Victor Diawara


MXF: What is the name of your project?

Victor: It’s called Afrodelic. I started the project in 2018 and it’s traditional Malian African music, mixed with modern and electronic sounds.

MXF: Would you call it folktronica?

Victor: I guess you could.. I would definitely call my other project Elektroninės Sutartinės folktronica. Afrodelic is a project that can play in world music events and festivals but also in electronic music places. But it could also find a place in traditional folk events, so I guess you could call it folktronica. 

MXF: And it would be more on the folk side.

Victor: Yeah, it is folk mixed with electronica, so I guess you could call it that.

MXF: We’re really interested in what you think, so what would you say?

Victor: I guess there’s a kind of differentiation because when you say folk, most of the time people think of European folk music. And in terms of world music, you think more of the traditional folk music from Africa. But you don’t say folk music, even though it is folk music.

MXF: So world music is folk music outside Europe, right?

Victor: Yeah, folk music for me is kind of white (laughs).

MXF: Okay. Tell us about the other project and how that one came about.

Victor: The other project is called Elektroninės Sutartinės. So Afrodelic is sort of an homage to my father who passed away in 2018. It’s going back to my African roots because I grew up in Mali. But I was born in Lithuania and Elektroninės Sutartinės is a homage to my mother’s side, to Lithuania. So it’s basically sutartinės, which are called multipart songs in English. They are folk songs from the Aukštaitija region in Lithuania and are part of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It’s a project that I do together with a folklorist Laurita Peleniūtė, who chooses the sutartinės and I turn them into modern-sounding songs. The idea is to present Lithuanian heritage in a modern way so that the younger audience gets to know those sutartinės. Compared to a country like Ireland, where folk is ingrained, Lithuania is a bit ashamed to touch folk I’d say. If you’re from Vilnius, you don’t get to touch it very closely, of course it depends on your family, background and stuff like that. So the idea is to introduce them to the mainstream so that people get to know them. And also present them to the world outside of Lithuania in a way that is acceptable because there’s certain people who like traditional folk the way it is and don’t like it being messed with.

MXF: And this one you’d definitely call folktronica?

Victor: Yeah, definitely.

MXF: Names for both of the projects have a historic heritage reference. You have Afrodelic because of the African music heritage and sutartinės which is the most Lithuanian music there is. And that’s in the name of the project.

Victor: Elektroninės sutartinės started a long time ago, back in 2011. At first it was an art installation with three spinning wheels, connected to a computer. They were making music as you were spinning them. There were three wheels because usually it would be 3 people singing the sutartinės and the project was called Elektroninės Sutartinės. They used to be installations that we put in museums all over Lithuania but then I decided to record an album and the name just stuck.

MXF: Do you play with other people or are you alone?

Victor: Both projects are created in a way that I can play alone but with Afrodelic I can play solo, as a duet, trio and a quartet. We now have these 4 variations but I want to get to the point where we’ll have a full band. I want a brass section and African musicians to join. Elektroninės sutartinės I can also perform alone but it’s not the same experience as with the live vocals. We can do Elektroninės Sutartinės just with Laurita and myself, we can also do it with three girls singing and myself and we also have a full band set with drums and bass. That depends on the budget of the venue or the festival. My main goal with both projects is to play abroad, so I want to be flexible, especially in the beginning. I think it’s smart to have various options if something like a mini tour comes up. It’s easier if I can go alone or with one more person but both projects have a full band option. If we get an invitation to play anywhere, we’re always ready.

MXF: And you said you’d ideally like to have Malian musicians for Afrodelic?

Victor: Ideally Malian but not necessarily Malian, just African musicians because they simply have a different groove of playing music. A dream of mine would be to tour in Africa. I have a lot of goals, which is good, cause I have a lot to look forward to I guess (laughs).

MXF: Nice. The next question is a bit specific – do you perceive yourself as male or female or non-binary led. Is your project male-led?

Victor: Afrodelic is definitely male-led and Elektroninės Sutartinės is 50/50.

MXF: So it’s neither?

Victor: Yeah, neither.

MXF: Do you have lyrics in both projects or just in Elektroninės Sutartinės?

