It’s time to meet Alma Negra. a Swizz collective that consists of four good friends. The brothers Dersu & Diego Figueira, Dario Rohrbach and last but not least Mario Robles.
All four of them are very passionate and open minded about music from all over the world and spend their time both digging for records and play them in clubs.
They also produce some of the most irresistible and energetic dance music out there. I just had to ask these fine gentlemen a few questions and also let you readers get a chance to know them a little bit more.
Ok, first off, I’m interested in knowing how and when you guys first met up. Did you know each other before you started to make music together as Alma Negra?
Mario: When I started to go out to clubs, Dario was already behind the decks a lot. I was kind of a groupie back then. After that I started to DJ in Basel with some friends in a different collective. At some point I was looking for a more eclectic way of DJing and I knew that Dario had a broad knowledge of many different genres, from disco, house, techno and broadening to world music. We met in 2012 and started to organise parties in a bar together (Lady Bar, Basel).
We called the party series “Tropical Cosmic” which basically still defines our range of music. The brothers Dersu and Diego worked in that bar back then where Dario and I wanted to throw some Tropical Cosmic Parties. From there on, the friendship and collective formed.
Dersu: I used to play at funk and soul parties in Basel but always played eclectic sets with afrobeat and salsa in the mix. The Alma Negra Project also consolidated my passion for a broad scoop of house and electronic music combined with latin jazz, funk & soul, lots of Brazilian, Cuban and African Music.
Dario: After learning to play percussion I progressed into Djing. Starting off with house and techno from the late 80’s and early 90s which I fell in love with and the rest is history… until the day Mario and I found our ways together to build up this beautiful project Alma Negra.
Being four persons, how would you describe your work process. Do you meet up and work together or do you send music between each other to work on ?
Mario: The work process is always a bit different. Sometimes someone shows up with an idea and someone else helps him developing the tune. Everyone has their strengths – from recording instruments such as congas or drums, to programing synths or arranging and mixing the tunes.
Dario: And sometimes we do everything together, but mostly we don’t have the time to sit all together so we contribute in a collective way enabling each of us to contribute our own flavor to rearrangement of tracks or mixdowns as Mario mentioned.
There’s no doubt there’s a lot of musical genres shared between you. Having all these influences between, would you say there’s a Alma Negra sound you’ve developed together?
Mario: Definetly! We played all-night-long sets the four of us together for two years regularly and that’s how we developed our very own concept of a night.
Everyone brings their influences and we are constantly challenging each other with new music we’ve discovered. At the beginning there was the very unique sound of Cape Verde (Dersu and Diego’s roots) that strongly defined our music.
Dario: Gong over the African Highlife sound or the islands sounds such as Haiti or Guadalupe have really enabled us to explore further than our original parameters. But finally also combing these „World music“ elements into the later hours of the night where the music can become more electronic with a more “housy, disco or techno” sound has facilitated the creation of – Alma Negra and thus the hallmark sound as we produce was born.
Could you perhaps mention one or two producers or groups that has been influential for your sound ?
Diego: its dificult to name a specific group or producers. There are so many diffrent sounds wich inspires me every day.
Dersu: In first case it where always different tradicional drum rhythms like Funana from Cabo Verde, Maloya from la Reunion, Gwo Ka and Rumba from the Caribbean. Osunlade and Joe Clausell inspired me a lot.
Dario: Growing up with playing percussions myself and joined a lot of home sessions, there was always the magic and spiritual side of things. I grew up with Santana and James Brown, Miles Davis, Otis Redding, Sun Ra and as a kid later found my way into the late disco sound, house and techno music which still inspires me a lot – as a lot of other stuff does and the feel of kinda fresh music. Back to house MAW (Masters at Work), Joe Claussell and Osunlade with his Yoruba Soul Music as well as Brother’s Vibe or later Ron Trent stuff really got me into this kinda world music influenced heavy rhythmed house sound even called tribal house at that time..as I would called it deep medi sound in house – its actually a very spiritual thang… But as Dersu precisley mentioned and lets say it shortly many diffrent rhythms from many diffrent cultures and countrys or islands inspire us very much!
ok, so you’ve mentioned a few of the producers that been around for a few years…Is there any of the more recent producers or groups that you find exciting & inspiring?
