London-based band Hejira allow us a second glimpse into their forthcoming new LP Thread Of Gold (22nd February, Lima Limo Records) with newest single ‘Joyful Mind’.
‘Joyful Mind’ sits neatly in Hejira’s canon without retreading any of its own steps. As a single, it marks a band not only comfortable and confident in their own expression, but also open-eyed to new influences and inspirations, continuing to craft their sound and offer new surprises with every new release.
The track opens with a field recording of pilgrims celebrating the last point of their journey around northern Ethiopia – taken by the band on location – before gently falling into Hejira’s characteristic bittersweet, leftfield-aligned soul. Centred on captivating vocal hooks and subtly exotic string arrangements, it underpins the band’s love of the otherworldly, the mesmerising, and the unpredictable.
The stop-motion video for ‘Joyful Mind’ was created by young animator Ellis Lewis-Dragstra. By painstakingly shooting frame by frame and using homemade props, he stitched together this moving accompaniment to the song.
Both single and album describe vocalist, bass guitarist and co-songwriter Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne’s changing relationship with her homeland of Ethiopia after the death of her father. “It’s a reminder that you’re not defined by loss,” Rahel says. “It’s about the positive experiences you have with people that might not be around anymore.” The lyrical refrain “maintain a joyful mind” is based on a series of short Buddhist mantras, explains multi-instrumentalist and producer Sam Beste. The LoJong teachings – 51 in total – act as spiritual reflections for meditation: a perfect foundation for Hejira’s songwriting.
Shortly after her father’s passing, Rahel took the band with her on a pilgrimage to Addis Ababa, looking to reaffirm her own ancestral roots and cultural identity. Together, they subsequently undertook a deeper exploration into the unique, ancient and far-flung lands, peoples and musics of Ethiopia. Through this journey, the band members worked through loss and bereavement, through discovery and new experiences, through a moveable songwriting that took place across many years and many locations. The displacement, write the band, gave deeper meaning to their own identities, and through this search for new energies in their songwriting, has yielded the album Thread of Gold.
‘Joyful Mind’ follows the release of the first single ‘Ribs’, which references and encapsulates many of the themes from the whole album – a centerpiece. Like much of Hejira’s work, the track came together over a long period of songwriting and recording, but tells a single, focused story. In the case of ‘Ribs’, its own central theme is the refugee crisis – especially of its tragic nadir in 2015 – but told through the enormity of a series of acutely personal events experienced by Hejira’s members. A yearning, lushly orchestrated and subtly dark piece, full of soft, intimate vocal delivery and twisting piano chords, ‘Ribs’ hangs on its heartbreaking lyrical refrain: these broken ribs will protect you.
Hejira formed in 2010 after Beste, Debebe-Dessalegne and fellow multi-instrumentalist Alex Reeve set up their home studio in South East London. The line-up expands to include additional musicians both in the studio and onstage, not hired hands but musical ‘cousins’ to the ‘siblings’ of the core members. Years of performing together in jazz and big-band ensembles, and alongside such huge profiles as Amy Winehouse, Nitin Sawhney, Floating Points and Eric Lau has informed an instinctual and mutually inspiring compositional relationship within the band.
In 2017, following the release of their acclaimed 2013 debut LP Prayer Before Birth on Matthew Herbert’s Accidental Records, and EPs on Accidental and Floating Points’ Eglo Records, the band set up their own Lima Limo Records. The label – named after a winding mountain path in northern Ethiopia – has become a home not only for their own releases, but also for like-minded creative souls releasing music just as strange and wonderful as Hejira’s.
Hejira announce the following live European dates: