“I used to walk up and down the streets every day - craving sights, sensations, encounters with people…experience.”
That was 1994, when Raz Ohara had just moved to Berlin.
Raz was 18 at the time. He soon found a room to rent above a jazz club. He sat there every night, listening to the music, watching the people, absorbing his surroundings.
It was a seedy, noirish world, like something from the American movies of the 80s. Raz bonded with the club’s resident DJ, and together they founded a hip-hop crew. Raz, however, had a lingering and persistent desire to create his very own music, music of its own kind, music beyond any existing genre. He bought a sampler and started to produce beats that he could sing over. “I had always written songs on guitar, but now I was working hard to incorporate new elements. I gave the tracks to a small record company in Berlin-Mitte.” A year later the LP ‘Realtime Voyeur’ was released on Kitty-Yo.
At around the same time Raz started to make his first live appearances. He got to know Dr. Phelbs and Robert Defcon (No Underground) and a Canadian guy called Wolf (aka Chilly Gonzalez). Every Wednesday night for almost 2 years, they, The Nightline City Cruisers, would sit on leather couches at the Maria club, playing improvised sets – drawing on breakbeat, soul, and electro - that lasted several hours. Robert supplied the beats, Phelbs played bass, Wolf took care of keys and Raz sang.
“We jammed on and on… People dancing round and round… We smoked and drank into the early mornings. I had just entered my twenties. This was my swinging Berlin, 1998.”
In February of 1999, Raz’s father - a freightship captain - died at the hands of a storm in the cold, unforgiving Atlantic ocean. Since an early age he had been travelling around the world by ship with his father. Out there he felt some kind of freedom, and a desire to sing - loud and unconcerned, because nobody could hear him. His father’s sad passing reconnected Raz with the essence of why he was making music.
“I began writing songs on guitar again, just the way I did when I was 14. I recorded 17 tracks, simple songs, close-ups, reflecting my feelings at that time. I then again gave them to Kitty-Yo and they released in February 2001 as ‘The Last Legend LP’.”
Live performances went less well. “I had no energy and I was incapable of finding someone to help me… For all the people I knew, those I really understood and musically got along with had either gone mad or died. Even me, I began to think. I was increasingly isolated from the outside world.”
Then one day Raz’s publisher phoned him, asking if he would be interested in doing a track with a young, up-and-coming techno producer, Alexander Kowalski. Raz recorded his vocals, but his interest didn’t end there. He wanted to get involved with the club scene, and people in general, again. So he asked Alexander if he could play along with him on his live sets. They had their first gig at the legendary Berlin club Ostgut (Berghain).
“That was a new world for me. I hadn’t seen anything like it… The crowd was very good-natured – in itself a new experience for me in Berlin.”
Shortly after, in 2002, the duo’s singles ‘All I Got To Know’ and ‘Hot Spot’ were released, and they toured extensively.
“Some years passed by just like that. I started to do dance tracks and playing live sets on parties myself. I sang on numerous productions of notable colleagues, and my own dance tracks were being released on different labels.”
Still, though, Raz’s restlessness persisted, as if he was ever seeking something, or at least trying to escape something. One day, he walked into Doerell. Raz had once seen him playing his album at an art exhibition; he’d also heard him play an ambient live set. Raz recalled very much how the vibe of his music immediately had grabbed and inspired him to say something, contribute something, sing something. “I had sat there and wishing I could meet someone who could help me to do music similar to this. And now I run into him on the street. We had a chat and made a date.”
Raz began to record song sketches, giving them to Oliver Doerell. Oliver would take the sketches and add his own thoughts, collaborations and embellishments. Raz and he continued to hand sketches back and forth; the resulting album is “Raz Ohara and the Odd Orchestra”.
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