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How MuRli and Elaine Mai brought an Irish house party to West Africa

Words: Dylan Murphy
Photography: George Voronov

This year, Jameson and All Together Now teamed up to curate The Circle. The immersive arena showcased some of the country’s most exciting acts and hosted an exclusive performance of a new track from MuRli and Elaine Mai. Ahead of the festival, the pair spoke to Dylan Murphy about the process of being brought together to create and leaving their expectations at the door in search of finding genuine connection.

Depending who you talk to, you’ll get vastly different opinions on modern day collaborations. On the one hand, listeners can sniff out ingenuity a mile away. The endless remixes of number one songs is just the latest in a long line of vacuous, market-researched approaches to game the system. However, when acts come together in a way that feels authentic, it often spawns innovation. Think of Killer Mike and EL-P; as solo artists they flirted with the mainstream working with acts like Outkast and Rage Against the Machine, respectively. But together they became leaders in their own lane and completely reimagined themselves without compromising what made them special. Moving out of your own comfort zone or pulling another person into your own orbit is ultimately what makes the most compelling collaborations. 

With this in mind, Jameson has intentionally been bringing artists together to collaborate and thread together what makes them unique without the frankensteined nonsense of the reality tv boy band era. In a move that made too much sense not to happen, they united Monjola and Biig Piig for a reworking of ‘Feels Right’ earlier this year. Last month, they brought together two artists who occupy different spaces; Narolane Records’ rapper MuRli and electronic producer Elaine Mai. With a Choice Prize under MuRli’s belt and Elaine boasting ten years experience in the field, there’s not only an obvious appeal for listeners but a mutual respect for each other. It’s not totally random either. MuRli dipped his toes in electronic rap when he combined with Kobina for their Ra Gerra project, but having never worked with Elaine there’s still plenty of room for something completely new. 

I had such a good feeling from the start. I’ll be honest, hearing the name MuRli was a huge draw for me.

Elaine Mai

“I had such a good feeling from the start. I’ll be honest, hearing the name MuRli was a huge draw for me, I always thought it was going to be interesting and I didn’t really have any trepidations”, Elaine says leaning back in her chair over zoom.  “I think working with an experienced artist like him, we could be open and honest with him, if something wasn’t working we could talk about it and change it.”

Nodding in agreement, MuRli continues saying “I mean, collaboration is something I very much enjoy – the challenge of it. It then turns into the joy of it. At first it is a challenge, you’re like ‘I don’t want to ruin this person’s style’ but at the same time you understand this is how music evolves, people from different backgrounds come together and you are keen to see what comes of it”.

“The Kobina thing was a great test for me because of the type of producer he is, it pushed me to go somewhere I wouldn’t have been able to go on my own individual projects. Going into this with Elaine, I was interested to see where she would go with it and vice versa.”

With a live performance of the song at All Together Now being part of the song’s origin story it’d be understandable to work with that in mind. However, right from the early conversations both agreed that going in with preconceived ideas, whether that be the genre or what would make it pop in the live arena best would derail a genuinely organic creative process.

“I think in the initial conversation, we didn’t want to think of the performance as a way to write the song”, MuRli explains. “Let’s not think of a song we can perform at All Together Now that will get the crowd moving, let’s just think of the song. Let’s do the song and think about the performance after… just think about the song and what brought the inspiration out of you. Stick to that. That’s how I was able to do what I did. It’s important to have those conversations. This is about the track and the collaboration and then the performance is the flip side of it.”

Collaboration is something I very much enjoy – the challenge of it then turns into the joy of it.

Murli

Likewise, despite MuRli having worked remotely on an electric-tinged collaborative record before, they were both determined to make this a singular process that would find its bearing without leaning heavily into previous experience. Working remotely meant conversing frequently, editing ideas and showcasing works in progress before returning to their own space to continue. Sure, it means you don’t have that same immediate back and forth often bred by long hours in a studio together but it does provide a unique scenario where they could swap stems and samples, go off and work separately and return with reimagined versions of their rough ideas.

“What I really like about it is the sample itself, it begins to sound different when you hear it with different sounds, synths and chords and you get a different feeling completely when you hear it isolated and I love that. It’s a bit surprising when you hear it in another context” she says enthusiastically.

MuRli had been chopping rare records from Burkina Faso that were released in the fifties and sixties and Elaine was tasked with building her trademark synths and progressions around them. Unsurprisingly, it’s hard for the duo to put their finger on the sound of their track.

“It’s progressive, but it also kind of feels like where things are going. Beyoncé just dropped a big house record and Drake just dropped a whole Afrohouse album. Hearing what is happening, especially on the Drake record where people were like ‘ugh this is so boring’ – That kind of attitude doesn’t allow you to go deep into the project and see the work underneath the surface. Because on the surface everyone is expecting Drake bars on this and he’s giving you soft melodies. But the thing is when you are in this culture, this is amazing, I love the fact an artist like him took the risk to go there with it. For me, what I’m doing on this song is not new, but it allowed me to go somewhere I could play with ideas and bring it to this”.

“If I have to describe it to someone, I would say, “you somehow find yourself in Togo in West Africa at a house party organised by Irish people”.

Watch the video for ‘Ready’ below:

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