Visiting India for the first time to perform at the Ziro Festival of Music, Emilie Hanak from the French folk band, Yelli Yelli, says that her music is the mirror of her family’s story. Drawing from the Algerian folk music traditions of Kabylie, Hanak explores themes of exile and nostalgia through her music, translating far-away melancholic sounds from her imagination, crossing many boundaries. Her second album La violence est mécanique was launched in April 2021.
In an email interview, she tells Anupam Chakravartty about her musical influences and her creative process.
Tell us a little bit about your musical journey. Who are your most important musical influences? How did music start for you?
My musical influences draw heavily on my Mediterranean/Berber ancestry. During the last years I went through a musical voyage that crossed multiple frontiers, from the Anglo-American folk registers to traditional Berber music I used to listen to at home when I was a child. I started making songs when I was 17 or 18. I’ve always been around music. I have three brothers, all musicians. It’s funny because none of our parents or close family was really into music.
Tell us more about the musical traditions that Yelli Yelli has been attached with.
My mother is from Algeria, precisely Kabylie. But I grew up in France, with no real connection to my Berber roots. The only things that reminded me of them was the music we listened to, and the food my mum prepared for us. As a grown up I remembered clearly the strong effect traditional Berber music had on me. With my work, I try to explain and translate the melancholy of a far away, imaginary world that I have always missed somehow. In sounds: hypnotic guitars, rolling rhythms, chanted words, repeated like magic prayers.
Exile is an important theme of your works as you have stated in your Bandcamp profile. Please tell us how it influences your music and creativity.
My parents and great grandparents come from other countries than France. My sounds are a homage and a dialogue to the memory of my ancestors. Some of whom were forced into economic migration. For a long time I felt far away from these people, their stories. Today, I feel like I sing for them, or moreover they sing through me.
How do you overcome creative challenges of being tethered to diverse cultures?
Being tethered to diverse cultures is treasurable. My music is the mirror of my family’s story: it explores the feelings associated with exile, movement, loss and nostalgia.
Yelli Yelli will be performing at 4:00 PM on September 30 at the Signature Danyi Stage, Ziro Festival of Music, Arunachal Pradesh. In Delhi, they will be performing at Depot 48 on September 27 and at Freemason’s Brewworks in Guwahati on October 1. Their India tour has been made possible with the support of Institut Français India.
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