exclusive interview with Aki Nawaz & Dave Watts of Fun^Da^Mental

note: unfortunately, the levels for this recording did not stay throughout the interview, so only a transcript is available, but thanks anyway Dave for the nice mic!

interview by dimmSummer
date: 06.01.02
painfully transcribed by dimm
print-hugger: print

ET: This is EthnoTechno's interview with Aki & Dave from Fun^Da^Mental and Nation Records....What does Fun^Da^Mental stand for?

AKI: [laughs]...Do you have four hours?

ET: [laughs] Give me the three-minute version.

AKI: Hmmmm... I'll give you the "Pop" version. Politically it stands for an uncompromising stance on fighting for people who've emigrated to different places around the world and contributed to society but don't have they right to dictate any of the cultural terms of what's acceptable or not... obviously we're fighting racism, fighting exploitation that continues to happen. Fighting the domination of this new empire called America which is trying to dominate the world... trying to reduce that, trying to challenge that. And the Economic Terrorism that goes on, just trying to confront that... there's just so many issues involved in Fun^Da^Mental... it's not to just sit there and say, 'well, our cultures are absolutely perfect and brilliant,' but the challenge out own cultures. The bigger picture has to be fought first.

ET: So that's what Fun^Da^Mental stands for, but what about Nation records and ultimately Aki Nawaz?

AKI: It think Aki stands for what Nation stands for. I'm not very good at changing characters. I understand the reality of business, but I also really respect the creative expression and importance of challenging political systems that are around. We seem to have an absence in the music scene of any sort of dissent. It's a challenge to get this kind of resistance to be accepted. There are ups and downs, there're are many aspects it, it's confusing, some of it's contradictory and hypocritical, but I'm aware of it all. That's what life's about.

ET: What makes Nation Records and uncompromising label?

AKI: If you look at the whole catalog you cant say that one record is a mirror of another record. Everybody's got their own style, their own expression. They're free. They don't have to play something which is acceptable to me. I realise that on some issues we're [Fun^Da^Mental] a lot more deeper that some of the other artists. It's good to see this diverse creative expression. Essentially I think that Nation has been a catalyst for a whole global fusion movement. And once again it's being done by, essentially, black people. And we need to point out that society in general tends to exploit black people and benefit while black people are still struggling away.

ET: How did you get your label started? Who funded it, and does all the money made have to go back into the label to keep it afloat?

AKI: Well, we went to a few record labels and talked to them about this new bhangra scene, and for some reason they just shut the door on us. So we managed to get some money from the bank and set up a label which was initially more of a conceptual label. The artists were a bit more easy-going about it, understanding that, 'here was a label that was trying to do something really creative and financially wasn't a cure.' Some of the artists have done well while others haven't done as well and if they done well then we haven't. It's more of a work of passion than a capitalist venture. But we know that there is a business acumen to it, and managing o survive for fourteen years doing very eclectic, bizarre. creative experimental music is a success of itself.

ET: Let's talk about Swami, one of the artists on your label. They have a new album coming out, yes?

AKI: Yeah, Swami [Simon & Diamond] work in a bizarre way because they were the producers of Apache Indian. And Diamond would go and usually work in the asian market only. And I always come across his records and play them as a DJ and see the response, and told him that 'look, we need to get this out to a wider audience outside the asian community.' So we just completed the album with some old tracks and new. It's amazing when you drop Swami, where ever you drop it, and it's one of the more accessible music on Nation, but when mainstream radio stations are concerned at least in England, they won't touch it.

DAVE: Yeah, it's sad: a few months ago there was this Afghan benefit in London at Fabric where bands like Daft Punk there, Massive Attack, Gorillaz... and then Swami went on. The place was just JUMPIN! Sweaty, hot, nasty affair. And were like, 'Look, it's working! It's working!' And still to this day, radio stations and producers are putting a cotton ball of cement into their ears when it comes to this kind of music... But the new albums done, and when people are ready for it they'll be ready for it.

ET: What's the difference between the old Swami and the new Swami?

AKI: I don't know if there is a difference (?). What he's doing he could've easily done five years ago. Theres's so much substance to his music, it's a shame that you cant put it all on one album. As far as difference goes, I think it'll always be fresh. That the idea is not a desperate idea.

ET: Let's talk about the sound of Fun^Da^Mental. Some people would classify it as dissonance, such as the track "Full Metal Tabla" and the new album, there's quite a bit of 'noise.' Why?

