Who thought that the flute is old-fashioned, boring and above all a stupid instrument has never heard the music of Jowan Merckx, the mastermind behind the Belgian folk group Amorroma! This year the group celebrates their 15th birthday! You can read the story of Amorroma throughout this interview.
Jowan, 15 years ago your first CD “Op voyage” came out. (You’ve mentioned in a previous interview that it is, sadly, no longer available. Damn!) How do you reflect on that time? Has much changed since then?
It was both a tough and beautiful period.
Beautiful because several things were starting to take shape. For some time then, there was a fermentation of many musical ideas inside my mind, and I was meeting the right musicians to start working out some pieces. I’m thinking of Gregory Jolivet, Didier Laloy, Vincent Noiret, Philip Masure… A time of inspiring meetings.
But also a tough time; making hard decisions, taking financial risks…. Close your eyes and take a leap… “The blind diver” is the name of one of the songs on the album “Op voyage”.
I think these risks are part of the life of an artist. This, sadly, has not changed much with time. I feel, now more than ever, that we are far removed from recognition of artistry as a legitimate profession. But this is a different and very long story, so let’s not get into it too far now.
Was it hard to find the right musicians for that first album? How did you know what instruments you needed?
Luckily, it was more about “meeting” the right people rather than “finding” them. A bit of luck is also involved… destiny or coincidence? I believe in both.
The choice of instruments happened intuitively. The colours of the different sounds are important of course, but I think it mostly depends on the musician who’s playing more than the instrument itself.
How did the recordings go then? Did the musician “get” the essence of your music immediately?
Yes, and that was the beauty of it, the chemistry… Being lucky, like I mentioned previously.
I know exactly what I do or do not want, which helps to map out the correct course. And the individual talents of each musician greatly added to the whole. In the end you can only build on the material you have and with these musicians that was quite a lot.
After the first record, you had to start searching for a new musician, with Gwenaël moving. How did this search go? Because replacing a bandoneon player is not so easy.
Coincidences again. I was just asked to play in a Walloon band where I met Dirk Naessens. And I heard Rheidun play in a street in Namen.
The violin and the harp have long been some of my favourite instruments and I greatly enjoyed the way Dirk and Rheidun played them.
In this new line-up, you released two albums: “Carduelis” (2003, WBM 21045) (also no longer available) and “Balance” (2006, Triskel 200601b). (That last one is the first one I have of you and I literally played it to pieces.) How much did the difference in composition also lead to a difference in music?
It was amazing to finally have a consistent group. It is (still) a dear wish of mine to rehearse weekly with a group of dedicated musicians. Who knows, it just might happen someday.
This line-up of Amorroma closely resembled this dream. With people discovering their part in a band leading to an organic higher whole. Diverse talents coming together and stimulating each other.
A great time, with many thanks to Bart van Reeth en Vincent Noiret.
For the CD “Balance” you invited the cream of the folk world to help record a DVD. How did these recordings go and how did you get the idea for a DVD? (At the time, I discovered the beauty of the folk world through dancing lessons in Leuven. That DVD has given our group of dancers much motivation to continue with this!)
That is nice to hear.
But credit goes to Vincent Noiret, who came up with the plan and worked the whole thing out. He coordinated the entire crew and staff etc…
So I suggest you talk to him about this.
Your interest in the history of the Cathars lead in 2006 to a new album: “Les Tisserands” (2006, Home records 4446017). What’s the importance of it to you personally?
More than I could ever say.
Of all the albums, I consider this one to be my legacy. The instruments, the musicians, the colour of the music, the sound… and the theme of course… a theme on which we can’t dwell here in this interview… It would take weeks! But the history of the Cathars (“The Good Men” (Les Bonhommes in French) as they were called back then) is, in my opinion, of immeasurable importance to our entire western culture and history. A blossoming period with a tragic end.
2008 has been a rough year for you in regards to the group. How do you reflect on those troubled times?
To me, it was the year of the divorce. That is what the splitting of the band meant to me and also the period before and after that. The pain still remains.
It was also the year of reflection desperation, contemplation, tossing and turning, acceptance and finally looking ahead.
Afterwards you met the British Harpist Sarah Ridy, and ever since, the wind is at your sails with Amorroma! The CD “ CD “La-bas dans ces Vallons” (2010, MAWOCD 2001) is proof of that.
Wind at our sails really is a euphemism. Musically speaking I have found a kindred spirit in Sarah, but that doesn’t mean we are getting concerts and/or balls. That frustrating aspect of a duo/group is a heavy burden to bear. But yes, in the harp-playing of Sarah, I found the dream accompaniment for my flute melodies. On that regard, I count myself to be very lucky indeed.
Besides Sarah, Vincent Noiret played again. How did this come about? (Vincent also played on the first recording.)
Vincent never really left. He’s a true companion de route. An engaged musician with inspiring ideas, and a safe harbour in the storm.
Also a first on this album is the special voice of Elly Aerden. What was your motivation for this addition?
Apart from the fact she is very pleasant company, I love her style of singing and find that it fits perfectly with the harp and flute. She has an almost instrumental way of singing, and yet, she makes you listen to the words. She sings with passion but without drama.
In record time, you made the record “Carrousel” (2011, ISM 11001), a three part album. How did you manage this?
Good question, I don’t recall… repressed memories certainly? At least with blood, sweat, and tears. Carried and supported by the sheer joy of playing of course. But I won’t be doing that again.
The very next year there was already a new album for sale, “Chants d’Armour et de Mort en Wallonie”. A set with traditional Walloon songs. Where did the inspiration for this project come from?
Vincent Grégoire proposed to work on several songs from the Walloon repertoire he knew from old books, recordings, or that he learned in Liège from the people there.
I spent quite some time with all the preparations, added melodies, and arrangements. I’m happy with the result and find it sad that it received little attention in both Wallonia and Flanders.
In 2014 I had the opportunity to interview you in response to your latest record “Merci Jules” (2014, ISM). I’m going to refer to this interview for more information.
(The link to the Dutch version of the interview, it will be translated in English soon!)
Finally, one last question: how are you looking forward to celebrate this festive year?
Most of all, I’m looking forward to playing together with a beautiful group of musicians. The atmosphere is nice, both within as outside the music.
Furthermore, I hope for the musicians, the audiences, and myself that there will be many gigs for us. Anyway, for those interested; call Aurélie at 0474/84.51.77
PS: Are there any CD’s of “Balance” still for sale? ;) )
For “Balance” I’d check with Vincent Noiret or at Triskell records.