Victor: Yeah, we have lyrics in Afrodelic too. As I’ve said, the first album is a homage to my father, who was a well-known poet and writer, so I used the poems that he wrote for lyrics. I don’t know what the second album will be but I have tons of material. I’m not sure if I’ll base the second album on his material though, probably a few songs. Afrodelic lyrics are mostly in Bambara, which is the biggest local language in Mali, and French. 

MXF: And you know French because of Mali?

Victor: Yeah, French is the official language in Mali. There’s about 24 languages, Bambara is the biggest – over 50% of the population speak it. The other 50% speak over 20 languages and some dialects sound like totally different languages. But the state language is French and I grew up speaking French, Bambara and Lithuanian and later, when I went to Germany, I learnt English and German.

MXF: Do you have one language that you think is your mother tongue?

Victor: I don’t know, my mother is Lithuanian, so I guess Lithuanian?

MXF: Did you learn Lithuanian from your mother when you were a baby?

Victor: Yeah. I always spoke Lithuanian.

MXF: But your answer suggests you don’t think Lithuanian is your main language and then you have other little satellites around it. It sounds more like you’re even evenly spread between different languages.

Victor: Yeah, there’s not one that I could choose. 

MXF: Okay. Mine is obviously English but yours is all mixed. And when did you start Afrodelic, did you say 2018?

Victor: Yeah, Afrodelic started in 2018. Actually I started working on the project in 2009, during the crisis. There were no more gigs, so I went to Africa for a few months and I started learning to play guitar with the locals the Malian way. I recorded a full album back then in Mali but I never mixed it and somehow the hard drive got destroyed. I went back in 2015 and we recorded the same songs with the same musicians. I started working on them a little bit here in my Vilnius studio but it was still sort of on the side, you know? I decided I have to take it seriously and finish it up after my father passed away.

MXF: That was the motivation for finishing it?

Victor: Yeah. So I count it from 2018 and that’s when I came up with the name Afrodelic but I’ve been working on it since 2009.

MXF: Working on it in Lithuania?

Victor: Most of the songs were recorded in Bamako, Mali with local musicians and then I added all the modern elements here in my studio in Vilnius. And while I was doing the production in Lithuania, I got all these new ideas, so my friends there would record those parts with the same musicians and send them to me. So in total, the album was recorded in Bamako, Paris, Berlin and Lithuania.

MXF: So you did features with artists from those countries?

Victor: Yeah.

MXF: Okay, that was Afrodelic. What about Elektroninės Sutartinės?

Victor: As I’ve mentioned it started more as an art installation project back in 2011. But I started working on the album only in 2019 and it was released in 2021. Debut album for Afrodelic was released in 2022. We had a few singles before but the album was released in 2022. Covid was actually quite good for that, cause I had time to finish it off.

MXF: So you started the Elektroninės Sutartinės project during covid in Lithuania?

Victor: Yeah. Exactly.

MXF: Okay, cool. Where are your fans for each of those projects? Do you know or can you guess?

Victor: I would say for Afrodelic it’s really spread out. Last summer alone we played quite a few places although I wouldn’t say we have fans in each of those places. Looking at my social media and Spotify, obviously Lithuania but also France, Italy, Mali, Senegal, a little bit in Spain. Sutartinės was pretty much only Lithuania but after I finished the album last summer, we played in the biggest music festival in Croatia with over 20,000 people and we were headlining the hidden stage. We played after the headliner, which was The Killers, and we were the last band playing in a full tent. We played at Fusion festival in Germany, we played in Belgium, France, Italy.. Two years ago I was asked to support Fatoumata Diawara, who is a huge artist from Mali. I don’t know how but that was amazing. I flew from Vilnius to Bologna to support her. So Afrodelic has a bit of a following and most of our gigs were played in Italy, I think we have played 10 gigs there since 2020. 

MXF: But Sutartinės is Lithuanian and you wouldn’t pick another territory as the main territory?

