Sound Scene Express

Black Masala – Interview with Mike Ounallah

Many Pittsburghers were wowed by Black Masala back in March with Bastard Bearded Irishmen for their St. Patrick’s Parade Day Concert. They are back in town tonight for a headlining show at Thunderbird Cafe at 9pm. Check out their bio below and our interview with percussionist and vocalist Mike Ounallah.

Brassy Washington DC-based multicultural outfit, Black Masala, is part of the new generation of go-anywhere brass bands. You can hear this sound all over the world now from New Orleans (Hot 8) to Belgrade (Boban & Marko Markovic), Paris (Fanfarai) to Cotonou (Gangbe Brass Band), and right here on the east coast area as well (Red Baraat & No BS! Brass). A major party alert for this band – Black Masala puts on an amazing, high-energy live show that features brass, tuba, accordion, electric guitar, drums and vocals.

Sound Scene Express: What is the origin of the name Black Masala?

Mike Ounallah: Black Masala comes from a month long trial by fire of various band names.
We settled on Black Masala because we like the melting pot the word “Masala”
conjures up and we had to
have a color so we chose Black.

SSE: What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each week
in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?

MO: We’ve had regular rehearsals weekly since we started. We usually go over
recent songs from our shows, new material, covers, grooves, the flow of the
show, vocal’s…. The list goes on. We tend to have some set goals coming
in, makes the rehearsal flow better.

SSE: Who primarily writes your music? If it’s you what is your

MO: At times it’s a group effort and other times an individual will have a
song fairlyready to go. Of course we all have a hand in the arranging process. I’ve
written quite a few tunes, as well Kristen, Kirsten, and Steven. Our last
trombone player also was instrumental in some of the writing.*
*We’re inspired by so much… Gogol, Leningrad, The Clash, John Coltrane,
Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Metric, Dr. John, The Band,
P-Funk…. The lost goes on and on…

SSE: What is your favorite Black Masala song and why?

MO: Favorite song to play like right now is a brand new song we just
recorded called I Love You Madly. We love it because it’s about love and loss and has a
lot of twist and turns. It’s also fast and gets the blood going live!

SSE: Have you played in any other bands before?

MO: YES. Most of us have been in a
number of different groups however there are a couple folks whom Black
Masala is their first band ever.

SSE: What can we expect from your live show?

MO: A party and crazy high energy show. Musically we bring Gypsy vibes,
New Orleans funk, some Ska beats, Balkan flair, and Speed Folk to get you moving.

SSE: Did you get a chance to explore Pittsburgh when you were last here, if so
what are your thoughts?

MO: We’re very fond of Pittsburgh having played here
around 15 times in the past but now twice with Black Masala. Mostly at the
Rex Theater so I’ve seen a lot of that side of town. Always a fun time and
some great food.

SSE: What other cities have you performed in? Where is your favorite?

MO: NYC, Baltimore, DC, Carrboro, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Asheville, Blacksburg,
Lancaster, with this band plus some. Hundreds more with our previous groups
I’m sure. We always love being in NC and Pittsburgh of course! We had a
great time playing with the Bastard Bearded Irishmen on St. Patrick’s Day.

SSE: What is the D.C. music scene like?

MO: It’s great minus the early show thing that has caught on! There are
a lot of bands and now a number of new venues that have music regularly. There’s also a great
house show scene and a lot of outlets for touring bands to play in DC.

SSE: What are some good local D.C. Bands to get music enthusiasts started?

MO: M.H and his Orchestra, Paperhaus, North Country, Jonny Grave, See-I, Fort Knox
Five, Bumper Jacksons, Mundy, Joe Quarterman, Nappy Riddem, Cowards Choir, The Pietatsters…
ahhhh the list goes on. This is just a snapshot there as SO MANY MORE!

SSE: Is there any big news on the horizon? Tour, album, music video, etc?

MO: Yes, we’re releasing our second album in the Fall as well as booking
a number of tour dates for the Album Release Tour. We’ll also be releasing a series of
live video’s around that time as well.

SSE: Where can fans to be gain access to your music?

MO: We’re everywhere Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Itunes, Spotify, also Beatport
(we released a remix album last year as well). I can send links if you need.

SSE: Is there anything else you would like to add?

MO: We hope to see a ton of people out at our Thunderbird Show on July 18th!

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