Enter the Lion (track 6 on my album Time Shift) started as a snatch of notes I played on the piano. When it was done, I wondered what to call it. Only when the name popped into my head, I realized that what I had been thinking about all along, was a pride of lions slowly moving through the veld, and of their low-slung lope as they shape-shift through the tall grass, and of the alert twitchiness of the lions’ next meal as they drink at the watering hole.
There are many images that are quintessentially South African – or African – a pride of wild lions is one. It’s a scenario with dichotomy – on the one hand, slow, subtle movements, on the other, tension and explosive attacks.
DIFFERENT SORTS OF LIONS
So, this song is about lions – their movements, for a start: that low-bellied lope of the lion as it stalks its prey, which I expressed in the slow tempo (95 bpm) and beat of the song. When I made the music video, the footage of the lion walking immediately matched the tempo and the rhythm of the song, no retiming required. I was amazed by that!
The Lion of instruments
The name also refers to one of the prominent instruments in the song, the Afghanistan Rubab (or Rabab), which is called “The Lion of Instruments”. It is one of the national music instruments of Afghanistan. It has a melancholic, somber sound that I think is quite unusual, and that fits the mood of a remote, wild landscape. The rubab is a type of stringed instrument, specifically a lute, a necked-bowl lute, that is plucked or played with a bow. Many variants of this instrument are found in different parts of the world, from Afghanistan to Mongolia.
(Left to right) Image in the collection of the Museum of the Tropics (Dutch: Tropen Museum) of a rebab-player; a man playing a rebabah; a late 19th century sitar, and a rubab (note the beautiful inlay work).
In terms of me thinking the rubab is unusual – it’s fairly typical of people to think of sounds and instruments that are not common in their part of the world, as exotic or appealing, without actually understanding what they are and how they are played. I listen to these instruments and I think they have a different texture, or mood. I know that I am probably infuriating professional musicians by including instruments like the shakuhachi flute, the oud, the sitar, the sarod, the rubab, and even the bagpipes, in my songs, because the only limitations for incorporating them are the settings for the virtual instruments in Logic – or any other DAW.
I realize that I often feel that an instrument from the Middle East, the Far East or even South America is a better choice, because it has a harsher, more atonal sound than typical Western instruments. If I understand it correctly, this effect is because the rubab typically has three melody strings that are tuned to be played in perfect fourths – four notes or staff positions that make up a chord. In certain instances this 4th note sounds stylistically dissonant. That might be what I sometimes hear. (The instrument also has two or three drone strings and up to 15 sympathetic strings.)
My ideas about the rubab are no different from people who hear any deep-throated or growly singing, and wrongly categorize it as throat singing – which is something very specific and not very common.
The importance of authenticity
Musician and musicologist Farya Faraji, whose hair is even more beautiful than Justin Trudeau’s, often addresses this issue on his YouTube episodes. He performs on indigenous Middle Eastern and ancient or historical instruments. He plays the bağlama, kopuz, Kurdish tanbur, and cura amongst others. He is also hilarious in his videos – making fun of his dramatic good looks and videoing himself singing while standing waist deep in snow (he lives in Canada).
I try to keep the sounds authentic, Mr. Faraji, I stick to the scale and incorporate the techniques, like the pitch bends and vibrations. But even so, I am simply a copycat and I do not understand the complexities, for instance, the microtones. And also, I combine these traditional instruments with very modern beats.
To musicologists and musicians out there who may hear to the melodies I write for these instruments, and are surprised by my temerity, think of it as a compliment I’m paying, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
The Lion in Winter
Lastly, the name also refers to “the lion in winter”. This expression is the name of a 1968 film and play in which the “lion” is elderly King Henry VIII of England. A lion in winter means an old, skinny lion – at the end of its life. This fits, because the writer of this song is not young, and in the music video, the dancer is not a young man either. And the lion in the video is also old and grey-bearded – though his teeth are still long, shiny and bloodied. The lioness pants in the heat, but her teeth and eyes still gleam.
I guess I got lucky this time, in that I could put into words what I’d been trying to express in the song in the first place. Rather late than never, right?
Enter the Lion
The song has a roots vibe with low, fat synths and a resonating beat. The bass instrumentalist (composer and producer) on this track is Luke Garfield.
There’s lions in this video
See that lion loping along through the grass – at 95 bpm.
Credits: Enter the Lion – Feat. the Afghanistan Sand Rabab ‘The Lion of Instruments’
Video ISRC CBAKR2303120
Audio track ISRC CBAKR2201003
Bass guitar, percussion and drums composer and producer – Luke Garfield
Mixing & Mastering: Luke Garfield – Banana Llama Studios
Video produced and published by Red Pennant Communications Corp., Vancouver, Canada
Licenced Video Footage in video (except Afghan Rabab footage) from Artgird.io
Afghan Rabab footage – YouTube (no restrictions)
Video produced and published by Red Pennant Communications Corp.