Remixing with a touch of spice

Composer, musician, founder of a jazz band and the producer of Loreena McKennitt, Brian Hughes knows Greece pretty well. Marking his first visit to Greece was McKennitt’s appearance at the Lycabettus Theater a few years ago. This was followed by further visits in order to collaborate with Greek composer Evanthia Reboutsika, with Hughes adding his personal touch to three of her albums, including «Asteri kai Efchi» and «Mikres Istories.» Their most recent collaboration was on «A Touch of Spice,» where Reboutsika’s original score for Tassos Boulmetis’s film was remixed by Hughes. Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Hughes began focusing on music in 1980, studying guitar at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. Following work experience as a studio musician for «Sesame Street» recordings, he returned to Canada in 1987 and spent the next two years touring with McKennitt. Success came in 1990 with the release of his debut album «Between Dusk and Dreaming,» followed by more albums. Recently, Hughes spoke to Kathimerini about his multifaceted activities. «In a way all these activities are a combination of myself,» he said. «Of course, what matters to me most of all is writing my music and playing concerts. Nevertheless, my collaboration with other artists, participating in the creative process, is interesting. In a certain way, these collaborations fuel my own work. You work in jazz but at the same time you also produce Loreena McKennitt’s music, which is not part of the jazz world. This double existence has to do with my background, which is Welsh-Irish. I was raised on rock’n’roll and slowly this turned into an interest in jazz sounds. When I met Loreena, I knew what tradition she was coming from, as I also knew that her musicians came from the world of jazz. It’s not just about Charlie Parker’s or Louis Armstrong’s schools but about a school of musicians trained in improvisation. What do you find moving about being a producer? To me it is a process that helps the artist to realize this dream. The producer makes way for the artist, so that the latter may realize what he has achieved and which way he has to go to reach the desired result. This has nothing to do, however, with me imposing my knowledge or my own musical style but rather with making it easier for the artist to reach his final goal. In the last few years, the role of the producer has been upgraded. What is it like to be the producer of an artist with such a powerful persona? Twenty or 30 years ago, the producer was an executive in the creative department of the recording label, in charge of finding the artists. This school of thought, the idea of creating the artist, still exists today. In this case, the one with the powerful persona is the producer. The contemporary school of thought, on the other hand, has to do with people who play a completely different role. Their job description is not to be the go-between for the artist and the record company but to help them create a musical landscape. Their job has to do with musical direction. There are, therefore, producers creating sound and others who contribute to the artist’s commercial success. If a producer is collaborating with five boys who aspire to become huge pop stars, he will not be looking into Turkish-Celtic productions. What is your opinion of the globalization of music these days? What is encouraging is the influence of music among various cultures. Look at me, for instance, I’m here collaborating with Evanthia Reboutsika and Panayiotis Kalantzopoulos. This would have been unheard of 20 or 30 years ago. World music Do you think that in the future we will be able to talk about ethnic music or will that disappear? There is a kind of music that is universal. You may listen to it in Athenian or Dublin coffee houses. This must go on. True, it will be a homogenized kid of pop music, but, on the other hand, those artists I like to listen to may include elements of hip-hop, for instance, while the nucleus of their music will remain tied to their tradition. This is true whether they are Jamaicans, Indian or Spanish. Isn’t the term «ethnic» an invention by the American music industry? Ethnic music is something that consumers enjoy. It is a broad spectrum, including bad music as well. Just as there is a commercial side to every culture, there is also a serious one. What do you know about Greek music? Not much. I haven’t really scratched beyond the surface. I like what I hear on the radio when I’m in a taxi. I like the fact that 90 percent of local drivers tune into Greek stations. You remixed the «Touch of Spice» soundtrack. Were you intimidated by the language barrier or did that help you look at things without prejudice? Certainly my look was more innocent. Five years ago, when we worked on an album with Evanthia Reboutsika, there were six of us in the studio. They were all talking together and at first I thought that they were quarrelling, I thought that they didn’t like my work. I then realized that it was nothing like that. Each time I come to Greece I have a good time. I enjoy its life, its artists and its music.