The ninth track on my SoundCloud Playlist is “Song for Immaculee” by Annie Karto.
This song is from Annie’s CD, “Refuge” released in 2009, and was inspired by the book, “Left to Tell” by Rwandan genocide survivor, Immaculee Illibagiza. Immaculee’s book recounts her experience during the atrocities in Rwanda in 1994 and was on the New York Times bestseller list for many months.
“Refuge” was the third of four CDs that I’ve produced for Annie. Around 10 or so years ago, Annie met Donna Cori Gibson at a Catholic music event, and because of my work with Donna’s music, I started producing Annie’s albums too. Since Annie lives in Florida, whenever we begin one of her CDs, there are usually a number of phone calls that involve Annie singing her new songs to me. I write down the melodies and any chords that Annie has in mind and then we discuss the instruments that might be involved in each arrangement.
For “Song For Immaculee,” Annie wanted there to be some African elements in the music because of what her song was about. Up to this point, I only had minimal experience with African music and didn’t have any authentic sounds or instruments to use, except for maybe an udu drum, so I started to research what was available. I ended up purchasing Spectrasonics’ “Heart of Africa” sample CDs, Volume 1 & Volume 2 and Native Instrument’s Kontakt sampler to play them in. “Heart of Africa” Volume 1 is described as “An unprecedented sonic expedition into the rich musical heritage of Africa… a fascinating compilation of strange & wonderful instruments, voices, and performances that evoke deep images & primitive emotions.” Volume 2 features “rare performances recorded live at a two week tribal competition in Kenya. Authentic choir and vocal shouts, chants and polyrhythmic percussion ensemble grooves from the Maasai, Kikuyu, Meru, Pokot, and Nandi peoples. A collection of powerfully primal and untamed tribal ensemble phrases and SFX…” These are amazing sounds and I’ve used them on every project I’ve worked on since!
When I first got the “Heart of Africa” CDs, I spent a few days exploring all of the different sounds in this incredible collection and began to program a track using as many African percussion sounds as I could for this song. Inspired by some of the African singing/chanting also included in the collection, I decided to incorporate some of these sounds into the end of Annie’s song to really bring the listener to Africa. There were a few that I tried to fit into my arrangement, but only one set of samples worked perfectly with the particular tempo and key I was dealing with. At 4:41 into the song, you can hear an African man singing followed by a group of people responding. I kept going with this call and response until the song faded out. To musically connect this African singing into the rest of the song, I used the melody that the African man sang in the string arrangement. Listen to the opening cello phrase in the song’s introduction. The cello is basically playing what the African man sang. This theme happens again in the violin at 1:30 and again in the cello at 2:46. Using this melody in the strings foreshadows the African vocals at the end of the song, so when they finally appear it somehow sounds like what they are singing belongs, musically. At least, that was my intention… Abe Appleman played the violin and Dave Eggar played the cello.
I also used some African ooh, oh and ahh samples in the background vocal arrangement and these were doubled by Victoria Faiella and Donna Cori Gibson. In the mix, there is more of an emphasis on the always very emotional and haunting sounding Victoria at 0:20 and 2:49. And the background vocals at 3:43 and after are mostly emphasizing stacks of Donna. Donna is great at singing multiple parts and doubling herself to create a very big sound. I recorded all of the instruments and vocals in my studio except for Donna’s parts which were recorded by Ken Fordyce at Mirror Sound in Seattle near where Donna lives. Whenever I send vocal parts to Donna to record I know that when I get the audio files, they will always be perfect…
In addition to programming the African sounds, I also played electric bass and synthesizers. To have some traditional and authentic live African percussion added to what I programmed, John Arrucci improvised parts with his Frikywa (grello bell) and Talking Drum. Peter Calo finger picked the acoustic guitars – Annie is first and foremost a folk music singer/songwriter, like a Joan Baez. The uplifting flute solo was performed by Eric Eaton.