Back in 2006 I found myself feverishly searching for new music after I had fallen in love with the anime Samurai Champloo. Sam Champ was a mashup that managed to seamlessly blend the best elements of old school Hip Hop and the fluid animation style Japan has become so renown for into an exhilarating and surprisingly philosophical journey. The show’s soundtrack featured magnificent eastern inspired hip hop from the likes of Fat Jon, Nujabes and Tsutchie. Their work inspired an entire generation of beat makers and hip hop heads. After completing the series (which was unfortunately canceled after the company that was responsible for the show went bankrupt) the search was on and it became my goal to find more artists like them. Around this time, “Southern Takeoff” dance hip hop that was all the rage and it was and never has been my style. I dug and dug, discovering people like DJ Shadow, Flying Lotus, Michigan’s own John Beltran, Paul Hardcastle and Lemongrass.
I was a huge fan Lemongrass’ music as well as his contemporaries and offshoots (Green Empathy, Weathertunes, The Beach Hoppers) so it was only natural that I check out the website for his own label, Lemongrassmusic. This is where I discovered Dennis Rufaro Bonam aka Faro who has since become one of my favorite producers. Around 2010, I was going through a bit of a transitional period. I was an angsty teenager that was trying to settle into a more calm and level headed persona, so I often found myself listening to lounge and ambient music. Faro’s work, having a very distinguished tribal and ethereal feel to it, was perfect for evolving my musical pallet and just kind of mellowing out. I purchased both of his albums “Shape of Sense” and “Dreaming in Orange” and listened to them on repeat for weeks.
I decided to reach out to him and not only was he kind enough to respond, but he happily accepted an interview for the site. Intelligent, diverse, and just an all-around nice guy, it brings me nothing but joy to be able to bring my readers an interview with such a brilliant musician.
Prox: For starters, tell the readers a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been producing music? What is the inspiration behind your production moniker?
Faro: I was born and raised in the Netherlands. My parents are from Suriname, which is located north of Brazil and used to be part of the Dutch kingdom. After the country obtained it’s independence in the ‘70s, things got a bit shaky, so my parents moved to the Netherlands. Although my roots lie in the deep forests of Suriname (which are, by the way, breathtaking), I am Western in nature and philosophy. I was given the name Dennis, which my parents found fitting in a predominantly white society. However, I have two other names that reflect my roots: Achmad, reflecting my mother’s Muslim background, and Rufaro, which reflects my African roots. My alias Faro is a derivate of Rufaro.
I grew up in a small village and had a pretty standard upbringing. My parents made sure I got into a good school and that I exercised regularly. They also provided ample space for me to explore whatever talents I might have. It turned out that I had a lot of curiosities, mainly those connected to drawing and writing. I also discovered that I was an talented athlete and went on to obtain a couple of National Championship titles. The year I turned 18, my ‘career’ in athletics ended with a nasty hamstring injury. An injury from which I never fully recovered. Coincidently, it was around this time that I was acquainted with lounge music and music production.
Music lovers everywhere understand how blissful it feels when you’ve found ‘your’ (sub(sub))genre. It is as if you’ve been, subconsciously, searching your whole life for the right blend of chords and sounds and you finally hit gold. The moment I knew that I wanted to delve my ears non-stop into lounge music was when I was in Turkey and I stumbled into a bar that played wonderful lounge music with beautiful ethnic sounds, drums and percussions. I was mesmerized. I wanted to taste all of it. From the more ethnic/oriental lounge, to more electronic/psychedelic music, jazzy lounge, ambient/film-esque lounge, and eventually to a sub-genre that is simply called ‘noise’. I couldn’t get enough. It was as if I had just discovered a whole new planet and I couldn’t wait to explore every inch of it.
Currently, I live in Amsterdam where I studied Economics and Finance. The past four years were dedicated to finishing my PhD thesis in Macroeconomics. I will be working at the research department of the Dutch Central Bank in September this year.
Prox: What software and hardware are you using? What would you say are some of your favorite VSTs or instruments?
Faro: I use Fruity Loops and a variety of VSTs. I am a huge fan of Rob Papen’s Albino (I also like Blue, but I don’t use it as much). Edirol Orchestral is very nice as well. In terms of instruments, I love Rhodes (the perfect instrument for many types of lounge music) and string instruments (especially the harp and piano).
