Working remotely from both Antwerp and London, Dekalog is the new project from producer Sonny Dhanowa and songwriter Dan Roberts.
Merging elements of hip-hop, alternative pop and electronica, the pair have collaborated with vocalist Fien Desmet and rapper Amazumi to produce their debut album Een – an immersive, powerful record that explores dark political themes through dynamic, undulating landscapes.
I had a chat to Sonny to learn more about the project and where they find their inspiration…
How did you first meet and decided to form Dekalog?
Dekalog is a duo consisting of myself – Sonny Dhanowa – and Dan Roberts. We met many moons ago at Exeter University, where oddly enough we decided to get a pet rat together, Quincy.
Through the years we went our separate ways – I personally have lived in Barcelona, Spain and now in Antwerp, Belgium and Dan is based in South London. Over the last 5 years we’ve reconnected and decided to put our talents together, especially since our different musical backgrounds complement each other so well – Dan coming from much more of a folk-filled backdrop and myself leaning more towards hip-hop and funk. Hence, the duo Dekalog was formed. Once we had formulated a vague game plan we enlisted the help of Fien Desmet on vocals, and Amazumi on rap; an extremely complimentary coalition of musicians.
You’ve just released your debut album Een. Tell me a bit more about how the record was written and recorded…
The album is essentially a UK-Belgium collaboration project, but also heavily features session musicians from various parts of the world (including but not limited to Japan, India, Russia and the US).
The process begins with me composing some very simple and basic instrumentals, then I send these to Dan who would write some lyrics and a melody. These would then be sent to Fien Desmet (singer) and Amazumi (rapper) for their interpretations. Once a first draft version of the lyrics have been recorded, I would then get to work deconstructing and then rebuilding the idea into a structured song, incorporating live musicians and adding harmonics to the composition… it’s a beautifully evolving process.
I noticed some of the lyrics were quite political. What’s the story behind songs like Whites Of Their Eyes and Omen?
I wanted each and every song to have a different message, a unique ideology behind each track.
Whites of Their Eyes is about killing people remotely. Masters of War by Dylan was about people behind desks signing documents that resulted in numerable deaths. This is more about the technology. We can hide our guilt because we aren’t present at the moment the death occurs.
Omen is a very dark and honest look into child abuse and how the burden of shame, incorrectly, lies on the victim and not on the predator. The message in each track is sometimes obvious, but in others in can sit subtly behind a plethora of instruments.
You’ve set yourselves a goal to release ten albums with ten tracks over ten years. That sounds like a lot of work! Where do you find your inspiration?
Indeed – ten album, ten years – it does seem like a lot of work, but when you enjoy doing this as much as I do, it doesn’t seem like such a daunting task. Making music is an everyday ritual, a cleansing experience which frees me from the burdens of everyday life.
In terms of inspiration, as many artists know, sometimes you just wake up with it and other times you’re looking under the sofa for it; you just have to go with the flow and make the most of it when you do have it. Some days I’m working past the early hours and other times I’m lost in thought, staring at a screen wondering what happened to my life – it is what it is.
It sounds like each band member has quite a different musical background. Do you think that influences your sound?
Of course, the album itself is an eclectic piece of work. I think music making should be a personal experience and each individual contribution will automatically be reflected within each song.
Fien Desmet’s unique jazz-esque style wonderfully intertwines with Amazumi’s more aggressive style. And then you have myself and Dan coming from almost opposite ends of the music spectrum, so all in all we are a motley mix of musicians.
You’ve also set up your own record label Blue Ghost. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Blue Ghost was originally conceived as a platform for me to release any and all of my new music through. There will be a distinct focus on collaborative projects that incorporate creativity without any boundaries.
An eternal wanderer, I conceived of the name Blue Ghost to express how I feel sometimes – like a perpetual nomad who can be lost, lonely and without purpose wherever I arrive. It’s a creative hub where I can bring together the many creative forces I have encountered throughout my journeys.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a band?
Listen to people who actually know and have real-life experience in what you’re doing. Very often friends and family will give you advice, but really it’s nothing more than just their opinion, and as we know uneducated opinions can be dangerous… Brexit, for example.
So essentially, just listen to people who have relevant experience and have some kind of measurable results to back up what they are saying. I particularly like listening to the valuable insights of people who have ‘tried and failed’, so I myself can avoid the pitfalls of this carnivorous industry.
What’s coming up for you this year? Will we get to see Een performed live?
For the most part we’ll be concentrating on promoting Een as well as starting (and finishing) the second album, called Dos.
I’ll also be looking to collaborate with singers and rappers worldwide on single tracks, hopefully taking Blue Ghost Records global.
In terms of a ‘Dekalog with Fien Desmet + Amazumi’ live performance, we’re currently looking into options as two members are Belgium-based, and the other two are UK-based, so as you can imagine it’s no easy task… but I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge so look out – we may well be coming to a stage near you shortly.
Something else: I also run living room concerts in Antwerp (Casa de Sonny) and have had a wide range of world-wide musicians perform in my flat – just in case you’re passing through Antwerp and are looking for something off the beaten track.