THE UNION BLACK/NAVAJO & THE INSPIRATION OF IN-BETWEEN SPACES
By Nathan Leigh
October 2, 2019
The Union Black / Navajo is an exciting new project from Djevara’s The Anté Dote. The indie-rock two-piece’s music is largely instrumental and totally hypnotic. Pulsating rhythms and driving, primal guitar lines loop and curl around each other in a sort of elemental dance. It occupies a space somewhere between doom metal, lo-fi garage music, and house. We recently spoke with Anté about dualities, contradictions, and his vision for the new band.
How long have you all been playing together?
The band has been a concept in my head for years. While playing with London-based Djevara, I had the idea for something more caustic and raw, similar in style but in some ways more direct, more hardcore, more “to the jugular,” but at the same time tied around a tightly-wound artistic conceptual idea. But it was just an idle fantasy, and I had no active plan to pursue it beyond that since Djevara was my main focus and always so busy. Then the other members started doing all this strangely adult stuff like having babies, which meant I was facing us becoming more and more like Tool (without the money or fame). So finally I decided to put the band on ice, decamp to Berlin and experiment.
After a year doing guerrilla gigs on the streets of Berlin with a solo artistic project, the fantasy returned and I decided to try out my idea for this two-piece kick-ass outfit. But the idea had changed a little now; Living in Berlin, the electronic dance capital of Europe — maybe even the world, had broadened my horizons and I wanted to fuse a little of this influence into the band too. I did some initial demos with a great drummer and good friend, but then he couldn’t afford the time (and lives 500km away) … so I spent seven months looking for a drummer who could handle the workload as well as the beats. And also who was not an asshole. In March, Robin turned up, and the rest is extremely recent history. So basically the band is a newborn!
When was the moment you realized you all had something special?
I don’t know what’s regarded as special in the world anymore, but we’re excited by what we’re doing and think that at least it’s more ambitious than what a lot of bands are trying, but without the pretension. And at least it’s not just another band of four white guys with guitars shouting about how hard it is to be young and middle class these days. This band is for real — we make the music for the music – not for girls, money, fame, or any other reason. We’re not into formulas, trends or limits — we just believe music can and should be spiritual, deep, intense, simple when necessary, complex when needed, but always, always, always played with honesty and utter conviction. That’s what you’ll get with this band.
So, I think we knew that we had something different at least because I come from this ethnic, visceral, punk, organic, self-taught “from the ghettos” kinda vibe (I taught myself bass and guitar), while Robin is pretty much the polar opposite — in fact, he even teaches drums. What we have in common is that we’re both obsessed with music, and it’s not uncommon to find us locked in the studio well into the early hours of the morning, trying to hit that magic spot.
Having said all this, if you like the EP — which was actually just a live demo recording we made in our untreated room to try to get the first gigs—just wait ‘til you hear some of the new jams we’re working on – BLACK IS NOT A COLOUR (that’s the working title) is going to knock your faces off.
What’s the concept behind The Union Black / Navajo?
It would take me days to unfold the whole concept that’s in my head, but I’ll give it a go! Apart from aiming to be a kick-ass maximal rock’n’roll band, the “seed” idea is based around an exploration of duality – symbiosis, yin-yang, balance, male-female energy, black/white, rich/poor, love/hate, etc. All these things which seem opposite but need their other to be defined, and only really work as concepts when you consider their other half. They need each other. The band is also literally a duo, being a two-piece (though yeah, it’s not a perfect conceptual match – if one of us was female it’d be nearer! I did try!!).
The project is also actually two bands in one: “The Union Black” is the “yin” — instrumental, more chaotic, explorative, darker, while “Navajo” — which will rear it’s head later at an undecided date — is the “yang”, featuring vocals, giving a different perspective to the material. You can see how this ties into my identity — a second-generation Brit of African descent; the horror of Empire and colonialism is an intrinsic part of my and my family’s story (but very different from that of African Americans), but also has ironically made and given me so much of what I am today, for which I am also grateful.
The “Navajo” name is in honor and tribute to the indigenous Navajo tribe, whose world-famous code nobody could break. I see this as a metaphor for the code of life and the universe, and all these necessary dualities which we struggle to divide and decipher. It’s also a testament to the power of ancient, deep, analog truths in a world addicted to a never-ending flood of new, shallow, digital lies. The truth is, I was kind of obsessed with native Americans when I was a child — I just found everything about them (historically) utterly awesome, and still believe theirs is the saddest story ever (not) told — an entire continent of people living in harmony with nature, wiped out and almost erased from history. We can take it as a warning or a lesson. Or both. That’s duality.
The band motto is “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” The central theme that ties the concept together is questioning not only authority and what others say or do, but also what you yourself believe or tell yourself. Personally, I think there is nobody more terrifying than someone who believes they are infallible — because from this any atrocity can be justified, as history has proven time and again. So all the pain, all the lessons, all the dark side – we need it to find the light.
What was the record that changed your life?
If the question was “most influenced your life,” it’d definitely be Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but as it stands the answer has to be Rage Against The Machine’s eponymous debut album. The first time I heard this record it totally ripped my world apart and challenged me to build a new, much more resilient one — I just didn’t realize that what I was hearing was either possible or allowed in music. Still stands as an incredible piece of work, with the passion and groove jumping right out of the stereo, taking you by the collar, shaking you down and demanding “Are you awake???” every time you listen. Amazing.
How will your music change the world?
One person at a time. Most people have heard of the Butterfly Effect, but I feel like they don’t understand it properly. I’ve always believed that there’s only ever one person at a gig or listening to a song, at a time, and music, when done just right, can change their world. It’s happened to me, several times, and then that flows onto the next connection, and so on. Even after all these years, I still find it amazing that something that was just an idea in my (our) heads at some point flies through space somehow and connects with other human beings, across cultures, oceans, even lifetimes perhaps. That’s power. So when this butterfly flaps it’s wings, for sure somewhere there’s going to be a thunderstorm. Be ready.