PREMIERE \\ Vula Viel reveal ‘I Learn’, a track for radical love

17th January 2019

The gyil – a Ghanian xylophone, is centre-stage once more in Vula Viel’s second album, ‘Do Not Be Afraid’, and Supreme Standards are premiering the third track to be revelled on the upcoming album, dropping on 25 January. 

Vula Viel was formed in 2013 by Bex Burch, shaped by her experiences of farming and studying with xylophone guru Thomas Segura in Upper West Ghana. She became heavily inspired by the gyil, an instrument often played at traditional funerals in Ghana as a way to send off the spirits with a bespoke energy. She was so inspired, that back in the UK, she built her own gyil before inviting Ruth Goller and Jim Hart to collaborate with her, leading to Vula Viel’s first album, ‘Good Is Good’. 

Now, on the dawn of their second album release, Vula Viel reveal ‘I learn’. It’s a pounding track, rhythmically charged and elevated by the hook ‘Fo Tu Me Na’. For Bex, it’s a tune that supports her journey of exercising radical love and reflection. 

About the album, Bex says: “I’ve gone deeper into what moves me in the Dagaare music, the fundamentals – asymmetry, space and chaos. I love how ‘Do Not Be Afraid’ feels – a totally unusual and unique groove. 

Check out ‘I learn’ exclusively on Supreme Standards. Below, Bex talked us through the track – available to hear for the first time – and took us through the album’s spiritual journey. 

\\ ‘I Learn’ is the fantastic third track from the album and it leaves us on a cheeky little cliffhanger! Tell us about it and what the ‘We Are’ hook is about?
The lyrics of ‘I Learn’ are ‘Fo Tu Me Na’ or ‘You insult me’. Have you ever been hurt, insulted, blamed, put down, belittled, abused, disregarded, rejected? …and have you learnt from that experience? Yes! Well done. 
When I’ve been insulted, I feel hurt and shame and I blame, too. But however long it takes, I always learn from that. This works in all ways, both as a ‘F you’ to those who would wish me harm, then an acceptance of the pain, leading to real gratitude for what’s made me – what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger – and an emphasis on being grateful for that. If I’m lucky, on a deeper level, I can surrender my attempts to blame others at all and let go of anything, other than love. This is a radical love. Something I’m only just glimpsing, not light-weight or common place like the way that word is thrown about. But something that takes all of me, demands that I don’t hold on to blame, competition or any fear. This kind of love, and this kind of learning is the hardest lesson I’ve ever begun. 
Musically, I felt super clear and perhaps because it took some time, I had a real need to make this record. But that world is like a massive ocean, dream world… that’s how I can describe it so you understand that could come across as spacey too. Making this album has been a wicked practice in communicating that clear dream world. It’s a marriage of the visionary and the work ethic. 
\\ Did you discover difficult second album syndrome with this record or did you have a clear concept in mind?
I currently love figuring out how to put together and communicate ‘clear concepts’ in the most direct way. I’ve done that on this record the best I could, and am early on in my career so learning lots, making mistakes etc. I’ve often likened it to making an instrument. I put my everything into the xylophone, every tiny detail, and believe it to be perfect in every single way… until on completion when I see how to improve. Finishing ‘Do Not Be Afraid’, with my efforts and every intention to do the best, makes clear what I can improve next time. It sounds harsh, but actually very sobering and freeing. And I’m super proud of this record. I wouldn’t change a thing. Music is magic like that; imperfection is music, ‘improvement’ is chasing that same music. 
Plus, the album I began has become something else. So unclear bits can also be space. Space for Ruth, Jim and Matt to make those sounds. Space for Rozie and Gwyneth. Space for the Dagaare influence and all the information embedded – that I don’t understand – to come out or not. As much as this record was mine, and I feel the fundamentals have never changed or been lost, when I hear it now I realise the sum of the parts is greater that what I brought. Music is bigger. 

\\ What’s your musical journey been since your first album?

Since ‘Good is Good’, I haven’t been away. Having lived ‘away’ in Ghana for so long, in the last six years since starting the band my musical journey has been the adventure of staying in one place. 

A dear friend mentioned last year – actually in the context of my wedding – that I’d ‘probably never committed to anything 100%’. And I learnt through that amazing rite of passage how true that is. So since then, still very new to marriage and commitment, I have looked at my playing and writing with the same question, more and more truly 100% committing to each tune I’m writing or gig I play.

UK and London, where I live – this means feisty. It means working hard to pay rent. It means doing what I say I’ll do, and having a decent business plan for what I do. Musically, this is AWESOME. Grounded, real, organised, commercial minded but only in the sense of getting the music in my heart out there to audiences. Yes, commitment is a deeply spiritual undertaking and yes, that includes the responsibility of making money so that I can keep doing it. London is home to a whole community of musicians doing this, and living here, playing and going to gigs feeds me, inspires me, pushes me to find more of myself to offer. 

In order to serve that music making, I do take myself out of London regularly and am pretty disciplined about that. North Yorkshire being my biannual writing retreat and where much of ‘Do Not Be Afraid’ came about. I also do visit Guo in Ghana, a massively important place for me. Yorkshire is where I was born and spent my childhood; Guo is where I first properly left home and was starting to be an adult, so they’re both important ‘home’s. But I’d describe visiting these places as feeding the same goal rather than searching for it. So as well as the to-do lists and planning, I make space for the massively important, the things that aren’t urgent: The creative. The music. The walks. The playing on my own, for myself. The daydreaming. The gaps. The breath. 

Since ‘Good is Good’ in 2015, my musical journey has been generally following the rails of making and putting out an album. So when you listen to ‘Do Not Be Afraid’, you can hear for yourself.

\\ What do you imagine people will take away from the album?

Ha! Whatever they like. That’s the beauty of this and why I’m looking forward to the album release. That word is so true. So far this is all about me and the musicians involved. And I get that this interview is a nice insight into that. But way more important is when people take it away – YOU get to take whatever you like. Music, whether instrumental or with words, can mean one thing to the writer and another to every single listener. These notes, rhythms, lyrics and tone aren’t instructive of what you have to feel, but just another way to share some music. 

I can only relate it to when I listen to someone else’s record and it becomes MINE. All the music I own is mine. It’s a mood, or a drive, or a lazy Sunday, even appreciation of the craft, but I’m never concerned with what the maker was trying to give me. That’s the sign of a great record perhaps, that it’s possible not to think, I feel it for myself. So I only hope that people buy this record and never once think of me or my weird stories. Enjoy!


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