Peter Gabriel and Karl Wallinger talk about the making of Big Blue Ball.
Francis Bebey was a noted writer and 'stunning' musician from Cameroon who sadly died in May 2001. Peter Gabriel speaks for all who encountered him at the Real World Recording Week in 1995 when he says "We were hypnotised...he embodied wisdom in lots of ways and it was a real delight". Karl Wallinger, Peter's co-pilot in the Recording Week sessions talks in The Big Blue Ball Podcast of his amazement at the music Francis produced from his tiny, single note, bamboo flute, describing the sound as "one of the prime numbers of music".
In this clip filmed at Real World in 1995 Francis Bebey shows us the technique of combining voice and flute to produce his magical music and gives us a little of the wisdom he embodied.
Karl Wallinger: "Andy White and Tim Finn were huddled on the floor in the writing room. Bassist Alexis Faku was locked in the groove and we were trying to find our way in the dark, put it on tape, and give it a middle and end." Frances Bebey played a Pygmee flute, or ndewhoo, which played just two notes. "The rest of the tune was made up of his own voice," remembers Peter. "You couldn't know when it was him or the flute. It was a magical ritualistic music and we were hypnotised. The smallest things can have the biggest impact."
From the final Recording Week in 1995. Natacha Atlas sings with an Egyptian string section brought in by Hossam Ramzy. Peter Gabriel: "The leader would improvise, and the other guys followed slightly behind him, so you get this serpent-like weaving of notes." The original take was over twenty minutes long, with everyone in the room together with the strings in the centre and Peter and Karl conducting the session from the side of the room.
First recorded in the 1991 session, with Papa Wemba's extraordinary vocals and his percussionists laying down the groove. Key to this track is the flamenco guitar of Juan Cañizares locking in with Papa Wemba's sound. It's a marriage made in heaven.
French techno duo Deep Forest (Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez) brought in the piano riff, American singer Joseph Arthur provided the verse and while Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird recorded the Gaelic chorus, a fellow in sunglasses who turned out to be James McNally pulled a flute from his shirt pocket — and that's the Irish whistle on the chorus. Papa Wemba's band underlay a conga rhythm line, and Living Colour's Vernon Reid adds some definitive synth guitar lines.
Joseph Arthur and Peter Gabriel composed this in about an hour during the 1995 sessions. Guitarist Justin Adams was there, brought in for backing vocals, but the basic song featured just Peter, Joseph, and Karl Wallinger.
Joji Hirota (Japanese percussionist and composer, formerly Musical Director of Lindsay Kemp's theatre company) co-wrote this with Sinead O'Connor. Flautist Guo Yue was sat in a circle of Chinese pina players with Sinead to one side. "It's a real mixture between Joji, who came up with a piano melody, and Sinead, who added her thing to it," says Peter. "It's a nice mix of moods and cultures." Includes the last recording session for the album with Sevara Nazarkhan's vocals added in 2007.
Another song that comes from the first year. Richard Chappell: "This was the long groovy track and everyone ended up in the workroom at midnight listening to it — Billy Cobham on drums, a lot of red wine going round." Peter recalls the Holmes Brothers' involvement: "Popsy Dixon had this very high voice, a hauntingly beautiful voice, and he'd come up with these high notes that hit me hard every time he reached them."
The first track recorded for Big Blue Ball. Senegalese djembe player Arona N'diaye started this off with some percussion. "He was such an amazing guy," says Peter. "He made you feel joyful. He just wanted to jam and had great energy." N'diaye appears on three of the album's tracks, and was a key presence in the first year's recording session, laying down lots of grooves. Vernon Reid overdubbed his guitar on this in the second year.
Richard Chappell remembers producer John Leckie being involved in this session with Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen ("a real character, with real attitude"). Leckie was producing Turkmenistan ensemble Ashkabad, but was around when this was put down in the upstairs writing room.
This is Madagascan singer Rossy's rap from the first year. Arona N'diaye begins it, and Jah Wobble comes in with his arpeggioed bass. The brass section on this was added later by Chuck Norman. Peter remembers "Rossy arriving with a valiha — a wonderful sounding instrument made out of bamboo and bicycle brake wire. It's like a harp they make themselves, with a beautiful sound, and he then added this rap."
Peter: "This was Karl's baby. He generously crafted it and threw it into the pot in the first year."
Richard Chappell: "At the end of each night over the next two recording weeks I remember staying up with Karl working out what he would do with the vocal. We'd work on it for about an hour every night, adding harmony vocals. But the rest of it was pretty much done straight away."