Prox: Could you describe your music to the readers who may be completely unfamiliar with your work?
Faro: That’s a tough question, since I usually avoid expressing my music using words. I think my music (or at least much thereof) belongs to the ethnic/tribal/oriental lounge category in terms of sound, but feels more like the score from a dramatic, and perhaps a bit adventurous, movie. My songs usually aim to gently carry the listener into a relaxing hammock, using lots of soft Rhodes and pads and different kinds of ambient sounds (which is the lounge part), yet tend to progress towards some sort of climax (the movie-score part).
Prox: Much of your music has a very ethereal and tribal feel to it. Do you have an interest in African, Eastern, or Native American culture and philosophy? If so, what is it about these cultures that interests you?
Faro: Not explicitly. I value my African roots deeply, yet, at the same time, acknowledge that they do not necessarily need to define me. The instruments I use are actually chosen based on what I think ‘fits’ or ‘feels right’. I really like the process of blending elements from different genres. The fact that, in general, my music can be categorized as ethnic lounge is because I just love Djembe and Tabla drums and ethnic percussions. Additionally, I find ethnic instruments to sound very spiritual and emotional.
Prox: What is the process like for you? Do you have any particular ritual or steps that you take before you begin working on a piece?
Faro: First of all, I feel I should not work hard on coming up with any ideas. So if an idea arises naturally (and I have some spare time), I will start making a song—otherwise, I won’t.
Once I have a melody in my head and I’ve found a suitable sound, I’ll play the melody over and over again. And then a few hundred times more. The melody will get stuck in my head and that is exactly what I’m aiming for. Then, I stop making music and do something else. I’ll usually take a walk outside and let the melody sink in and expand. I tend to draw inspiration from the city—not only from city noises, but also from how the city makes me feel.
After a while, I get back to my laptop and add whatever I could ‘hear’ or ‘feel’ to the original melody (which, up to now, is most often just one bar of music).
Then, I add sounds, melodies and chords to the original idea, which can be a very exciting process. It is as if your initial thought is the main road, leading you into an unknown and mysterious world, and you add all these little side-paths that make your journey all the more interesting and fairytale-like. Because you are also reaching into the core of your soul, this part of the process is also a spiritual journey, at least to some extent. So, it is not only fun creatively, but also relaxing and reflective psychologically.
Finally, I start the composition of the song. I always let a few days pass before composing, because I feel that the structure of a song can make or break the song, regardless of how cool the initial melody sounds. Timing and pace is very important and, just like the scenes of a movie, the different parts of the song should be driven by a ‘plot’ or some kind of narrative. They should not be rushed and placed randomly.
Prox: How much would you say the atmosphere and culture of the Netherlands has influenced your sound? Could a listener like myself who has never been to your country expect that sort of “vibe” from the area that you grew up in?
Faro: I don’t think so. I don’t really consider myself as a Dutch man (even though, according to my passport, I am officially Dutch). This is, I believe, because I’m colored whereas the majority of people in the Netherlands are white. In fact, many young people like me—who were born in the Netherlands, yet whose roots lie abroad—face some sort of ‘identity crisis’. A crisis which, by the way, is very much different from whatever crisis teenagers usually go through. You feel detached from the people around you and desperately try to figure out who you are.
So who am I? As a young colored kid growing up in the Netherlands, this question can be really confusing. You act and play like the children around you, thereby feeling ‘similar’, but still have to face people who, sometimes, treat you differently because of the color of your skin (most times, this is because of prejudice; sometimes, it’s flat-out racism), which makes you feel ‘different’.
At some point in my life, I kind of figured out who I was, what I wanted in life and what I did not. And who I am is largely independent from soil. In the same vein, my songs are not bound to any country or culture. They are a reflection of me, my philosophy and ideology.
Prox: Where would you say you were at emotionally while working on your albums? I’d have to imagine that you were in a very good space spiritually and mentally.
Faro: I started working on my songs at a moment when I discovered a great deal about myself. Much of this started when I injured my hamstring, which forced me to stop my career in athletics and rethink my whole future. But, making the next step forward requires you to know (at least a little bit of) what you want in life, your strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and dreams. To some extent, lounge music supported me during this process. Perhaps even to a great extent. When I started making music it was as if I had reached some sort of balance. Of course I realize that, at any point in time, I could be thrown from that balance. However, knowing that there is some equilibrium to which I can converge to offers a great deal of calmness.
