Folksters The Melodic are causing a stir brilliantly fusing the South American rhythms with, er, British Indie pop, writes Tim Hughes
South London is perhaps not the first place you’d expect to come across a band playing the folk melodies of the Andes. Bolivia, sure; but Brixton?
Trading under the singularly well-suited name The Melodic, Rudi Schmidt and his bunch of boundary-crunching folksters are doing something utterly fresh. Fusing the rhythms of South America and Africa with good old British indie-pop, Rudi and fellow founding member, and former schoolmate, Huw Williams are grabbing the folk-pop baton from the likes of Mumford & Sons, and running ahead with a turbo-charged blast of feel-good tropical sunshine.
It’s a sound which is tailor-made for the summer, and which is going down well all over the place. Their reputation as an engaging live spectacle has seen them supporting acts as diverse as Saharan Tuareg band Tinariwen and fresh-faced Londoners Bombay Bicycle Club.
Tonight (Friday) they share the stage at William Osler House, Oxford, with another bunch of cultural cross-pollinators: the Zulu-inspired Count Drachma, fronted by Oli Steadman from Oxford folk-rockers Stornoway.
“It’s hard to describe what we do,” says Rudi, talking from his home in Peckham – a place as far removed from the pristine peaks of the Andes as it’s possible to get.
“We usually say it’s Afro-folk-pop with a Latin twist. Someone flatteringly described it as sounding like (Talking Heads frontman) David Byrne and (Jamaican reggae producer and melodica player) Augustus Pablo fronting an Andean folk band. We have all of those influences.”
That Latin twist comes from Rudi’s championing of the charango – a short South American lute.
“I started playing it before I got into Andean music,” he says. “I got more and more into the music though, and eventually travelled to South America to learn about it. There was something about Andean music that spoke to me. It is uniquely beautiful melodic music which harnesses a native element while also including Spanish baroque and African music.
“It’s not that popular because people associate it with embarassing busking bands. But we don’t have pan pipes. I think that might be taking it too far. We are hinting at it without shouting it.
He went to Bolivia, where he studied with legendary ‘charanguista’ Ernesto Cavour Chile. He also became inspired by Latin America’s turbulent political past and resistance heroes, such as the rebel guitarist Victor Jara, whose hand’s were symbolically broken by soldiers loyal to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and then murdered.
It’s not just the charango that sets them apart from the usual indie-folk offering, however. They are also keen on the melodica and even the kora – an elaborate West African string instrument, similar to a harp. That exoticism is layered over a love of homegrown dub reggae, dance music and earlier 2 Tone pop by the likes of The Specials.
“We never thought about the kind of music we were making, we just made it,” says Rudi.
“Growing up in London, where there is lots of diversity and openness, we listened to lots of different music. In Brixton we were exposed to reggae, which is still a huge influence, even if it’s not explicit. Ours is a post-internet sound which reflects the fact that people can listen to music from anywhere in the world – even contemporary underground music.”
Their album Effra Parade is as much a homage to world music as it is to Rudi and Huw’s Brixton roots (the area is home to Effra Road and the popular Effra Hall Tavern).
“In our songwriting we don’t really do the ‘boy meets girl’ thing, apart from the song Piece Me Back Together which was written in jest.
“Love songs can get to be a bit formulaic. It’s important to diversify your subject material – which I think we do.”
The Melodic play William Osler House, Headington, Oxford, tonight (Friday) - not Freud's as originally advertised. Support comes from Oxford’s Zulu-inspired Count Drachma.
Tickets £10 from tigmus.com (or £14 on the door)