onra | paris finest
From the archives: Globetrotter's Kennedy Ashinze caught with Parisian beat maker ONRA back on the first leg of his debut US tour - where he smashed the danced floor. We talked about his entree into music, his childhood in the Ivory Coast and his new EP Deep In The Night - on The Fools Gold Label.
interview by: Kennedy Ashinze
Globetrotter Magazine: Tell us about your background. How and when did you start making music?
Onra: My mother is French and my father is Vietnamese. I started making music in ‘99 because I needed some instrumentals to rap on. At the time I was living in the countryside of France and there was not a lot of instrumental music I could get. This was like in ‘98, ‘99. So I just started with software I found in some supermarket for like thirty bucks or so. I continued with that for three to four years and decided to make a move to the mpc 1000.
GT: When did you discover hip-hop?
Onra: I discovered hip-hop in ‘89 or ‘90. I was like, nine or ten years old and before that I never used to listen to music. But after that I only listened to hip-hop and R&B; whatever I could find on underground radio stations, mix tapes, CDs or cassettes that people gave me. There were two cassette tapes that really educated me on hip-hop slang. The first one was by NWA: that album taught me everything I knew about slang. The second tape was A Tribe called Quest’s Low End Theory, the complete opposite of NWA. So on one hand a super artsy next level album by Tribe at the time around ‘91 and the NWA album, which was super gangster. Those two albums were very influential.
GT: Paris has always had a rich music scene. Touch on some of the energy we’ve been hearing as of late from you: Walter Mecca, and a host of others.
Onra: It’s huge, man! Walter Mecca is Paris’ best kept secret - France’s too! He’s amazing. Not only is he doing music, he’s doing videos, he’s singing, rapping and also producing. He’s on some next level stuff and definitely has his own identity. I really love what he does and not only is he one of my friends; I’m really like a true fan of his stuff.
GT: Something you mentioned casually before the interview was your connection with Ivory Coast. Tell me more about that?
Onra: My mom left France for Ivory Coast when she was twenty-five, to teach. I was 5 years old. I stayed with my father at the time. We went there for a year so I was in school there for about a year until my father decided to come back to France. I was just back and forth pretty much between the French countryside and Ivory Coast for like twenty years. In Ivory Coast a lot of people, especially in the nineties, grew up looking up to America. So whatever was hot in America was hot in Ivory Coast at the time and I believe it’s still like that today. They look up to American culture. Growing up there, I caught up with basketball, R&B, rap music, new jack. Being the only Asian and non-black in the club, I remember dancing to R&B, rap music and African music. I learned to move. It was really a trip for me.
GT: Pretty dope. Can you give us the back-story on your first album ‘Tribute’ what was that like?
Onra: When we made that album, we didn't think it was going to ever be released. We just made it for ourselves first. We thought we were going to sell like fifty copies or something like that to our close friends and really didn't take it seriously until one dude who used to own a record label came to my house one day. He listened to it and was like “oh shit! I want to put this out,” and we made it happen.
Onra: Working with T3 is kind of crazy for me because he’s the only original member of Slum Village left. Working with T3 was like a dream for me. It’s like this: I'd rather work with T3 than Kanye West. You know what I’m saying? It just means much more to me than that. T3 grew up with J Dilla making beats for him and we know J Dilla is the God of this shit. So he’s been listening, rapping, writing on top of the best shit ever. To have the opportunity to work with him means a lot to me because I’m just a big fan.
GT: The crowds really get into your live MPC sets. What are some of your favorite places to perform when on the road?
Onra: I really love Poland. It’s amazing and it’s one of my favorite countries to visit in Europe. I love Polish people. I seem to always have a great crowd reaction there. No matter where I play in Poland, it’s always special for me. I think they’re one of the most open-minded people in all of Europe. Polish people know more about independent music than the French, Germans, or Italians. The Polish are definitely on top of the game and I want to make sure people know that for real.
GT: Your 'Long Distance' album got everyone hip to your sound and style. Did you expect that?
Onra: I just made everything with love and innocence. I know I sampled some big famous 80’s tracks and artists like the SOS band's high hopes, Kashif, Howard Johnson, etc. I was still pretty new to the genre and when I discovered it, I just fell in love and that was the inspiration.
GT: And the new EP is on Fool's Gold right?
Onra: Yes it is. The title is Deep in the Night and it’s being released on the Fool’s Gold label. I premiered one of the tracks here in Chicago. Since it’s an EP, it’s only 5 tracks. The first track I played was LOVE, which is the more danceable track. I understand people would be thinking “Oh, Onra and Fool's Gold collaboration means it’s going to be dance floor friendly.” But it’s not at all. It’s just hip-hop; instrumental hip-hop you know? plus a couple of songs. Featured guest artists are T3 from Slum Village as well as Jay King and Amalia from Vancouver.
GT: Finally - what are some of your interests outside of music?
Onra: Basketball for sure is truly one of my passions. I can ball. I‘ve been balling for almost 20 years. The point guard is my position, so crossovers, assists, three pointers; that’s my style. Besides that, music is just such a big passion of mine. It takes a lot of time talking about music, discovering music, enjoying music, listening to music and making music.