Prox: Not only are “Shape of Sense” and “Dreaming in Orange” fantastic albums, they have very interesting titles. What exactly do they mean and how did you decide that they were proper titles?
Faro: “Shape of Sense” does not really have some deeper meaning—I just think it is a very nice title for the eponymous song, since the song really contains just two chords that are sort of ‘shaped’ into more than two chords. I suggested “Shape of Sense” and a few other titles to Roland Voss (Lemongrass) and he eventually picked “Shape of Sense”.
“Dreaming in Orange” is not nearly as abstract as you might think, yet does have a deeper meaning. One night, I was actually having an orange-filtered dream. The color orange is a reference to the color of a tartan athletics track and, in my dream, I was running on the orange track. Running has always been very important to me, because like music, it was a way to express myself. After I injured my hamstring, I was forced to venture into an important journey to figure out what I wanted in life. The dream in orange is a reminder to that profound and pivotal period of my life.
Prox: What are some of your favorite tracks from your catalogue?
Faro: “Bridge of Sighs”, “Dreaming in Orange” and “Clouds”.
Prox: Who would you say are some of your favorite musicians right now?
Faro: I really like Afterlife (“How Does It Feel” is actually one of my all-time favorite lounge songs), Lemongrass, Bonobo, Blue States, Zero 7, Boards of Canada, Talvin Singh, Sven van Hees, Minus 8, Röyskopp, Hacienda, Darshan Ambient, Helios, Hammock, … and so many more.
Prox: Outside of the genre you produce in, what are some of your favorite genres?
Faro: Nowadays, I listen to a lot of electronic music, deep house and trip hop. I also like ‘j-hop’, with artists like Nujabes and J-Dilla, and R&B and Neo-Soul.
Prox: Is there another album in the works? If so, when and what can we expect from them?
Faro: Yes, there is. Doing a PhD has slowed me down significantly in terms of producing new songs, but I have managed to put together a selection of songs which I think would be nice for a new album. If all works well, I think I can finish around spring next year. You can expect the same type of style and technique, although I believe this album will have an overall more dramatic feel than the previous two.
Prox: Do you spend a lot of time out in nature or traveling?
Faro: I do not unfortunately. At least not for leisure purposes. I travel a lot for work, which was fun ain the beginning, but tended to create a lot of unrest at some point.
I really like nature, yet I think I am more of a city person. I really love Amsterdam, because it is a big city with lots of ‘small city elements’, beautiful old houses and, of course, the romantic canals that make the city so unique. If you ever go to Amsterdam, I suggest you take a tour (by bike and not with a group) around six or seven in the morning, when most of the city is asleep, so that you can view and enjoy the city in its entirety, without it being masked by the hundreds of tourists that roam the streets during the day.
Prox: What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of music?
Faro: Before music, I used to draw a lot, mostly comics and landscapes. When music entered my life, it almost completely evaporated that side of me, yet I still make a few sketches now and then. Music also consumed much of the time I used to spend reading, writing poetry and short stories.
Prox: What are some tips you’d give to musicians like myself that are just starting out?
Faro: I think having a personal style (regardless of whether it is unique or familiar) is very important. ‘You’ are the best source of inspiration and trying to sound a lot like others will just be frustrating at some point. Try to imagine making music for yourself, rather than focusing on the wishes of your intended public. Finding your style is a personal journey. Take your time and be patient. Experiment with different genres and listen to different types of music. When you’ve found it, you don’t just know it, you feel it.
When you’ve found your style, practice. I have literally made thousands of songs (most of them obviously unfinished) just to develop some skills. Find out what works for you in terms of software, instruments, etc. Explore the internet for VSTs and samples or find a DJ to hook you up.
When you have a few songs ‘ready’ make them public. Use YouTube, Facebook, etc. I used to put my songs on soundclick.com, a site for amateur producers and music lovers. On that site, I received a lot of honest and helpful feedback, met a lot of interesting people (a few of which are also signed with Lemongrassmusic) and discovered a huge amount of great music. Stay dedicated, make songs with others, expand your network, and at some point your songs are bound to be picked up by a label. You can, of course, always release your songs independently, but I find that being part of a great family like Lemongrassmusic is very beneficial in terms of exposure.
Faro’s stellar releases can be purchased here:
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