Charles Easter Interview with Miriam Stockley – April, 2011
Miriam Stockley is perhaps best known for her work with Adiemus, for which she multi-tracked her voice to create the effect of a South African children’s choir. Fans of Adiemus will be thrilled to explore the world beat groove of “…and Love Rages On!” by Miriam and the other members of AOMUSIC. And this time, actual children’s choirs join in the fun.
A very dynamic album with ethnic instruments and percussion, its mood ranges from soft to exuberant. The first song, Gaiya Lo Mane, represents the whole – it starts as a whisper, gets bigger as many voices join in, explodes in joy, and then ends softly.
The group has a “one world” message. AO is an ancient Polynesian word that can mean either “pure light” or “all colors.” AOMUSIC will perform for Project Peace On Earth, the first ever globally broadcast musical prayer, in Bethlehem on 11-11-11. Their music is also in the background for the promo video and Miriam does the voice-over narration.
Miriam was born in South Africa. She first recorded in Johannesburg at the age of eleven and had several hit records with her sister Avryl. At eighteen, she left for the United Kingdom, where her career further blossomed.
I’m wondering if her life in South Africa gave her a feel for the world beat music she performs today. I’m also wondering what children’s choirs mean to her. She’s been involved with them one way or another for much of her career.Charles: Why is global music, or finding a universal sound, important to you? Does it help people?
Miriam Stockley: I discovered early on in my solo career that certain vocal sounds I made hit a chord with many different people from various parts of the world. My ‘Celtic’ or ‘Middle Eastern’ voice appeared to soothe and comfort those in distress.
I believe there is empathy within the tonality or the way I express the notation. I love that even without any understandable lyrical content, I am able to communicate with people thousands of miles away, who speak languages that have no bearing on the phonetics that I write.
Charles: Both Adiemus and AOMUSIC use vocables, or “meaningless” syllables. Why do you use these? Is it possible that, by avoiding a specific meaning, you reach a higher meaning? Are the syllables meant to be healing in any way?
Miriam Stockley: There is no magical word or phrase that deliberately sets out to heal. I write what sonically sounds pleasing to my ear and what compliments the music. The synergy of the two invariably end up creating a spark and when that occurs, I know that I have created something more powerful than just music.
Charles: You recently performed Adiemus in Dubai, and I know you performed it in 1996 at the Royal Albert Hall. How does it feel to perform a song that’s considered by many to be a studio tour-de-force? Is there a sense of gratification that can’t come from the studio?
Miriam Stockley: There aren’t too many timeless anthem-like pieces out there, but Adiemus happens to be one with which most people identify. The chorus (constructed musically by Karl Jenkins), happened to be extremely emotive and when I added the “kid’s” voices, it brought a totally new dimension to the piece.
There is an enormous amount of gratification attached to live performance … As an artist, I am always charged up with adrenaline at live performances – something which tends to be missing when one works in a sterile studio environment – either that, or I am now so much of a dab hand at working in recording studios, that I am too relaxed in that environment LOL!
Charles: Has AOMUSIC done any live performances? How do you feel about performing in Bethlehem on 11-11-11?
Miriam Stockley: AO does perform live – in a similar way to that of the Dubai Adiemus show.Nowadays, it is extremely expensive to tour something of this magnitude, using all live musicians and a 72 piece (or larger) choir. Therefore, it is necessary to use a mix of both live and recorded voices and instruments.
I believe in Project Peace On Earth and while I am excited at the prospect of performing in Bethlehem, I am also a realist. There is a lot of unrest in the Middle East at this time and we shall have to wait and see how the land lies.
Charles: Children’s choirs throughout the world now perform Adiemus (one can find the videos on youtube). Music this rhythmic and exciting certainly wasn’t the norm when I sang in school chorus! Do you feel your work, both with Adiemus and AOMUSIC, changes the vocabulary for what’s possible for children musically?
Miriam Stockley: Music is evolving all the time. These days, Rap music and R&B are often sung in churches and are the norm at kid’s parties. It is all supply and demand.The more choices you give the kids, the more they adsorb and they love it when something different and refreshing comes along.
Charles: I’ve heard that you had a Bantu nanny as a child. Did she help influence your taste for global music?
Miriam Stockley: Having Bantu nannies, who sang to me in their native Sotho or Xhosa, certainly was an influence on the way I write and record my African-style vocals today. I find myself including more and more of the Zulu and Xhosa language in my lyrical composition these days and I am always pleasantly surprised at how the rest of the world has embraced this sound.
Charles: Adiemus became a hit at the time apartheid was just beginning to be disassembled in South Africa. Do you feel that your music in some way made the world appreciate the beauty of South African culture and liberate its people?
Miriam Stockley: I would love to believe that, but I think that it is events such as the Olympics last year, which have made far more of an impact. South Africa is a bit of an enigma to most people, as they imagine it to be mostly rural, with Game Reserves and wild animals roaming about freely in the cities.
Without the visual element, it is difficult for them to expel those images of the country. Liberation of the people of South Africa was always in the cards and while I try and stay away from any political or religious message, I can only hope that my music plays a part in uniting people of all races and faiths.
Charles: Do you feel AOMUSIC can have a similar liberating effect, from poverty if not oppression?
Miriam Stockley: AOMUSIC stands for love, unity, peace and equality. It’s founder Richard Gannaway is one of earth’s true visionaries, living and breathing by that code.
Charles: AOMUSIC is donating to create children’s choirs in Haiti. How is music helpful in recovering from a devastating event such as an earthquake?
Miriam Stockley: Music has long been proven to have healing qualities. AOMUSIC hopes to bring a sense of worth and well-being to those who have suffered in this terrible tragedy – especially the children.
Charles: You’re now a mom yourself. Does having your own children affect the way you see children’s music? Do your children know their famous mother’s songs?
Miriam Stockley: My kids were thrust into this hectic schedule at an early age, so whilst they are aware of the fame and the music, they have always been pretty grounded.
My son has inherited the music gene and he would like to carve out a career for himself as a singer / songwriter.
My daughter, whilst having a natural ear for music, has chosen not to follow a career in show business.
As a mom, I see the importance of responsibility within the music industry towards our kids. There is some very angry and aggressive music out there, which sends out negative messages. Children thoughts should be kept pure and innocent for as long as possible.
Charles: What’s magic for you about the sound of a choir? Is it the sound of many voices coming together as one?
Miriam Stockley: For me, there is strength in numbers, and that is the magic of many voices singing together. Whether it be just myself multi tracking my voice seventy two times, a sixty piece Gregorian men’s choir or a hundred children’s voices soaring together, we all bring the same message – a message of unity, hope and strength.
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