Onra is a Parisian hip hop beatmaker who’s been making music from around the age of 19 and hasn’t stopped breaking down musical barriers with his own inventive and blossoming styles of the genre since. With a knack for digging out diverse and unique samples to add his twist onto, Onra dives deep into the musical realm – ‘Oriental’ or otherwise – finding tunes that await his musical imprint and incorporating them with the signature sounds of his MPC. Leading up to his performance at The Bee, Publika, JUICE catches up with Onra via email since we last spoke to him about a year ago…
“After the first volume came out, I wanted to make a statement with my album so people don’t pigeonhole me being that Asian guy doing the Asian thing.”
You said you viewed the first Chinoiseries album as more of a fun project. Did you start taking it more seriously as you progressed or was it more like revisiting and wanting to play around a little more with that Oriental theme?
Yes, totally. The first one I did in two weeks, and thought it was going to be my last album anyway. I just graduated and had no money, was looking for a real job for a year, and then it finally came together. I was making different types of music before that — and I still do. In no way I would use that side-project to define my sound. After the first volume came out, I wanted to make a statement with my album so people don’t pigeonhole me being that Asian guy doing the Asian thing. But after going back to Asia a few more times, I couldn’t help myself but to buy more Chinese records and just decided to push it further.
Do you feel like the musical premises of Asian and hip hop-fused Chinoiseries is most comfortable to work on?
It’s actually a real tough exercise to find and go through all these records, to finally find a couple of nice samples that I want to work with. Nothing is more comfortable than what you really want to do, and who you really are. I wouldn’t define my sound as being Asian hip hop at all, it’s actually just a side-project to me, I do this for fun and for the fans.
AllCity Records being your record label of choice for all three Chinoiseries volumes, how do you think this album series matches with this specific label?
They don’t care what I do, they support me and my crazy ideas, whichever they are. It could be a funk album (Long Distance), a spiritual jazz album, a ’90s hip hop/r’n’b album, or a house project.
“My next three albums are ready and they are all analogue-made on the MPC and I’m still having fun with it despite all the limitations of it.”
So, previously you hinted that you were planning on leaving the MPC behind after dropping Fundamentals, have you changed your mind?
I still didn’t find any time to learn another way of making music. My next three albums are ready and they are all analogue-made on the MPC and I’m still having fun with it despite all the limitations of it.
How different were the samples from this album from your previous ones — and did you really go through 150 records this time?
Yeah, around 150 records, maybe even more. I didn’t want the album to sound the same, so I really tried to find more intricate samples and textures to mess with. Chinese music is very repetitive, with a lot of singers singing the same songs with a similar instrumentation. Sometimes I could use a record just for one cymbal sound and that’s it… so it took a lot of records to make this album.
You said all your albums are led by strong concepts that really set you apart from what other people are making. Have you found any ideas for what your next album will be about?
Yes, I do have more concepts but I don’t really feel like talking about them since some people have kind of stolen some of my ideas over the years. My next two projects are ready, one of them sound a bit similar to Long Distance, which came out in 2010, but with a different twist to it, and the other one sounds like something you never heard from me before.
You’re obviously fond of the golden age of hip hop. What is your favourite ‘90s album you grew up listening to?
There are too many to just name one, but ’90s albums I’ve listened the most in my life [are] probably Dogg Food from Tha Dogg Pound, Jodeci’s The Show, The Afterparty, The Hotel, A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, and Outkast’s ATLiens to name a few.
You mentioned that you wished you had learned the piano when you were younger. Do you think you’ll ever give learning any musical instruments a go?
I really want to learn, I’m learning a bit by myself here and there, whenever I can find some time in the studio, but life has been really busy these past few years.
“I usually prefer a small club or venue to really get that intimate feeling with the crowd.”
Are there any music festivals or shows that you want to perform at but haven’t been invited to?
It would be fun to play Coachella, I guess. Splash Festival in Germany? I don’t know that much about festivals, actually. Plus, I usually prefer a small club or venue to really get that intimate feeling with the crowd.
All your Chinoiseries albums have different representations, the first one being a journey, the second a soundtrack or movie scene, and finally your third is similar to film-noir. Is there a more general feeling you want to invoke in listeners through your music?
For this particular project, it’s all about travelling and using the listener’s imagination and their own perspective of Asia (often twisted). There are 100 beats in that series, they all have a different flavour and provoke a different feeling.
Listen to some of tracks so far from Chinoiseries pt.3 album Onra unveiled via Soundcloud:
Onra will be coming to you live on Friday 24 February at The Bee, Publika courtesy of their Upfront series that encompasses all the hottest acts from around the globe. Admissions cost RM78 (pre-sale) and RM98 (at the door).
Purchase your tickets here.