In the beginning, there was that second album, Witchi Tai To. One of its attraction of the time, the extra enhanced CD, containing not only audio and video content, photos and texts, but you could go directly to the band’s website from it. This CD, with a computer partition on it, was produced at Abbey Road Interactive Studio, behind the walls where Beatles, Pink Floyd, Kate Bush and Radiohead worked. Some radio-friendly mixes were on it too, as the main audio content, played by radio stations now and then, but this kind of media cooperation reached a break…
A photo stands as proof the four boys crossed that famous northwest-London crossing, like everybody does if walking there, but looking it more closely its actually Atti, times four. And the arabesque, Native American-design disc was released on LP and MC formats too. A year later, a VHS titled Witchi Tai To Tour came out, featuring the 1998 November gig at PeCsa, swimming in Vari*Lite lights, surrounded by Gábor Bakó’s ring of dancers.
On the album’s 15th birthday Tomi did a complete remixing from the original multitrack. He improved the sounding of the music, hence the three-dimensional feeling of the surround 5.1 version – and of course the high-grade fidelity of the acoustic instruments: even the tiniest detail, smudged on generic stereo, now comes forward. More add-ons were the live video record of the original gig from 1997, and the clip of Djabe and Coffee Break. But this is still not the final destination: in 2015 the band released a 2CD + 2DVD historic release of Witchi Tai To, with interviews, 3 hours of live video recordings in an LP-size artbook.
How these pieces of a milestone were born? Atti will guide us through the story.
I heard a few sentences at one of my archive-days, when he was dictating, the whole story to one of his employees in the office, carefully rephrasing every bit again and again. I heard that the opening Coffee Break, Muki’s most known composition, with Ferenc Snétberger manning the guitar, was thought to be a hit by the band; and actually, they were right, as its remix was often played at many radio stations, and even made it to the Juventus Radio remix-CD. Ode was pretty well known already from the second Novus Jam and first Djabe album – on the former it was under the alias Northern Adventure. The original was written by Atti, in 1994, under the influence of solo albums by David Gilmour (for me, Weather Report came to mind when listened to the main theme middle part). The Island enclosed light reflecting off the sea, photographed by Attila, and made into the piece Island (in the Novus Jam era), would be quite perfect for me, too.
„In the early 90s I mostly recorded my improvisations on cassette or reel-to-reel tape. Often, I found myself going through these recordings and editing them into real pieces. This is how Odyssey came to be, a simple but clean melody, at least for me. We added Sipi’s clay drum and a fretless bass guitar, and finally, Tomi made it whole. I somehow thought about sirens, these legendary sea born creatures, when listening to it; so, we asked Judit Herczeg, Tomi’s wife, to add some vocal to strengthen this siren’s song.” – said Attila.
The scenery after a refreshing rain, with sparky and obscure lights and odors, all try to send the sensitives to a kind of alpha phase. Visions After The Rain is the most „world music-like” piece on the originally made-to-order series Visions. But nobody can stop me at Early Morning Show; for me, it is the twin to Late Night Drink of the first album but made more serene by acoustic instruments. At the next ’vision’ called Cocktail Sipi’s vocal and Tomi’s bass guitar both break free. If a musical composition has depth and meaning it can withstand numerous versions, rearrangement or splitting. A fine example for this is Desert, having a main role early as the album Djabe. The four themes became three, and the second gives the first opportunity for a bass solo for Tomi – a first, but not last occasion. The movement of homecoming is a returning theme for the band: here, it takes the shape of a festivity of drum and vocal.
If there is a real African piece on the disc, it must be Visions, a composition built upon the original corporate-dance gig. The piece shows how inevitable are the masters. We can see the dance choreographed for it, at the beginning of the recording from 1997.
„I listened to the music, made by a completely different state of mind from the generic ad-type jingles and pieces. It does not want to bathe in quick and volatile success, but starts slow, builds up continuously, sometimes even repetitively, then a theme explodes and runs along with us, into an unknown world – in one word, it’s interesting.” – said Gábor Bakó, who met with Sipi and Atti in the Novus Jam era. Sipi’s vocal, kalimba and djembe brings back some antediluvian simplicity – this was the other piece, besides Djabe, that was laid to rest together with Sipi, because „without him, there’s no point in playing it”.
Roots of Gallop stretch back to Novus Jam also, as it was the joint composition of Atti and Judit.
„A piece undefinable by genre – a statement that became true for numerous Djabe compositions in the future. It’s Djabe, period.” – said by many. In its dynamics, provided by Atti and Muki, and a guitar creating a western-like atmosphere, not even far from free style. And for contrast, the saxophone-orientated Last Vision.
„Water spirit circling over my head, I’m happy to be alive.” – as some sources translate the titular Witchi Tai To. This is the only piece that is not original Djabe, but from the Native American saxophonist Jim Pepper, based on a religious song of the Native American Church, a fusion of Christian and Native American religion. A song rehashed by jazz musicians, rock bands and now, even Djabe. But why did this song become the album title? We can learn this from Atti: „It was my idea. It’s a well-known song for our potential fan base, both foreign and domestic. It makes it easy for both shops and shoppers to position our release.”
