Bluesfest | 9–14 April 2020
When your dad is Ry Cooder, you will have had a pretty cool childhood. Especially if music was your thing too. Indeed from the beginning, keyboardist, percussionist and drummer, Joachim Cooder rubbed shoulders with the likes of John Lee Hooker and Beuna Vista Social Club.
‘I was around people like this a lot – musical elders who were so gracious with their knowledge. It was so unique and I always wanted to learn. Being around these older people you just listen to them talk, you hear their inside language.’
Joachim reflects fondly on the many places around the world his dad took him to play music. From adolescence Joachim was stepping up and playing drums, in fact he’s most recently been touring with his Dad as part of the Cash and Cooder show – a tribute to the songs of Johnny Cash.
Sometimes what impressed the young musician the most was hearing the musicality of ‘unschooled’ musicians. Raw, wild, organic playing that seemed unstoppable.
‘I remember being at a regional festival in Georgia and there were all these people playing without formal training. The drummer played backwards, everything looked broken, nothing came to them from the outside, from another source or from YouTube. This was the real thing.’
Like his dad, Joachim is a fan of broad sonic soundscapes, except he creates his with an electric m’bira. He uses this African instrument to transform Appalachian music and blues with a powerful evocative aesthetic. The m’bira has become his signature instrument – it’s what he composes on, what he plays on stage – it’s even his logo! Joachim truly has a deep love for, and an affinity with, this traditional instrument and its capacity to find the untold stories in the music he plays.
‘It’s a very evocative modal instrument’, says Joachim. ‘It transports me while I play it to another place. I base all my songs around it. I love distorting it, putting it through delays. It’s not a widely recognisable instrument, and I think that makes people pay attention, because they can’t quite work it out.’
Like his dad who composed some of the most epic soundscapes of all time, Joachim is a lover of the desert and of finding the spaces in the music which echo the timeless vastness of that hard but ethereal place.
‘There is such deep solitude in the desert. It’s not a lonely place – I think there is a big difference between being lonesome and lonely. There’s a powerful silence out there – something you don’t get anywhere else because people are on their phones, or they can’t stand in line without looking at something. Sometimes, when I am driving, I think I’ll put on a podcast, but sometimes I just have to let my mind loose and listen to nothing. It’s why I love driving by myself. You just listen to your mind.’
Part of Joachim’s creative genius is that he is a sensational listener. In fact his last album was inspired by the gems of wisdom offered by his small daughter. The fragments of a child’s attempt to make sense of the world that often go unnoticed. The album was titled Fuchsia Machu Picchu and made the creative leap from many of his daughter’s absurdist observations.
‘She would say things, and I would never in a million years say it that way!’, says Joachim of his now four-and-a-half year old girl. ‘ One of the most perfect examples comes from when she was one. At the time she was sick with a cold and was all congested and I was giving her a bottle. I said “I am going to get your head elevated and put a pillow under it.” About 6 months later we have friends over, and she’s playing with her doll, the one called “the boy” and she was putting him up on a pillow and doing all the stuff I had done – she points to the doll and says “Elevated boy.” I was like – stop talking – no one could ever have thought of it! I went on and created a narrative for the song.’
Joachim Cooder is one of the featured acts at Bluesfest in April next year – don’t miss him, he’s a dynamic performer, in fact you might even say he’s an ‘elevated boy.’ For tickets and program information go to bluesfest.com.au