Bregt, 'Struggle In The City', Pura Vida's debut album, is finally in stores. Were you satisfied with the result?
Bregt 'Puraman' De Boever: "I was, yes, especially because Kinky Star, the record label we worked with, gave us complete carte blanche. From the very beginning it was my intention to create a very old-school sounding album..."
I think we can safely say you succeeded there.
Bregt De Boever: "(laughs) Well, you say that, but I got people asking me what on earth I was doing as well. These days almost everything has to be high definition, but for me the best reggae music is still to be found on old vinyl records from the nineteen seventies. That was the sound I was aiming for with 'Struggle In The City'."
A lot of musicians have already given up on counting on record sales to earn them money. I suppose Pura Vida is no exception there. How important was the realisation of this album project for you?
Bregt De Boever: "Very important! I've invested five years of my life in this project and, even though we might not turn a profit from album sales anymore, a CD is still an important calling card if you want your band to get booked anywhere. Again, the album isn't going to make us rich, but we've opted to work with an established record company and they ensure distribution in the entire Benelux region."
Pura Vida has been a full band for some time now, but it's still really your brainchild. At what point did music start playing a central role in your life?
Bregt De Boever: "To be honest, ever since I was born, really. My father already used to play me Bob Dylan covers on his guitar when I was still a baby. As a youth, I listened to a lot of blues and with Fons (Sijmons, red.) of The Scabs, I even played in a psychedelic rock band for a while. I could barely play the guitar at that time, and even now I'm not much of a guitar player, but let's say I've learned to make do (laughs). It really feels as if I've been involved in music in one way or the other for the majority of my life already."
When did reggae enter the equation?
Bregt De Boever: "That started, as is the case for many people, by listening to Bob Marley. My dad had given me a cassette tape with a recording of Marley's 'Legend' (Island Records, 1984, red.), the now legendary 'Best Of' compilation album. At that time I kind of liked what Bob was doing, but I had no desire to explore the genre further. That all changed when a schoolmate made me listen to Israel Vibration's 'The Same Song'. I liked that sound so much, I started exploring the whole roots scene, and record by record, I discovered King Tubby, Lee Perry... Even now, I'm really still exploring! (laughs) Feel free to call it my passion."
We can't leave out discussing the Pura Vida band name.
Bregt De Boever: "I got that name from a Costa Rican rastaman. In Costa Rica, the Rasta's use the term "pura vida" as a way of greeting one another. Translated, it means something like "pure life" and, even though it's a Spanish expression, I think that's something that relates quite well with roots reggae."
In a Brussels record store, I found the album classified under rock and pop. Do you think that might have something to do with the name as well?
Bregt De Boever: "It might, but in my opinion it probably has more to do with the label. Kinky Star is mainly known for producing Belgian rock and hip hop. The album being filed in the pop section might even allow us to attract a different audience, so I don't think it's such a bad thing."
There's also a couple of instruments in the Pura Vida mix, that aren't immediately associated with reggae. I'm thinking of your sitar for example.
Bregt De Boever: "Our influences are quite diverse. One of my biggest musical influences will always be Bob Dylan, but there are even influences from classical music on the album. My father used to have a piece by Schubert on an LP in his collection, 'Der Tod Und Das Mädchen', a composition that left a huge impression on me as a child. I really wanted to integrate something similar in my own music, so for 'Babylon Will Fall' we reinterpreted part of the original composition. I think there's good music to be found in just about every style of music; the intro for the album, for example, is inspired by the music of bands like Pink Floyd or Tangerine Dream."
You live in Sint-Maria-Aalter, a small village in the countryside of East Flanders. It's hard to imagine the "struggle in the city" would bother you much there.
Bregt De Boever: "Well, that song originated quite anecdotally. At one point, I had just finished a three year course in ethics and arts and I was supposed to pick up my diploma. That day, I was really caught up in my painting and I did not feel like going into the city. Before I knew it, I just started improvising: "Struggle in the city..." and that's where the song eventually evolved from. In fact, I'm not really an urbanite. The city offers an abundance of impressions and that distracts you from what's essential in life."
What can you tell us about the cover art of the album; apart from the colour scheme used it's again not really reggae-like?
Bregt De Boever: "The artist who did that illustration is Nina Schelfhout, who also happens to be my girlfriend. She studied graphic design and has done illustrations for a number of books already. She had already drawn the illustration we used for the cover of the album way before we met, but the design - buildings transforming into snakes - in a way perfectly suited the album. The snakes, in this case symbolising the city, are tempting Eve, so again, there's some reference to the Bible there, a regular theme in roots reggae. I still like that drawing a lot because it's very simple and at the same time very clear-cut."
There's no doubt your music has a spiritual side. Does Rastafari fit into the picture?
Bregt De Boever: "I don't think that without Rastafari there would have been a lot of reggae! (laughs) I learned a lot during my stay with The Congos. When you get to know these guys, it becomes immediately clear they never got the education most of us in the West have had. Growing up, to them Africa was still this wild continent they had only heard about and where they knew their forefathers were from. I can only imagine the impact stories of an African emperor in Ethiopia - the only African nation never to have been colonized by the way - must have had on them. For the spirituality that developed from that, I can only have the utmost respect. Personally, I prefer classifying figures like Haile Selassie, Jesus or Ghandi as enlightened minds. When one distils the essence of the major religions, one often ends up with pure unconditional love."
How did you originally hook up with The Congos?
Bregt De Boever: "That all started last year when The Congos were playing a concert at Minnemeers in Ghent (09/2009, red.). Backstage, I got them to record a song with me on the spot ('Play Pura Vida', red.) and that same night Ashanti Roy informally invited me to pay him a visit in Jamaica. A few months later, I decided to take him up on his offer; I flew to Jamaica, and Cedric (Myton, red.) and Roy came to meet me at the airport. During my stay we recorded 'We Nah Give Up', among other things, and we're now working on a full album. It will hopefully be released somewhere in 2011 and will also be the launch of our new Lost Ark record label. Of course, the internet makes it a lot easier to work with someone who's halfway across the planet; I record the instrumental part of the songs in my studio, send them to Roy in Jamaica, where he adds the vocals in his studio and he sends them back to me. To be honest, this whole story is beyond my wildest dreams; The Congos have always been one of my greatest sources of inspiration and now to get the chance not only to meet them, but actually to collaborate with them on a recording project, is an honour words can't describe; pure Jah guidance!"
You called your studio the Lost Ark. Is that a tribute to Lee Perry's now defunct Black Ark?
Bregt De Boever: "Absolutely! That's also why I called it the Lost Ark; the Black Ark went up in smoke! The fact Lee Perry did brilliant stuff there, only using the most basic equipment, has been a great eye-opener to me and it also made the music business more accessible to me; it made me realise I didn't need an expensive mixing desk to create a great sound. Of course the name also has a biblical connotation as it's a reference to the supposedly lost Ark of the Covenant, which the Ethiopians claim is kept in Axum."