Kamal Rasool of the hypnotic and diverse Flamingods talks inspiration, deportation and cultural appropriation.
Words by Hannah Robinson
Reading time: 5 minute
The “Exotic Psychedelia” of Bahraini/English FLAMINGODS is that rare kind of music that really doesn’t sound like anything else. Kamal Rasool began the project in 2009, motivated by a "dissatisfaction with making indie rock music". His childhood friends from Bahrain got on board and spent the next year jamming it out, culminating in an epic five-hour session at ATP. "It was kind of life affirming, it’s was like, OK this is the sound I want to make from now on."
Alongside Kamal are Sam Rowe, Charles Prest, Karthik Poduval and Craig Doport. Between them they have English, Welsh, Indian, Nigerian, Jamaican, Bahraini and Turkish roots. "None of us in the band are from one place alone, which I think is part of why we sound the way we do...you really have this massive spread of different cultures within the band by proxy, just because of where we’re from, and a lot of the time we’re trying to channel the kind of music our ancestors would make, or getting influenced by the stories from our different cultures and trying to put that into music."
Traditional folk from places such as Nepal, Bali and Bahrain tangle up with modern influences from the likes of Boredoms and Sun City Girls. Travel and a shared love hoarding traditional instruments also helped develop their globe-spanning sound. Favourite acquisitions include their Thai Phin guitar, Japanese Taishogoto and Indonesian Gamelan, which they’ve learnt mainly through trial, error and intuition. "There’s something more exciting to us with seeking out anything we could kind of get our mitts on, and trying to see what weird music we can make with that."
Kamal’s international background made recording breakout sophomore album Hyperborea rather complicated. "It was not ideal. It was done out of necessity, I’d say, because around the same time they changed the UK visa laws and I had to relocate to Bahrain, and after that ended up moving to Dubai. We didn’t really have the luxury of being together, recording it in a room or even coming up with all the ideas together in a room. We had to come up with a new form of making our music if we wanted to continue the band."
Though the act of recording an entire album while thousands of miles apart was often arduous, the process created a rich, multi-layered record. "We were literally sending logic files, and someone would add a layer and then send it back…it was a really bizarre way of doing something but it definitely had its own merit and produced a sound we were all pretty proud of."
2016’s Majesty was partly made this way, with some demos recorded remotely before getting together in London. A concept album, it tells the story of Yuka, a semi-fictionalised explorer whose story is peppered with their collective life experiences. They were inspired by odyssey stories; movies like Holy Mountain and Fantastic Planet, as well as travel journals from 18th and 19th century explorers. "There was a bit of a sad story to Hyperborea, and for this one it was more about searching for greatness and not being bogged down by what life deals you."
Magnetic lead single Rhama tells the story of "someone feeling disconnected from their culture and searching to come to terms with it." The themes are explored in its mesmerising video, following a league of migrant wrestlers called Kushti that Kamal had tracked down while living in one of Dubai Pakistani neighbourhoods. "It’s a nice, real portrayal of a side of Dubai that doesn’t get talked about…it’s bursting with so much culture from the people that actually built the place."
Kamal sees it as their mission to get people "inspired by different stuff from around the world rather than just sticking to Western music and nothing else." He’s frustrated with seeing peers shy away from exploring other cultures in their music, for fear of being called out for cultural appropriation.
"I think it’s a damn shame...The Beatles were listening to loads of Indian music and travelling there and picking up instruments. The Doors were deeply obsessed with Native American music. I think we have a loss of that in current music, where there's a lot less of it because people are so afraid of connecting the dots between these cultures."
Though their diverse backgrounds make them less of a target, it’s a topic that comes up again and again. "It’s kind of turning into this obscene subject where people aren’t seeing the other side of it." I ask him where the line between influence and appropriation lies.
"When you're using it to progress yourself in a kind of fashionable way, I think that’s when you’re in the territory where it’s not really right. But if you’re someone like Steve Reich whose influenced by Gamelan and put that into his music, or someone like Don Cherry or Sun Ra, I think that's the line where you’re actually doing good by showing these correlations between different cultures and how beautiful it can be when you put these influences of music together."
And it goes both ways "...some of my favourite music is music from the East that has been influenced by music from the West...in the 60’s and 70’s there were pockets of psychedelic rock scenes happening all over the world, and it’s amazing delving back into that." From the Turkish Psych of Erkin Koray, Barış Manço, and Edip Akbayram, to Ravi Shankar in India "it was pretty much worldwide, and that's probably the sound we’re most influenced by, that kind of sweet spot of mixing Western and Eastern instrumentations together to try create a new sound. It’s not a new thing, it’s something that’s been going on for a very long time, but people have seem to have forgotten about it."
So what’s next for music's accidental digital nomads? Touring mainly, with dates booked well into next summer. Flamingod’s live shows are gaining notoriety for their dizzying, euphoric sets. "There’s a kind of spiritual, psychedelic vibe to our recordings but live it’s really intense...we take all our songs from the records and kind of turn them on their heads, add new bits to them and expand them, just because we think it’s more fun that way."
The experience of gigging and travelling has evidently strengthened their ethos.
"The more we tour around and visit all these cities in these beautiful countries, the more we see all these correlations and how similar all these cultures are, in a beautiful way." After that there is the next album, which they hope to write on the road and record together in Karthik’s cultural homeland of Kerala, India. It seems that for the band that couldn’t be in the same place, things are really coming together.