The idea came true, as this release is one of the most popular of Djabe’s discography, and until Sipi’s death the last piece featured heavily on gigs. And Witchi Tai To was the last to be played by Sipi, on his last performance in Debrecen, on the 7th of December 2007. Did he know this is his farewell? Either way, it was worthy of him.
„Privately released, up to par.” – this was the title given to the article detailing the album press release in the journal Hajdú-Bihari Napló, by Péter Héty. He also added that the band, giving a sneak peek of the new material in Park Café Budapest, „just gathered a ton of praise with its live performance of disc-like quality.”
The multimedia method received praise even after its release, September 1998, from a journalist of Sulinet: „They released a marvelous double CD. On the first disc we find an eerie beauty of clear music, but the second brings the multimedia: four remixes almost jazz-acid, and 35 minutes of live Djabe show.”
A Student E-nek adott interjúban Sipos András ekképp fejtette ki a Witchi Tai To kapcsán világzene-értelmezését:
In an Interview for Student E, András Sipos said this about Witchi Tai To and his definition of world music: „Pro musicians often say world music is mostly amateurish, as so many play it who knows absolutely nothing about the language of music as a profession. However, its also clear that the better musician you are, the further you can fly away, because all heights have deep roots. If someone has a good enough relation with the chosen instrument then surely, that musician can let go long enough to breed something special, a musical experience to last.
The most important about world music is its unmistakable base rhythm. Sometime after you can’t even sense the difference between a shaman from Siberia and one of the Dakota people. Instrument-wise they not even close, but the rhythm, that base rhythm is the same. These are genetic codes, not to be changed. And so, we can’t ignore the basic laws of music. Instrumentally, we play world music, but spiritually, we abide the laws of music.”
We are accustomed to Djabe sharing its archive treasures with fans, or we can say they place their creations into historic scenery. And it is the same here, too. We even invited to the studio to witness the birth of a piece. Besides the original recordings we can listen and watch some portions of old gigs. As seen in the film of the 1998 tour, with Witchi Tai To, Djabe perfected the nexus of music, stage lighting (Vari*Lite) and choreography. And some more historic documentation of importance; radio and tv interviews by the band, especially some musical show led by András Sipos, mostly angklung.
„The sounding changes year by year, but this album never seemed outdated.” – said Tamás Barabás, who remixed Witchi Tai To, in an interview about the secrets of studio recording.
„The 4 disc deluxe media book version of Witchi Tai To will definitely become the paramount Hungarian release of 2015, raising the bar for future retrospective compilations. It’s self punishment not to buy this top-quality re-release of a Djabe masterpiece.” – said Jozé, a critic for Ellensúly.
It cannot be argued that the Hungarian Music Award for World Music of 2000 made into the best possible hands. In a genre only partially known by domestic fans, mostly by foreign performers. But no one even suspected then that Djabe soon will leap forward, in the spirit of freedom.
In the summer of 1998, the clip for the radio version of Djabe was made in Budapest, near Petneházy-rét. The script was written by László Nagy, director and director of photography, and by Attila Égerházi, and recorded on 35mm Kodak filmstock. Besides the band members also starred dance choreographer Gábor Bakó and his disciples. For the Djabe popularity, gave a hard push the bus clip, with an iconic, fully operational Icarus 66 type coach. A real specialty was the Vari*Lite lighting equipment used for the outdoor night shoots..
The Witchi Tai To Tour of autumn, 1998 showed off this album with one of the most memorable and spectacular gig series of Hungary. This level of quality was not accustomed to in jazz and world music band stages before. Unparalleled audio quality, Vari*Lite lighting, dancers and the music left the fans completely charmed. The tour lasted till summer of 1999.
Yoruba magic in the theater
„The Djabe quartet gave an elemental gig of world music in Nyíregyháza. Obscured lights, thick smoke, a stage packed with exotic musical instruments – this is what lucky audience of 200 was welcomed by in the Móricz Zsigmond Theater. The quartet literally charmed this audience; this young band just released its especially high-quality double CD album Witchi Tai To, and this was the base for the one-and-a-half-hour-long show (because this was a show, not a gig!).
The saxophone play of Muck, the virtuoso bass guitar play by Barabás also strengthen this statement. So, the audience sat there, in the gradually darkening auditorium, then suddenly four human-sized shadow stepped on stage just to fiddle with dong-like instruments – and then, a tropic rain started to pour! Like in Burma, in the middle of a rain forest. The sound effects were frighteningly authentic. And this is how it was, until the end of the concert. Visions After The Rain, Ode, Island, Camel Run, Desert I-III, Visions, Distant Dance. And of course, the showoff of exotic instruments also came true. The professionalism of Sipos, especially with the magic of Yoruba, was extraordinary. Soon after, when the quartet performed Javan folk music on wooden fregola-like instruments, well, the audience simply went crazy. This was a night, and a gig, to be remembered!” – said János Kállai, Kelet-Magyarország, 1998.