We love driving rhythms. Check out our latest track WAY OF THE WORLD. It’s based on “House of the Rising Sun,” but shows how we bring these two things together.
What is the most important thing you’re trying to convey with the music?
Mariam: Music really is my medicine. When I am sad, it makes me happy. Lots of the music from Mali in the 60’s was about uplifting people. The words from that era speak advice, wisdom and tell stories that are meant to help us view the mystery of life from many different lenses. We believe music is about healing people, whether they know it or not. Erich put together a collection of that music you can check out: Mali Gold Radio.
You are playing Treefort — what can people expect from the show?
Erich: You will move!!!! Rhythmically, lots of our music is “swung”. It’s not straight. There’s a way in which the “feels” in the music propel us to dance, losing ourselves and moving things through our bodies without us even knowing. Mariam actually has an online school where she teaches the dances, songs and rhythms of Mali: MALIAN DANCE FOR EVERYBODY.
On your website there’s something called “The Vault” can you please explain what it is?
Erich: We found our fans want to feel a connection with us throughout the entire creative process. But, going through the traditional channels can inhibit that. For example, it takes a long time to record, mix and release music on streaming platforms. The VAULT solves this problem. It provides a way for our fans to share in the creative journey with us — from start to finish. All of our best music, videos, lyrics and stories get published in the VAULT. Rough demos, promo clips, artwork- it all goes in the VAULT! Similar to Patreon, there is a sliding scale monthly payment to be a member. You can get access for as little as $4 a month: the VAULT!
What can people expect from the Orchestra in the future, new music, etc.?
Erich: We’ve got a ton of amazing music we’ll be releasing over the next year. It will all be going to the VAULT first! Then slowly to the other platforms. In addition, we will have a special edition vinyl for sale later this year or early next year.