Victor: What I wanted to say in the first place was that I undervalued the Sutartinės a bit. I released the album and concentrated on Afrodelic because that album came out and we had all these concerts. I released the first video of Sutartinės last year in November, although the album was out for a year. I just put the album out there and didn’t do any promotion at all, the video was done for 6 months before we released it. But I started sending it out through my Afrodelic connections. By the way, I should add that Afrodelic got a lot of air time in France. It got aired on RFI, two of my singles were on the main playlist there, got played on France Inter, which is the biggest French radio on Virgin Radio France and it got playlisted on a lot of local radio stations. The two lead singles were offered and picked up straight away, so for a Lithuanian band that came out of nowhere, that was really huge. So with Afrodelic France and Italy is where I’m aiming at mostly. And back to Sutartinės – so I started sending out the video to the same channels that I got to know through Afrodelic and the response was really overwhelming. I would say it was better than for Afrodelic. I got shares in playlists and blogs from all over the place – in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Zambia, South America, a bit in Europe and it’s still going, one outlet shared it just a few weeks ago. I always thought this project could represent Lithuania in a modern way but now I understand that I can go much further than that. This year I’m planning to release a second Sutartinės album. I was going to start working on the second Afrodelic album but I think I’m going to work on the second release for Elektroninės Sutartinės. There were some labels and publishers that got interested.. I just sent it out to a lot of outlets and the response was incredible. And then I got – it’s totally authentic. For Afrodelic – I know there’s a niche for that kind of world/African music maybe not in Lithuania but countries like France or Italy. For Sutartinės I really understood that it’s a novelty thing that can be very interesting for people.

MXF: You’re definitely the best person to ask these questions – there’s so many different localities in the answers. Are you trying to find new audiences? You’ve said what you already found, so what would be in the future?

Victor: I think for me it’s much easier compared to say a rock band or a hip hop band because it’s very niche. If you like Fatoumata Diawara or Salif Keita, you will like Afrodelic and I can target very specific people who like this in France or Italy. I know that trying to be the new Radiohead or Bon Jovi or whatever from Lithuania is very difficult. Here it’s very authentic, to the point and it’s very easy for me to target people. With Sutartinės it’s the same – people are interested in folk music with electronica. There’s a lot of cool independent artists like that from Ukraine and other places. So it’s also a niche that you can target very specifically, so if I want to target people in Croatia, I will have a gig in Croatia.

MXF: So the genre being niche is actually an advantage because you look where that music is and you know they’re going to like your stuff. You’re not going to confuse that audience.

Victor: Exactly. I started both projects with an aim to do something abroad and I know that it’s not a far-fetched fantasy. I don’t want to become a superstar, just travel around, play in festivals, small venues, big venues, whatever.. There’s a niche for both of those things, so the goal is realistic. I just have to work hard and try to find the right partners but it’s doable. 

MXF: This is the last one – do you draw inspiration from your local scene, which, I guess, we could say is Vilnius? 

Victor: Generally speaking, for what I do, I’m really concentrated on going outside of Lithuania. But the trend in Lithuania is clear. 10 years ago most bands were singing in English, trying to do something abroad, but with ba., Garbanotas and some others, people understood that singing in Lithuanian serves them much better and they can get a much bigger audience and fill bigger venues. I really like this development. When I opened LOFTAS, there were not many bands that could fill such a venue – maybe Andrius Mamontovas, G&G, Skamp, these types of bands. But then around 2014-2015 things started changing and we had Ministry of Echology, Garbanotas and others – the floodgates opened. From Lilas to Solo Ansamblis and now you have a really wide range from urban music to rock to punk rock music. The scene is really healthy and you have a lot of bands who grow from Tamsta/LOFTAS/Compensa, then they play arenas and we have a lot of arena bands in Lithuania, which is amazing. The inspiration I would draw from the local scene is that a lot of bands really think about the quality of what they do. They’d rather do less but really cool concerts and when they release a video or something like that, they really make sure that the quality of everything is as good as possible, considering the money they have available. Of course, there’s a lot of shit as well but there’s a lot of good happening in Lithuania. 

MXF: So the kind of ‘competition’ of wanting to keep up with everyone else in your local scene means that in Vilnius you have to keep up your quality because that’s what people care about. 

Victor: That’s right. When we opened Loftas in 2010, we could just say the artist is from the UK and it would be full. It didn’t matter who the artist was, as long as you write UK next to their name and that’s it. Now it doesn’t matter – people know what they want to spend their money on. If it’s quality for them, they will spend it, if not, they won’t go. It’s not that easy and it’s the same for the local artists. People embrace the local scene which is great but they go to where they think it’s good, not basically anywhere.

MXF: That’s brilliant because you’re the perfect person to ask.