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13 March 2024

Story of Another Soul: a decolonial dreaming of new futures

Reuben Lewis and Huda Fadlelmawla Image: Reuben Lewis and Huda Fadlelmawla  
© Giorgia Bellini

In early 2023, Reuben Lewis was one of the recipients of the MOMENTUM Commission, awarded for a compelling proposal for a new work in the realm of jazz and electroacoustic music. By October of that year, he had completed the commission - a collaboration with spoken word artist and poet Huda Fadlelmawla (also known as Huda the Goddess) - which premiered at the Brisbane Jazz Festival.

The project, Story of Another Soul has been described as a "decolonial dreaming of new futures" (Tariro Mavondo) and a "poetry that foregrounds instantaneity, that seeks truth in the roots of improvisation, holding faith in the ephemeral" (Des Cowley). Underscored by Reuben's trumpet and electronic score, which has been described as a "vivid listening experience that gleams with sinister detail" (The Wire), Huda's powerful words grapples with equality, women's rights, and her journey as a Sudanese refugee.

Now, ahead of the recording release of the project Reuben shares with us the seeds of the unique creative synergy, the collaborative process based on improvisation, and his current musical inclinations and explorationns.

We're highly anticipating the LP release of Story of Another Soul. Can you tell us how this project was initially conceived?

This project was initiated by Phil Day, who is a visual artist and director of the poetry imprint Life Before Man. Phil is an old friend, a former student of my mum who used to buy me comic books when I was a kid! We've stayed in touch over the years and he's been interested in the connections between music and poetry for a long time.

Phil saw Huda perform at a few poetry events and had the inclination that the two of us would do something special together. So he connected us, and he was right, there was a connection from the very first conversation.

The MOMENTUM Commission was the final piece of the puzzle. It provided the ignition for the project to finally take off.

This album is a collection of music where Huda's powerful poetry has been set to music for the first time. Are there connecting themes or ideas across the works that you both wanted to explore, both in subject and sound?

The overarching themes and ideas for this project grew organically from the process itself. Huda and I are both improvisers and developed this collaboration from that core practice. It was conceived of as a studio project in the first instance, which also afforded a unique way of dissecting, examining and building the work. From that perspective, the connecting themes are both timeless and timely. Huda is a powerful artist and activist with a story to tell and love to give, but like many women of colour in this space, her position at the coalface of trauma carries a heavy burden that she grapples with through her art. Within my practice as a performer, composer, sound designer and improviser, I've increasingly become interested in the concept of holding space. As we began recording and I started to hear Huda respond to my music, I realised that this work was going to be a deep exploration of that idea for me.

Working between electroacoustic work, electronics, and spoken word with Huda, what did that collaborative process look like?

It's hard to talk about the collaborative process without expressing that a little magic was involved. What you are hearing on this album is literally our first creative meeting and barely scratches the surface of what was captured on that day. Huda flew down from Meanjin to record with me in my studio in Naarm. We had both prepared a few thoughts, sketches and soundscapes based on a quick Zoom chat a few weeks prior, but we were both happy to let things take their own course during the session. We shared a meal, talked for an hour or so, I set up a mic, pressed record, then watched on in awe as she delivered line after line of pure improvised perfection in response to my music.

We both knew that we "got it" during that first session, so it became a process of drilling down on the material from there. I worked with Huda to find the poetic segments she was most happy with, then I set off on a lengthy studio journey to craft the right space for those pieces.

Through this project, was there musical terrain that you explored for the first time? What other works, artists, or experiences did you draw from?

This kind of studio process is familiar to me and one that I have employed a lot in albums like Lost in Place with I Hold the Lion's Paw, my solo album The House is Empty, and Closed Beginnings with Tariro Mavondo, Peter Knight and the Australian Art Orchestra. I'm heavily influenced by Jon Hassell, and I found myself leaning harder into my connections with his music. His 1983 album Aka / Darbari / Java resurfaced in my listening patterns whilst making Story of Another Soul and I found myself working with samples in ways that are quite new and exciting for me. The track These Stories is probably the most stark example of a new direction for me, but all the music on this album represents new integrated developments in my practice with effects pedals, DAW based structuring and acoustic sound.

We hear you're looking to continue a series of musical collaborations with Australian poets. What can we expect to see and hear next from you (poetry or otherwise)?

The connection to poets and poetry is one that I first stumbled into around 2017 when I collaborated with Tariro Mavondo in the Seven Wonders compilation curated by Wondercore Island and Plug Seven. I love this creative space, and don't think this album will be the last of my collaborations with Australian poets. For starters, expect another I Hold the Lion's Paw album that features the incredible Emily Bennett, who uses words like no other! Story of Another Soul will likely be the first in an ongoing series of works spearheaded by Life Before Man and myself with Australian poets, but we want to celebrate this first collaboration in full before we can think about next steps.

On a broader trajectory, I've just started a PhD that will take me on an extended exploration into the connections between electroacoustic sound design, trancing and shamanism. I'm excited to dive as deep as I can over the next few years and to enjoy where that research takes me.

Follow Reuben on Bandcamp to pre-order Story of Another Soul on limited vinyl from Friday 15 March.

Story of Another Soul will be released on digital on Friday 17 May. Pre-save here.
The lead single from the album, When People Ask You, is out Friday 15 March. Listen here.

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