Auroville Musician Series by George Docking
Suite; THE Expatriate, An interview with Dhani Muniz
Introduce yourself. What is your background in Auroville?
Hi, I’m Dhani Yukteswar Muniz, 23 years old and from a (very) mixed Brazilian-Indian background! In terms of Auroville, I was about two months away from being born here when my parents up and moved to New York, and a good chunk of my family was educated in the Ashram, so I always ended up coming back to this place one way or another.
Tell us about your music. What style of music do you make or perform?
It’s hard to make verbal statements about what kind of music I make, perform, or even enjoy- but I started out wanting to basically be a blues musician in a jazz band, and that’s still where I am. All that’s changed is how huge I realize the blues really is; I hear blues in Herbie and Eric Dolphy, but also in Satie and Elliott Carter. It’s more of a musical mindset than anything. We all like to talk (and hear) about “the individual that gives a voice to the group”. In music such as this, I feel the opposite is closer to the point- the group gives a voice to the individual, by putting it in context with other voices.
How did you start your musical journey? How long have you been involved in music?
I’ve been playing music since around the time my memory begins- age 4- so I don’t really recall any part of my life when it was not a central factor. I remember breaking the toy drum kit my brother gave me for Christmas while playing along to “Get Back” at 5, learning Zeppelin songs on bass when I was 6, moving to Alaska and getting into jazz and bluegrass… Every stage of my life has music that I immediately associate with it.
Where do you perform live music? Any memorable performances to mind?
Since moving to India in 2016 I’ve played mostly in Auroville and Pondicherry, with only a few outside gigs. There has been many memorable ones, but one in particular always stands out- a trio show at CRIPA with Edmund Held (https://worldmusicevolution.net/edmund-held-trumpet/). He was visiting from Germany, on trumpet. I was playing bass and Suresh on drums, playing standards- “Maiden Voyage”, “Time Will Tell”, a version of “Caravan” with the groove lifted from the ‘Money Jungle’ album- and the whole hour and a half, we turned the place out. Guitar is my first love, instrument-wise, but being a bass player in a rhythm section where you know everything is ‘ON’… nothing beats it.
What things do you like about Auroville’s music scene? Is Auroville a good place for musicians?
The AV music scene is good for musicians because it affords them room to breathe, which is a rare commodity. A lot of people get pigeonholed because they simply don’t have the time to explore and practice in a way that can actually expand their horizons, and here musicians generally have free reign to do this. Between having good practice spaces, a few good venues, and just the nature of the place- artists in general have a very long leash, which is a breath of fresh air.
What things could be better for musicians in Auroville?
I’ve always felt that we work best and grow under a little pressure- whether that comes from outside or a more internal thing. Auroville doesn’t put any pressure anywhere. Which is a good thing in general, but it leads to views and approaches that I sometimes find strange; namely, the concept of music as something therapeutic for the musician. In many ways playing can have this effect, but it’s incidental. To play music with this in mind generally makes it very staid for me. Music is first and foremost something to contribute to.
What are your musical inspirations?
Musical inspirations are far too many to name; off the top of my head, Miles Davis, Albert King, Gil Evans, Thelonius Monk, and Ornette Coleman would all be up there. Extra-musically, Albert Ryder and Bill Burroughs have had just as much impact in their own way.
What are your musical aspirations?
My aspiration is to keep a band together! All my favorite (non-classical) music has been made by ensembles that played together long enough to develop a particular rapport, so that it really was like cogs working in a machine. Suresh and I have played together so long together, but in a full band it’s something else. I don’t really care if I have to tour endlessly or kiss certain comforts goodbye- if I could play a show every night I would!
Do you have any upcoming concerts that you will perform?
Upcoming concerts are always tricky these days of course, but I hope to finally start working with my own band, suite; the expatriate, this coming December! It’s incredibly exciting- not only finally playing my own music, but working with such amazing musicians! Maarten Visser from Chennai, Aman Mahajan in Bangalore… These are some heavyweight guys, and just to be able to be in the ring with them, so to speak, was and is a real privilege.
How can we find your music and support you?
My band’s debut album ‘Chimu Fiesta’ is set to be released on the 15th of October! Recorded in December, 2019, it’s finally seeing the light of day- follow me and my band on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. at https://linktr.ee/suitetheexpatriate to find out more and help support a truly ‘homegrown’ music.
George Docking is a music and travel journalist from London, UK. He has been living here for the last six months and is passionate about the Auroville art scene.