Last year local musician Louis Wall decided to record and produce an album pairing St. Louis-born with immigrant musicians. At the time, he didn’t know it would expand to include roughly 50 people from 15 countries across five continents. Wall says the key to making an album with that many contributors is keeping it accessible to everyone.
“I mean, this is probably just pop music 101, but it’s having people relate to many broad things,” he said.
That album is called “The Texas Room: Non-Fiction” because Wall began recording it at a studio on Texas Avenue in south St. Louis. The studio has subsequently moved, and the project expanded, thanks to support from arts funding organization Fractured Atlas and St. Louis’ own Regional Arts Commission.
Over the course of the past year, Wall has released a series of songs, about once a month, that feature collaboration by musicians from as disparate places as Burundi, Nepal, Cameroon and Spain. Wall found many contacts through the International Institute's message boards and word of mouth.
This Friday the album will get a full physical release and concert event organized by producers The Clothesline at Blank Space at 2847 Cherokee St.
Producing the album taught Wall the value in all cultural narratives and personal travels.
“The most important thing with this project is learning your own cultural narrative and your own life story and putting value in that,” he said, “through seeing other people’s stories and other people’s culture, it really reflects on your own and your place in the world.”
Contributing musicians reflect on collaboration:
Adria and Her Treasures: Adria Gutierrez teaches traditional Mexican and Latin American folk songs to a group of children. They contributed voices, melodies and inspiration to the album.
“It was such a fantastic experience. You have no idea. Music is an international language; it’s a universal language so it doesn’t matter if it’s from different countries.”
Mensur Hatic: The Bosnian immigrant contributed accordion on a number of recordings, including a rendition of the classic song “Summertime,” which appears on the album. He’s played music for 44 years and says that music saved his life. Hatic’s wife approached him after listening to a performance in Bosnia, they were married, and he immigrated to the United States months before the Bosnian war began.
“We did this song 'Summertime.' Louis is truly American, so is the other gentleman who played guitar [Ben Tulin], and then here I come from the Balkans playing 'Summertime' on accordion. And this project is really something that opened all the doors. We’re trying to do something that connects East and West. Where we’re coming from and where we live right now, it’s hard to be either East or West, but we want to put together East and West and see if we can get people interested in this style of music.”
Smoll Mashop: This is the stage name of Cameroon-born, French-speaking Lemke Francis. He studies music business at Lindenwood University. He started to rap when he heard older boys in his neighborhood making hip hop.
“When I came here, I didn’t think it would be possible for me to be part of a project here in the United States with people who are not from here, like me. It’s kind of interesting for me because I don’t feel alone. (Laughs.) I like it because Louis is from here, he’s American, but he’s interested in working with people that aren’t from here, from his place.