The Sunday Session welcomes Raffaela Dionne Lucilla Herbert!
I’m happy to be meeting in the Pijp area of Amsterdam at Cafe Punt, a nice spot on the corner of Tweede Jacob van Campenstraat.
Raffaela arrives, she says that at 7pm there will be a Jazz Session. On Sundays she makes a habit of coming here and singing with the session band ran by Finnish guitarist Santeri Sulkunen. Later she will move onto CC cafe, and sing with another session. Raffaela has been singing with many bands since the nineties, moving through soul, house, classical and Jazz styles. In the past she has played with Tot Vanmiddag, De Helden Van and Future Groove Express. She currently fronts the band Ensemble Transpoétique. I suggest you click this link, and keep on reading. This song is really ‘up’!
She is from a Suriname family who moved to Groningen in the late seventies where Raffaela was born. For me, hearing the word ‘Groningen’ spoken by a Dutch tongue really encapsulates the phonetic feel of the Dutch language. The ‘G’ sound has a slight roll, then a guttural sound that comes from deep within. Whenever I hear this word, it draws me to go there. I take pleasure in trying to pronounce it, as well as hearing it spoken by Raffaela during our conversation.
When she was six they moved to Amsterdam. After leaving school in ’95, she studied Communications, and even though her grades were good, it didn’t feel right for her. Her mum and dad were both musical, and she began to put music first. She then did a Prep. year at the Conservatorium Van Amsterdam, it was a real classical training. She loved it, and had loads of fun, although the programme was heavy on theory, training students to write major compositions. Raf was able to read and write music, but found this area quite challenging.
We talk about learning at an institution, versus learning by doing. I’m thinking now that I’ve heard of so many super successful musicians who don’t write their own sheet music. Just yesterday I was listening to a WTF podcast with Marc Maron. There was a mention of the musician Sonny, from Sonny and Cher. He too struggled writing sheet compositions, but was considered a musical genius. Raf has no problem layering voices on a mixer and creating a harmony, but can’t quite put it down on paper. Instead Raf talks to her band, gradually working the notes into a formal structure. Sometimes she says she just wants to sit down with her notebook, and write the music, but now she just sings into her i-Phone app, and it formalises her ideas for her. I comment that technology has caught up and solved the problem for her.
Raf puts it like this: “I know a lot of people that did get this piece of paper (the 4 year Conservatorium qualification), they like working with me, and I’m very lucky with that, so they use my expertise to some extent and they’re happy with it, and I learn from them. So maybe it’s more my er……more of an ego thing. But sometimes you just wanna nail it! All by yourself. Maybe life is never like that, ahh?”
I think some people are enablers, helping other people do what they want. Sometimes people come to me with some ideas and ask me: How do I do this?
She says that sometimes she wishes she had more money, and was able to have her own set-up. A place to record her musical ideas. Back to learning by doing. She acknowledges that there is a way forward without classical training from music institutions. But if you want their approval, then you have to pay to attain it. I guess what we are really taking about is this: If you want to pursue you project, be it building a house, writing a book or starting a business, then you have to be able to solve all these little problems on the way to your goal. Money can be an issue, but it won’t stop you.
“You have to keep moving and see what’s up. I have nice stuff to look forward to.”
“You can look at it like this.” Raf says. “Maybe I’m not moving trains or… rockets. See, if you would make a small sketch, like from point A to point B. You put a few dates. I think that I can make these milestones that I’ve thought of, and reach those limits. Nothing really grand but I can do a project here, a project there and this will keep me happy for six weeks. Then at Christmas, after I’ve completed this, I will have these three weeks, and life is good, this is how I’m living.”
I ask Raffaela to tell me more about the area we’re sitting in. She tells me that there is a Jazz Institution on the corner (De Badcuyp, sadly now closed), where early last year year she sang guest vocals for a band. In this period she was singing very high, and people were telling her: “You know, you sing too high”, she was like: O.K.! And then one musician: Mathias Breton approached her after a set and said “You know, I really like the way you sing, so high!” And continued to ask if they could swap numbers. And this was the start of the band Ensemble Transpoétique, new album planned!
See the band Ensemble Transpoetique here !
And here is Cafe Punt, where we had our talk. Cheers!