AKI: It's always in terms of experimentation. We're just doing what other bands find acceptable, whether it's Massive Attack, Bjork, or Atari Teenage Riot, we're just applying the same schematics to that. We were actually brought up in Punk, but I love the creative aspect and the freedoms like, 'Do what you want with it, but with respect and integrity intact.' I think that asian music or whatever music is experimental. People before us were doing it, Trilok [Gurtu] was doing it, Zakir Hussain was doing it, but ours it more club-based. When any normal white artist does it everyone goes crazy for it, so why can't they go crazy for it when some Afro-Caribbean does bizarre. experimental music? Sometimes it's for purely for creative reasons, and other times it's to test and challenge people's prejudices and stereotypes.

ET: How many people are in the live band?

DAVE: At the moment six. We've got a dhol player, classical Indian vocalist who also plays the violin and harmonium, bassist, tabla player, and others. We're also involved in collaborations with Zulu Nation who have 6-12 vocalists, so it's like a sound-clash in a sense. And we do work with Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwal, sort of intense fusion with different artists. It fluctuates, and that's the good thing about us, it's not a set piece, it's free-flowing.

ET: So it's kind of like Trans Global Underground where the next time around there will be new members, fresh perspectives...

AKI: -It's always been like that from the beginning. After the first split, Fun^Da^Mental became me and D as the anchor, and then bringing people in to experiment. We weren't concerned with the trivialities of the music business, the 'hit syndrome,' and the 'compromising syndrome.' We were just trying to interact with as many people as we could, doing something challenging and creative.

ET: You mentioned Fun^Da^Mental's initial split, did it have anything to do with your trip to Pakistan? Something happened there, what happened?

AKI: [laughing] I don't know! Still to this day I don't know what was going on to be honest.... basically there were accusations flying around, and six months after the split when we sorted everything out there still was no base for the accusations and people got paid off a bit money and ran off into their own little worlds, formed their own little bands... I think the difficulty for me was that I'd been doing this thing for many many years so I understand that once you prioritise money as the ambition for what you're doing you're really knocking on a door that's not going to open... it's eclectic music, you've really got to put a lot of passion into it and the rewards are not going to come as quickly as some people think they're going to come.

ET: We mentioned Trans Global Underground where some members went to form Temple of Sound, so you think that one group is now more talented than the other?

AKI: Naw, I think that a band is like a relationship, and people come and go. People have different aspirations and different needs. some people are more genuine and more passionate than others. It's like anything, like a job. You might go work at McDonald's one day and you realise how pathetic it is to works at McDonald's and decide to work at Burger King because it's less pathetic. It's no different than life: things change, things move, it's like relationships.

DAVE: Yeah, I was there during that first split, and i think some people were a bit naive as to what they expected in terms of finance and what not. And when I say naive, I'm not dissing them, we all came into this world at the same level, with no knowledge, as equals. So you gain certain knowledge, and it's really sad when they see the trappings of the entertainment industry. We're not entertainers, making money is not our main objective. I'm fine with where I am at the moment. We've all held fast, Aki's held fast, and the rewards are coming though, and they're not necessarily a financial one.

AKI: The burden of the concept of Fun^Da^Mental started to wear on people more than it did on others, and suddenly Fun^Da^Mental was big news in the media, but the media doesn't pay the bills, the media sell your records if you're really eclectic and weird. We weren't selling lots of records, but the media was all over us. We were almost like the next Sex Pistols in a sense, but on a smaller scale. Here were four asian guys putting two fingers up to society in general, confronting them with a lot of politics. And then people in rural villages see you and think, 'Wow, you must have big houses,' or, 'Why are you still driving around in your Volkswagen Beetle?' There's this misperception about the music business that everyone's rich, but there was no money to be had. Nation Records was vested in an idea that financially was not a good idea. But no other record label would do it, so Nation did it, and in the end Nation lost out, but we all lost out because it could've worked. It's like D says, I understand, and I'd be a fool not to understand somebody else's position. I can do with one pound fifty a day eating beans and rice but if they need money it's best to go do something that'll make you money.

ET: Do you think your audience has a firm grasp on Fun^Da^Mental's politics?

AKI: Entirely. But number one, I don't think we have fans because we don't work within that parameter. We're really dealing with a lot of complicated issues. Discussing something with a mass of people in real depth is a problem. Sound bytes are easy, but if you don't have time to discuss it, then you're just throwing things out into the public and they don't have any use for it. I've always been about provoking thought. And some people get confused by what we say, and that's part and parcel of being in this pathetic music industry. but it's the only thing that we know what to do at the moment.

