Shaolin Afronauts, the ten piece, interstellar, futurist afro-soul outfit is keen to make your Good Friday even better at BlenheimFest this weekend.
The festival in the Clare Valley, now in its sixth incarnation, is boasting another great line-up and more of the same great times we have come to enjoy from our local friends.
Contributing to the feel good atmosphere of the camping fest, Shaolin Afronauts are keen to get to Blenheim to check out the line up and play for the festive revellers.
“Blenheim is a great festival. It’s important for South Australia to have music festivals like it and we’re excited to play. We’ve played the festival under different guises, we’ve played as other bands we’ve been involved with, but it’ll be great to get down there and play again. There’s a great line up this year. There’s tons of good bands involved so it’s a pleasure for us to be on the bill,” bassist Ross McHenry says.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Max Savage and the False Idols, and Tony Joe White is on the bill which is pretty cool; he’s a legend of the game in many ways. I’m impressed by the scope of the line up. Marlon Williams is amazing, Timberwolf -you’ve got to love Timberwolf! Kaurna Cronin, I’m going to definitely check him out. I’m looking forward to checking out everything!”
Not only is the line up appealing to Ross, so too is the gorgeous setting, in fabulous South Aussie wine country.
“It’s in a stunningly beautiful location. I love the wine that comes from there. One of the great things about living in South Australia is the access to many different types of beautiful landscape and Clare Valley region – or Blenheim, which is a separate area – is very, very beautiful,” he says.
The Adelaide band who have been together since 2008 are made up of Ross McHenry (bass), Kevin van der Zwaag (drums), Jarrad Payne (percussion),Tim Bennett (percussion), Dylan Marshall (guitar), Lachlan Ridge (guitar), Adam Page (tenor/flute), Stephen McEntee (trombone), Jason McMahon (baritone sax) and Chris Weber (trumpet).
Ross says they came together out of another band and a desire to do something a little more loose and interpretive.
“Shaolin Afronauts started out of the core of another group, which was a band called The Transatlantics. The whole band were into a lot of different styles of music, particularly the music of West Africa and East Africa; predominantly Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and Ethiopia,” he says.
“After doing The Transatlantics for a few years, we wanted a different outlet because the music was very highly arranged and very set in the way it was performed and delivered. We wanted a musical vehicle that was soulful in a similar way but explored our love of these other styles of music in a way that was open to the interpretation of the moment. We started Shaolin Afronauts to fulfil that desire in our collective consciousness. It was one of those things that started out as a side project but then just worked from the very beginning.”
Since their beginnings, the Afronauts have played some remarkable gigs and festivals, which Ross says make up some wonderful moments he’s had with the band so far.
“I really feel that some of the most special experiences I’ve had musically have been with this band and some of those have been in the studio and some have been on the stage. We did a performance at the Adelaide Festival Centre in 2013, just before we recorded our second album. It was with an expanded ensemble of 18 people. That performance, which was a massive undertaking, was a real highlight for the whole group,” he says.
“We’ve also been really fortunate to play a number of great festivals like WOMADelaide, which was early on in the group’s existence and an amazing moment. Last year we played Glastonbury and toured Japan and they were amazing times for us as well!”
The third album from Shaolin Afronauts is Follow the Path, a double album showcasing what Ross says is their best work so far.
“Last year we released our third album. I think it’s our best work to date; the one we feel most accurately represents different sides to the group. One of the records is quite upbeat and representative of what our live shows are like and the second record is more introspective; more visual in a lot of ways and gets to the heart of what we’re about as a group so it was great to get that out there in the world,” he says.
“We’ll definitely be doing another album and it’ll probably be recorded by the end of this year or the beginning of next year. It won’t be out until about mid next year but there’s a plan afoot. There might be a sneaky EP in there as well; we’re always recording.”
Meanwhile, on social media, Shaolin Afronauts are clocking up YouTube views like nobody’s business; their song ‘Kilimanjaro’ has had over 1.2 million listens.
“That was the first song I ever wrote for the band and I definitely didn’t anticipate it would be viewed that many times,” Ross says. “But I think it goes to show what you can achieve from little old Adelaide if you love it enough to give it a crack.”
When they’re not playing BlenheimFest or jet setting across to overseas and interstate gigs, Shaolin Afronauts are playing at home.
“We play pretty often in Adelaide, at least once every couple of months. We’re playing in Melbourne on April 10th and we have some other festival dates but I can’t say anything because the programs haven’t been released. Stay tuned though and check us out on the interwebs if you’re interested in more shows by Shaolin Afronauts!” Ross says.
By Libby Parker