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Q&A/Music

Music’s wide horizon

12 February 2021

Michael Pignéguy’s musical influences range from symphonic to soul, but in his new album with The Awakenings Ensemble he is looking east.

Michael Pignéguy’s composing and drumming has always had a broad palette but since returning from ten years in the middle east his music has taken on an even more exotic flavour. The new sounds have been simmering away in his group The Awakenings Ensemble, resulting in a double album Duality which will be launched next month at the Duke of George. Michael shares with Rosalind Appleby some of the tasty morsels we can expect to hear.

Rosalind Appleby: Your musical curiosity as a drummer and composer ranges from symphonic to soul and has inspired your travels around the world including a decade in Doha, Qatar. Some of these diverse musical ideas are coming together in your world/soul/funk ensemble The Awakenings. How did this group come about?

Michael Pignéguy: The Awakenings Ensemble was formed as a result of my desire to try and fuse jazz, funk and world music influences while highlighting the use of contemporary production techniques. After my move to the Middle East I was particularly inspired by the rhythms present in Oriental music or what we might refer to as Arab musical styles. I was lucky to be working alongside amazing musicians from Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon and was inspired to incorporate some the sounds I was hearing into a new group which ended up being The Awakenings Ensemble.

The Awakenings Ensemble perform at The Rechabite. Photo supplied

RA: Duality is the second full album from The Awakenings (the first album Speak was released in 2011). What kind of sound world can we expect from the group in this new studio double album?

MP: The move back to Australia, and my interaction with artists here has resulted in a further development of the group’s sound, particularly in regard to vocal collaborations. This is actually part of the reason the album is a double CD with the full title being  DUALITY Introspections and Collaborations. Disk one is almost completely instrumental, with more obvious world music influences, while disk two features collaborations with vocalists from Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. We were lucky to be able to do a showcase of a lot of the group’s new music at The Rechabite back in September last year and it was only then that I realised the album would need to be structured like this – it did also mean that more material would have to be written and recorded! It has also resulted in the opportunity to include two remastered versions of less recent collaborations, one with Perth vocalist Aysha Amani. It’s worth mentioning that I hope that the vocal tracks really see the identity of the singers shine through and in that setting myself and the group act a little more like a conduit for the combined musical identity of the artists involved.

RA: Your background is jazz (including a jazz degree at WAAPA). What is the appeal of Arabic music for you, and how has it shaped your playing and composing?

MP: It was the great grooves and the transparency of the texture of the music which caught my ear when I was first exposed to it. I also soon learned that improvisation was an important skill for Arab musicians to possess and so there was a natural connection with the jazz skills I possessed. For this album, there are less obvious Arab musical influences however one of the tracks features an incredible Tabla player by the name of Bobby Singh while another includes incredible Pakistani vocalist Nadeem Abbas. Ney flute is also featured on the track with Asyha, played by good friend of mine from Tunisia called Yassine Ayari.

RA: The album launch next month at the Duke of George features artists including Sophie Foster, Brodie Stewart, Peter Jeavons, Kristian Borring, Ricki Malet and Jeremy Greig. What do you hope listeners will experience at the launch and from listening to the album?

MP: I think infectious rhythm is a cornerstone of the group’s sound so I really hope audience members will be caught up in the energy that group is transmitting through the grooves that are featured in the new tracks.  I really like to make live shows a varied journey for both the musicians and listeners alike and I feel that due to the variety of instrumental and vocal music included across the two parts of the album that will definitely occur!

RA: The Awakenings Ensemble has an international focus and often features cross-cultural collaboration. In 2019 (pre-pandemic) The Ensemble performed at Jazz In July (Singapore), the Melbourne International Jazz Festival & Vivid Sydney. How are you managing to maintain this fresh and eclectic approach since the pandemic shut down international travel?

MP: I have been collaborating long distance with artists for quite some time, so I feel like I was able to put that previous experience to good use when the pandemic hit last year! However, I am really looking forward to things opening back up again! It would be fantastic to be able to plan national and Asia based shows in the near future as there are so many fantastic musicians that I’m looking forward to performing the new material with (both those featured on the album and other previous collaborators).

RA: What is coming up next for you? Will you be staying in Perth?

MP: I’m looking forward to being based in Perth but hopefully with regular opportunities to perform and collaborate, both in and outside the context of The Awakenings Ensemble. There are so many fantastic artists here and I do think there has been an increase in state-based performance opportunities due to the pandemic. Hopefully these will continue to grow!

The Awakenings Ensemble launch their new album 7:00pm 13 March 2021, at The Duke of George.

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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