This week, studio engineer, Sam Grant, talks us through a day in The Amazing Sessions studio with Ajimal. Conjuring a haunting atmosphere, the one man genius stunned us with his own compositions and treated us to a special cover version of an amazing favourite.
It's on a rare occasion that I get to write up the Amazing Sessions blog. Stepping into Ruth Kilpatrick's shoes isn't quite so enjoyable on a literal level - the pinching is somewhat inhibitive to long distances - but in being given the opportunity to document the proceedings of today's session with Ajimal (aka Fran O'Hanlan), I feel quite privileged.
Certainly, and as always, privileged for the opportunity to engineer the session with my colleague Chris McManus, but also for the opportunity to wax lyrical here in a retrospective glow about Ajimal's weighty talents. I would go so far as to say my words will do little to highlight the gravity of Ajimal's wonderful music. They offer little against simply listening to the session, to his captivating musings first-hand.
In my line of work I see, work alongside, and record many musicians at all levels in most areas of music, and I would hope it's with relative authority that I can say few musicians could offer such beautiful control and delicate romance with sound like Ajimal. Blame it on what has been an unusually sunny day, or maybe my addition of cucumber to my lunchtime bap, but right now my inordinate level of praise here feels much deserved.
The first track of the session was a piano rendition of Years by Holy Mammoth. This is a song exclusively sessioned by Holy Mammoth barely four weeks previous, and one that Fran decided to cover the night before - after hastily clearing the idea with the band. Gracefully moving between soft lows and driven highs it's without confusion or surplus that he imparts his distinctive sound on the track, making it his own in many respects. You can hear the original here, and I would encourage you to do so - not only because it's great, but because you can begin to tell what Fran brings to the song, what defines him and his musical voice.
The name Ajimal is a moniker picked up from his traveling in the Caribbean. The real Ajimal was a Haitian voodoo priest, and by all accounts a rather unpleasant one. He was aid to the questionable Haitian president François "Papa Doc" Duvalier (1957 - 1971). Duvalier passed away in 1971 and, while Haiti has never truly recovered from his regime, Ajimal (the voodoo priest) found new favour as a repented Christian. Fran met the man while on the island and found it quite a stand out moment - enough so that it determined his choice of artist name. Fran's attitude however is reassuringly negative toward the questionable voodoo priest, rather "I like the way it sounds phonetically" he tells me when I ask why his pseudonym is such. Not only a fine reason and an interesting name, but it also further highlights the appreciation of sonic and timbre that seems so important in Fran's music.
The following three songs of the session saw him take to the guitar; electric for the second and last, while in the third he used a nylon strung classical guitar. The highlight of the three for me has to be his rendition of Your God Is Not In Burgos. It's a slow building, fragile, journey of a track that haunts and delights in equal measure. It is not a track to attentively listen to, but to allow to wrap around yourself. This tune was written in light of time spent by Fran within a modest church situated in the shadow (and pretense) of its decadent, neighbouring cathedral. The space within the track, the pauses and ambience, all combine with the lyrics and tone to recreate this ethereal, longing ghost of a track.
This is certainly not a session to put your dancing shoes on for, nor one to get your heart rate going. Quite the opposite in fact, if you find a moment to yourself and a quiet space in a hectic day, you may also find that this makes a fine accompaniment.