In conversation with: Afrodeutsche

Aisling Kiely

Henrietta Smith-Rolla, aka Afrodeutsche, came into our studios to record some tracks for Kamali, a documentary film which has already scooped up an award for the ‘Best Short Film Documentary’ at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival.

Busy working on her new album, preparing for an upcoming tour with Marie Davidson, as well as running her own show on NTS Radio, we managed to squeeze into her hectic schedule and sit down for a quick chat.

So, Henrietta, you’ve recently been in our studios working on some new stuff, how did it go?

Yeah, really well. I’ve been working on ‘Kamali’, a documentary film, based in India, about a mother and her skater daughter. It’s literally just been released and it’s going to all the film festivals this year.

It was great to get into the studio and play around with native strings and some native piano stuff, too.

That’s answered one of my questions, actually. We’ve done a bit of research and your music is often described as ‘journeying deep into the world of film and theatre’. So, do you use your music to tell a narrative?

Yeah, almost always. It’s the only way I know how to write. For me, music and storytelling go hand in hand. The things I would listen to would generally help me process what was going on. So, I guess, I got into music because I needed to make sense of stuff.

The album I released last year is a direct translation of my mind at that time. And, you can kind of pick out what was going on with me at that time through the track titles. But, saying that, I also like to have a bit of a joke, so it’s not all serious.

Following on from here then, how did you get into producing music? Did you have any prior experience playing instruments or is it all self-taught?

Yeah, it’s all completely self-taught. But, I’ve been very lucky as every band I’ve ever been in have really nurtured me and showed me a lot of things.

I first discovered Ableton, in a practical sense, when I was in a band called Silver Club. The core part of the set ran through Ableton, so I learnt how to use it in a live sense. And, it was through the introduction into Ableton Live, I discovered I wanted to produce my own music.

And so, would you say you have some sort of a creative process when it comes to making music?

Yeah, I have a few different processes when it comes to writing. Most of the time, it’s an absolute purge of everything that is going on at that specific moment in time. Usually, I start with a melody such as; a B-line or strings, and then add drums depending on what I want to do.

But, I don’t think I have many boundaries. Everything becomes infinite and then I have to have a word with myself.

I guess it’s so easy to do. Do you consider the live performance side of things when you sit down to write a track?

Yeah definitely because you realise you only have two hands. After releasing my album, Break Before Make, I had to take the material and make it suitable for a live performance. Now, when I go to write, I think about the live performance much more.

By deconstructing the track at the beginning means it’s much easier to play live. I will often start with drums and a pattern, and then I come up with some synths and basslines to put over the top.

That’s a clever way of working. Whether you’re making music or performing live, what does your set-up look like?

I have an 8-track mixer, Focusrite Interface, Yamaha DX7 Synthesizer and Technics SX P30 Electric Stage Piano. I also use a Korg MicroKontrol, Novation X-Station, a Korg MS 2000, and a transistor amp from the 60s. I run stuff through the transistor amp to make it feel a bit more present and a bit more analogue.

It seems like your calendar is pretty jam-packed at the minute. We see you’re playing the Inner City Electronic festival in Leeds with the likes of Nina Kraviz and Josey Rebelle, next month.

Yeah. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also playing Sonar Festival, Dekmantal, Dimensions, as well as a few gigs across Europe supporting Marie Davidson on tour. And, I’m working on a new album and a few more releases.

And, that’s not it all. You also have your own show, Black Forest, on NTS Radio.

Yeah, that’s right. I got chatting to one of the guys who work at NTS when I was at The White Hotel in Salford. He asked me whether I wanted to trial a show, and at that point in my life, I was saying yes to everything that scared me.

I really didn’t want to speak on the radio, so I pre-recorded my voice and it kind of went from there. My first year at NTS was based around Blade Runner, so I was making tracks and edits out of Vangelis’ work and using them as samples and added in vocals. This year, my show is very much about the 90s and re visiting my teenage years. And, I’d say there’s a lot of Detroit influence.

Before you go, there’s one last thing. Seeing as it was Record Store Day a few weeks ago, what is your all-time favourite record?

Self-titled ‘Lego Feet’, definitely. It’s just so wonky and brilliant. The record has 4 parts to it, and it’s just everything I want from electronic music. It’s breaks-led so sits within the hip-hop realm, but it’s also drum machine based.

Melodically it’s brilliant to dance to, so I tend to play allot of it in my DJ sets.