Mario: There are a lot of people out there that’s worth mentioning. James Stewart from Palmwine Records is a very promising DJ who also plays in several bands which are very nice. We also recently saw Awesome Tapes of Africa and his set was pretty heavy as well. Not to mention he was mixing with tapes a brilliant set. Max Graef & Glenn Astro and Africaine 808 have both impressed me with their albums this year.
Diego: Esa is a producer I like a lot. Love his way of producing with a lot of live recordings in Africa and Brazil.
Dario: hahahaha…what shall I say more – well maybe Totto Chiavettas album on Yoruba Records is missing on this list for me. He made a very good dance floor oriented bomb album actually..nice Job Totto! The whole Yoruba Soul Music is still growing and of course the brand new Mala Album on Brownswood – I really like Mala a lot! I do love all Honest Jon‘s stuff which is maybe not only ”new“ but they do a magnificant job as distributors for amazing music. I’m thankfull for everything what Esa does as I think I have to mention him again and the pretty hot Africaine 808 guys and the whole Sofrito Family – big respect, ya rulin’!
Speaking about Sofrito, how did you get connected?
Mario: Back then Dersu and Diego were introducing us the music of Cape Verde and when we did the first edit of Dionisio Maio, we just sent a mail to Hugo Mendez. From then on we’ve met and kept in contact and realised that we have a very similar concept of (club)music.
Dario: ..as we are all still working on today – to develope this kinda Tropical or Desert and Cosmic kinda very dance floor driven sound.
Besides Alma Negra you all are involved in other projects too, could you perhaps share some info on them?
Mario: I have several projects going on such as a label called “Fleeting Wax” which I run with Mehmet Aslan but Alma Negra has grown so much un the years it’s now impossible to work on too many projects.
Dersu: I am producing house under my own name. Up until now, I have had two releases in the past year and an Ep together with Dario which will come out on Drumpoet later this year. I produce jazzy deep house but the main project and the focus is the Alma Negra .
Diego: I am producing house aswell and work a lot with Dario and other producers.
Dario: Uff where shall I start (which I mean in the nicest possible way!). As mentioned earlier I have a very broad music range and style but under my artist name Dario Rohrbach I have a release on Drumpoet with Dersu and and also as a solo project. I am also in the last stages of an album for Yoruba Records and some other projects which I can’t reveal much about right now but watch this space!
Someone told me you’ve got a special project coming up called ”Digger’s Work Out”. Could you please tell a little bit about that and why you choose that name?
Mario: Well, we dig a lot (records) and some tunes sometimes could benefit positive from some adjustments ; Therefor we just feel the urge to remix a tune.
Our experience is that this is basically what happens when Djs that dig a lot put their hands on all this good music out there, which we think the world should hear!
With all these different projects you guys have going on, working together as Alma Negra, your solo projects, DJing at weekends, the quest for finding new music aka diggin – I guess one obvious question would be – what do you do to relax or chill?
Diego: I love good food and wine, travelling with my girlfriend, chilling on my balcony listening to jazz or soul.
Dersu: I love it to go for a walk in the countryside
Dario: I have a wonderfull 5 year old daughter hahahaha, yeah I know that’s not relaxing and chiling actually lol but a lot of fun! I love her very much! But you can always find time to relax even if it’s just for 15 minutes or an hour, if you can or maybe some schedules changed and you get spontaneous free time.. Definitely beeing on holidays as I am right now and having a very nice and good girlfriend is a true precious thing.
Could you please tell us a little bit about the mix you’ve provided for us?
Mario: In this mix we wanted to showcase some of our new tunes that’s soon out as a 3x 12inch series on Basic Fingers and then there are some of our favorite tunes we like to play at parties. As you can hear we always mix from house to tropical, but also funk and disco.
Dario: And lots of music from our friends, the music community we are part of and the Sofrito Family which provide an awesome platform to enrich the musical learning of those who want to hear something a bit different!
Dersu: It’s a wild mix of different sounds, such as music from Cabo Verde but also music from Sudan Mali, West African sounds and Afro Caribbean, influences that are on the EPs
Diego: It’s also a mix of our type of producing, which means with some tunes you can hear Dario, Mario, Dersu’s or my own influence. There’s also tracks everybody was working on separately which we bring to the table for discussion and input.
Digger’s Work Out series contains three parts with remixes from Esa & Santuri, Osunlade aka Yoruba Soul and Rainer Trueby & Corrado Bucci present TRUCCY. Part 1 with remix by Esa & Santuri is out now.
Interview by Tooli