A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single awesome concert.
Saturday, the Yukon Arts Centre will play host to the opening shot of Dig the Planet, an innovative global tour by The Root Sellers, a Whitehorse-based musical group composed of brothers Daniel and Galen Ashley.
Dubbed a “cultural expedition like no other,” Dig the Planet will take the brothers to 11 countries on four continents with the goal of “discovering new sonic possibilities and musical collaborators.”
In August, the tour will bring the brothers to China as Canadian musical ambassadors for the Beijing Olympics.
Spontaneous musical collaboration has grown to become a signature feature of the group.
The pair got their start in hip-hop, but over the last two years they have delved into a unique style that melds both pre-recorded audio samplings and on-the-fly live musical creation.
“It started with our last hip hop band, we couldn’t really afford to record in studios, so we learned to do what we could with a laptop and microphone … It developed into something where we ended up in strange places with strange people and we realized that there isn’t any way we could have gotten those people into the studio, or recreated those places and times,” said Galen.
Porches, farms, ice fields and even the backrooms of NGO offices have provided some of the Root Sellers’ greatest work, he said.
Saturday’s concert will be the brother’s biggest group project to date.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we’re pretty confident we’ll have good stuff when we do a group session like this, so this time we decided to amp up the talent,” said Galen.
Produced jointly with Brave New Works, the concert has brought together a myriad of Canadian artists with backgrounds ranging from Ontario, the Maritimes and even Ghana.
A literal “fusing together” of the diversity of Canada, said singer Kayla McGee.
“We decided to take this project on because we saw it as an opportunity to really provide the Root Sellers with an opportunity to test its product.
By using the local environment of cultural support in the Yukon, we’re helping to create this larger product that will show the Yukon off to the rest of the world,” said Brave New Works co-producer David Prodan.
“As these boys are going to be heading out all over the world, it’s good to have a certain amount of international flavour to their sound,” he said.
The show will also be the season finale of Brave New Works, an arts project that looks to “increase the capacity of local artists.”
Throughout the 2007-2008 season, their catalogue has include photo expositions, spoken word gatherings and theatre variety shows.
Flown-in especially for the show is Ghanaian-born drummer Kofi Ackah.
Ackah splits his time between Ghana, where he works mainly in studio music production, and Canada, where he plays the summer festival circuit.
“We’re all constantly blown away by his skills; Kofi has this ability to lay down a perfect track in only one take, every time,” said McGee.
For just over a week, the combined musicians have been living at David and Galen’s studio-rigged cabin at Lake Laberge.
While the concert will feature past works from the Root Sellers, including songs from their new album, it will consist largely of material devised at the cabin.
Much of the music makes use of the Root Sellers’ unique use of “sampling.”
While a number of contemporary artists incorporate existing musical samples as rhythmic elements of a new song, Daniel and Galen have taken to capturing natural sounds such as logs, chimes and cracking ice.
These sounds are then arranged into a rhythmic format to provide a base for live improvisation and recording.
“One of the best songs on their latest album samples the Sky Train buzzer in Vancouver. They’re great at picking up all these cultural artifacts of sound and slipping them in when you least expect it, ” said Prodan.
The unique geography of the North has been a creative haven for the assemblage.
“Having such a beautiful landscape behind us, it’s an ideal setting for so many people to come together,” said Daniel.
“You need a good space for something like this, it wouldn’t work in a studio,” agreed McGee.
“It’s interesting how there’s people from so many different backgrounds and genres and training. So on day one or day two, someone will say, ‘OK, let’s try and make a dance hall song — now how do we do that?’” said guitarist Kyle Cashen.
“We’re all learning, we’re all coming together as equals and trying to learn from each other,” said McGee.
The group described how, for one song, Ackah gave the group a crash course in traditional Ghanaian music.
For another, the group learned the fundamentals of Highlife music, a West African genre that is a mix of jazz, swing and calypso.
Throughout the process, creative clashes have been mercifully non-existent, said Daniel.
“Everyone’s been a good sport.”
Material devised for the concert will provide an important catalogue for the brothers to take on their world tour.
The Root Sellers see music as an ongoing process, songs recorded live on Saturday may eventually be remixed with local musicians and influences that the pair encounter on their tour.
At the close of the Dig the Planet tour, which will bring the brothers to Africa, Britain and the South Pacific, the Root Sellers plan to release a CD and multimedia presentation detailing their voyage.
The Dig the Planet kick-off show will begin on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre.
A preview show will be held at Coasters on Friday along with opening act DJ kILL from Shanghai.