AJAY SAGGAR of UNIVERSITY CHALLENGED – Song For Ewe

“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today it’s an ever-welcome return from one of our favourite alumni. A super-connector, an uber-producer, a third eye visionary who can easily swap angled indie chops with transcendental shakedowns, he’s been at the controls of many of your favourite bands live gigs, but he’s always been able to give the very best a proper run for their money and to the hills for their lives.

The Bent Moustache, Donkey, King Champion Sounds, Dandelion Adventure, Deutsche Ashram, The Common Cold are just some of the bands of Ajay Saggar that spill off the tongue and jangle for attention in your head. Last year’s solo adventure as Bhajan Bhoy was magical and memorable, and in the year of oh my lord 2021, there’s a brand new project called University Challenged which when I played the second track in two shows on the new VS radio show on The Neon Hospice, fellow broadcaster Johny Brown (Band of Holy Joy/Bad Punk/Default Lines) called “very groovy”. An understatement, yet also a handy nutshell to their crackling slow burning yet insistent beauty “Oh Temple!” the first great release (and what a welcome release) of 2021.

University Challenged features the equally active and inspired Oli Heffernan (aka Ivan The Tolerable) and Kohhei Matsuda (Bo Ningen) and together they’re a triumphant triumvirate of sonic salutation.

Alongside The Nightingales’ Fliss Kitson, Ajay is the person that has chosen the most ever “songs for ewe” (or in the “Lucky 7” series) for Velvet Sheep and that’s because not only is he prolific, and super nice and accommodating, he also without fail picks some cracking tunes…ranging from The Fall (obvs) to Cocteau Twins, via King Tubby, Albert Ayler, Jimmy Smith to Top Drawer (the latter being apt for the quality control). So it’s great to see him back here on VS, our spiritual shining light, the peerless Ajay Saggar!

Please check out this tune from “Oh Temple!” – “Choppers Over Negril” which definitely has echoes of the “Weatherman Skank” he chose a while back, mixing echo deck wobbles with dread at the control vocal samples and kosmiche sturm und drang…

Who better to describe the making of “Oh Temple!” by University Challenged than Ajay himself…

“2020! What’s the one word you would use to describe that year? For me, it was “productive”. It was a chance to focus on music music music. The year had been planned so that I would start recording an album for a new project called UNIVERSITY CHALLENGED in April 2020…flights had been booked, the preparations had been made. Except that in March all those plans got scuppered. What to do? I decided to go ahead with making the album anyway, but instead of doing it with the 3 of us in my studio, we would record remotely. The other two members of the group….Oli Heffernan (Ivan The Tolerable) and Kohhei Matsuda (Bo Ningen) agreed to that, and in March 2020, the whole process started.

The recording process took us between March and June and mixing took me between June and August…thats 6 months of pretty intense work in a pretty intense year. For me the album turned out to be a beautifully crafted piece of art where the different talents, imagination, and creativity of the three artists were allowed to flourish within the whole, but where everyone was reading from the same book. I am convinced that the fact that we recorded this remotely made this album rise to perhaps greater heights than if we had come together for a long weekend of recording. I think we all gathered individual courage to throw forward ideas from a distance and hope that the others got it. It gave each player more time to really LISTEN to each others ideas and pushed us forwards individually to bring even more exciting things into the whole.

Mixing it was certainly a challenge…..the tracks are anything from between 8 to 10 minutes each. And each track had so much going on. But it was also easy to mix because the groundwork was so solid that on listening back to it, the pieces fitted together so well. Sure there was selective editing / production work, but the core of it was the voice of three individuals singing as one. In years to come, I will cherish this double album as one of the few good things that came out of lockdown.”

And from a man with an unflinching vision and unwavering good taste, what of Ajay’s choice of tune? Without further ado, here’s the latest and greatest Ajay Saggar “song for ewe” (Jan 2021 edition)

“The track I’ve selected for “Song For Ewe” is a track from Maleem Mahmoud Ghania with Pharaoh Sanders and is called “La Allah Dayim Moulenah” (taken from the album “The Trance Of Seven Colours”). It’s a meeting of two true musical masters.

MALEEM MAHMOUD GHANIA (1951 – 2015), son of the master of Gnawa music MALEEM BOUBKER GHANIA and the famous clairvoyant and “moqaddema” A’ISHA QABRAL, and a master of the traditional Gnawa style in his own right. MAHMOUD learned this craft as a youth along with his brothers, walking from village to village, performing ceremonies with his father BOUBKER and was one of the few masters (Maleem) who continued to practice the Gnawa tradition strictly for healing (the central ritual of the Gnawa is the trance music ceremony – with the purpose of healing or purification of the participants).

PHAROAH, off course, needs no introduction. His distinctive sound on the tenor saxophone has charted his musical path as a truly spiritual soul, playing with the likes of JOHN COLTRANE and ALICE COLTRANE, and on seminal solo albums like “Karma”.

I chose this track for various reasons. Its an incredibly beautiful, spiritual, rhythmic masterpiece. Even though the artists hail from different continents, music is the universal language. You can hear that they play with respect for each other, and that they are inspired by each others playing (something we hoped to achieve in making the UNIVERSITY CHALLENGED album). You can feel them being fed by the same spirit. These guys are deep! The musicians involved are reaching for a higher ground. Gnawa music is healing music. Pharoah’s music is healing music. In these strange times, we all need music as a healing force.”

THANKS SO MUCH AJAY. YOU’RE ALWAYS WELCOME HERE ON V.S.

You should snag yourself a copy of “Oh Temple” on the link below…

And here’s another in the series of videos that Ajay and Oli have made for the project – “Shibboleth”…

Author: Nick Hutchings

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