ET: If you could drop a tab of acid into the heads of Western political structures, and for ten hours have their undivided attention, what would you say to them? Or would you just shoot them dead?

AKI: [answering seriously while Dave laughs in the background] I think that they have all been on some weird tab of acid for years now. I think the problem is that they are so ingrained in their own ignorance and arrogance that what they say should be acceptable and that their parameters are correct. They feel that they're more valued by where their parents came from as opposed to where our parents came from, they feel that they have the dominating role. I think you only engage with them to a certain level and after that if they still don't accept and respect what you say and don't do anything then it becomes a movement of resistance and a challenge.

America and European countries have an absolutely disgusting history and it seems they haven't learned from it and they are not resolving their past because of arrogance. And that arrogance will be challenged. And it has been challenged. September 11th: I'm sure the intellectual, academic scholarly world will say 'Maybe it was the biggest act of resistance ever, and America was building up into an empire. And empires have to be challenged. The methods used are always horrible, but the methods used by the empire are disgusting as well. It's a very complex issue, I don't know how deep you want to go into it, but for me, I know from history that empires are essentially evil and need to be challenged. And the challenge has begun.

DAVE: I don't think they need a tab of acid because they already know what they're doing. They already know what the reaction of the oppressed is going to be. That's why they have think tanks and committees to figure out all the scenarios and deal with the reaction. It's all a game to them. And we're not supposed to be here. According to them , we're supposed to be part of some group talking about the grass between our toes and our girlfriend and how great life is... but instead we're doing this and fighting an empire? Who are We? We're just individuals really. But that's what we need to start off with: Individuals. Look at history, we've had people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks doing their thing. And still to this day people aren't listing to serious people like Nelson Mandella, Desmond Tutu, and the list goes on and on and on. So, if those people can't make a difference, what the hell can we going to do?

AKI: Well some people are just being toyed with as well, so you have to go one step over that line, and that's what's happening. And as horrible as it is, it's got to happen. I'm not endorsing it, I'm just saying that this is going to be a reality if society and governments and institutions don't behave properly then they'll have to put up with the resistance, however horrific it is.

ET: Would you start an Osama Fund?

AKI: Osama Bin Laden? I think that if Osama's genuine then he's brilliant because he's no different than Che Guevara. The whole problem is the perception in the West that here's this guy that's one, black, and two he's a Muslim, and that's not acceptable as an icon of resistance. It's hypocrisy and a contradiction. Even Osama Bin Laden becomes a hypocrite from his cause, but so are governments. The bottom line is that this new sort of Imperialism, this dominating culture of capitalism, is not acceptable to the Middle East or Asia. There's nothing wrong with money, it's there, it's got a function, but if it's a priority at the expense of humanity and integrity, then all power to people like Bin Laden. Again, a big debate, and it may annoy some people, but so be it because we're being offended continuously. We cant sit here as people that are continuously perceived to be as immigrants and say that it doesn't matter what goes on where you parents came from. It does, and it will arrive in your psyche someday, hopefully sooner than later.

ET: What does the "Last Gospel" mean to you? Is there any sort of impending doom you foresee? The end of the world?

AKI: Well, musically it's a very limited idea but it's to draw attention to the connection between gospel music and qawwali music. And then you can go into deeper, into what they're singing about. A lot of these quwwalis and gospels are based on the same things, the people that we forget that were the real heroes. Prophets and saints who had power in their hands to have big palaces and to dwell in that world of luxury, but they didn't. And to me they're the real heroes. They didn't become hypocrites and contradict what their whole substance was about. Jesus was great resistance fighter. I don't thin Osama Bin Laden is in that sense, but to me he's just another resistance fighter, and I don't think that he's got this ill-conceived myth-of-a-motive that he wants to make the whole world Islamic and make everyone Muslim. That's just all rubbish, and it cant happen anyway. While the Muslim countries are being dominated by governments that have no kind of decency, then it's pretty obvious that you're going to have people from the streets fighting that.

ET: So, does the future look bright, dark? And a s final question, why don't you smile that much?

AKI: Someone else said that to me yesterday. i don't' know, I was tired. I think the future looks extrememly bleak. And out of that will come some really good, positive things. I think it has to happen that way. We cant carry on the way it's going on. America cant carry on the way it's going on. The biggest excuse this new empires's got is that it's a Muslim. What are they going to do when it's some European movement that sets up and does the same thing? How are they going to respond to that... ?