The following interview forms part of a series where I invite a number of contemporary artists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning and philosophy, and how those are expressed throughout their creative process.
This week I talk to Niklas Mündemann of Muito Kaballa Power Ensemble, a nine-piece band from Cologne whose music is inspired by afrobeat, funk and jazz.
In our interview, Mündemann tells me what it means to him to be authentic in his creative process, what things he has had to unlearn as an artist, and why he thinks it is the human condition to feel stuck, lost, and without meaning.
Do you have an essential philosophy that guides you in your creative expression?
I think I wouldn’t call it an essential philosophy, it’s maybe more like an urge to express myself and to explore ideas that leads me to creating new music. When I don’t make music, in whatever way, I feel like something is missing in my life.
Of course, circumstances sometimes prevent you from spending as much time as you’d like to follow your passion. But I always try to keep as much time free as possible for actually making music or playing my instrument.
In what way is your music a means of reflection or exploration for you?
For me, this can be very different from time to time and from song to song. Sometimes, I make a song, just because I want to try something out. For example, I set myself a challenge or a goal like: creating a melody that never repeats… and so I just explore the possibilities with that in mind and see what comes out.
This might be more of a research approach, if you want to call it that. but often I also use music to reflect and to process things that are on my mind. In the past this has helped me very often to get through tough times or when I was feeling down. Usually after writing a song about it, I could more easily cope with whatever was on my mind before.
What does it mean to you to be authentic in your creative process?
For me, this means not get distracted by what you think others would want to hear. This is actually the hardest part about music and arts in general I think. I always tend to wonder and worry about how my music might be conceived, what people might think about my playing and stuff like that.
I’ve been working on overcoming this for a while now, but I think there will always be a voice in my head telling me I have to be better, or that I have to play something very complicated to impress the audience or stuff like that.
I think if you are really authentic and with yourself, this voice fades and these are the most musical moments – for me at least. This is always the moment when I totally play what I feel, without thinking about what might be cool or what might be conceived in a certain way or so.
In this mode, you can play only one note, but this one note comes really from within yourself and it just works… nothing is missing, because you are totally authentic and play what you have in your head – and your heart … you totally just use your own voice in that moment … these are the moments I always strive to reach when making music.
Feeling stuck, lost, and without meaning are experiences we all face as human beings. Why do you think that is?
I think this can have many reasons. I don’t dare to make a general statement there, as it’s probably different for everyone… For me, this sometimes results from when that voice I wrote about in the last question becomes too loud. I might be too distracted then and trying to be someone I am not.
But sometimes I also feel stuck or uninspired when I haven’t had new input for a while … sometimes it helps just to leave the place I live and maybe visit someone somewhere else or so… just to get a free head and see something else. But in general, I think these phases of feeling stuck or so are totally normal. In fact, I feel like there’s a certain balance between phases of great creativity and output and phases of being uninspired and maybe feeling stuck or so. I try to just accept that and not stress myself too much about it.
What are some things you’ve had to unlearn as an artist?
Judgement of myself and others… always comparing who can play how and always telling myself that I have to get better. This is something that is especially apparent in the music academy context. Before I went to study music I had a way more playful approach to music, Without wondering too much about my skill level or so… since the university my skill level has improved a lot and it has been a great pleasure to dive so deep into music – but also I learned to compare myself with others. now I’m trying to unlearn that. I think I’m on a good path there!
If there were a piece of music that emulated your current experience of the world, what might it sound like?
Listen to more of Muito Kaballa Power Ensemble’s work and keep up to date with upcoming shows: Bandcamp