Track By Track: Vula Viel – Do Not Be Afraid

Twistedsoul - Vula Viel

Forward-thinking UK trio Vula Viel recently release their second album, ‘Do Not Be Afraid’. The eight-track project continues the trio’s unique musical journey centred around the Gyil (Ghanaian xylophone).

The band’s new set confidently weaves sparse polyrhythms and intricate rhythm structures around bandleader Bex Burch’s Gyil lines and take the instrument’s sound into new territory, with bassist Ruth Goller (Acoustic Ladyland, Melt Yourself Down, Rokia Traore) and drummer Jim Hart (Cloudmakers, Ralph Alessi, Electric Biddle) introducing a rough, post-punk edge to the band’s sound.

In Bex’s own words: “I have loved making this music. The incredible Dagaare systems which form the foundation have given me the structure on which to write tunes, craft grooves and choose my own meanings. 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. As musicians, Ruth and Jim are incredible: They bring passion, talent, intuition and a depth that I wouldn’t have access to without them.”

Listen to ‘Do Not Be Afraid’ in full below, along with a track-by-track guide of the album from bandleader Bex Burch.


Well Come – Wherever I’ve lived, from Yorkshire to Ghana, guests arrive, and we offer a drink; whether a cuppa tea or just straight up, water is the element of welcome. Swimming in the sea when I lived in Brighton also made me feel grounded / back home after a long day travelling. I called this tune Well Come as the ‘cuppa tea’ / water of the album. Musically, I’m combining two of the Dagaare forms which so resonated with me. The particular order of just two harmonies, like sound and silence. These forms, bewa and bine make up much of this album’s music, and so I am only able to make music because of Dagaare forms I was taught in a country far from my own

Do Not Be Afraid – the album title track; the full lyrics came straight from a batik in my parents’ house when I was growing up. Do Not Be Afraid in what you believe, be afraid in not believing. Do not be afraid in what you hope, be afraid of not believing. Do not be afraid of what you love, be afraid of not loving. As a child, I never questioned this, and now I feel that we must absorb things that are around us everyday. I am grateful for the wisdom that my parents put in my way as a child that have all added up to who I am today. This batik and these words are just one of those, and so this song is actually my honouring my parents. Choosing these words was also me being grateful for them, and noting what they gave me that I took for granted. Of course, the words themselves have much meaning and lead to questioning today too. The chorus, ‘Do Not Be Afraid’ a call for more love and less fear.


I Learn – Fo tu me na, the words of this tune mean ‘You insult me’ or ‘You tu to me’. I love the Dagaare language for the rich meanings of their words. Less words, more meaning. Tu in my understanding is insult, put down, belittle, patronise, mansplain, overlook, hurt, abuse and a lot more… And when anybody Tu me na, I LEARN! So, thank you.

Inside Mirror – Who’s voice is that? -when we play music, write music, who’s voice is it calling us to do one thing or another?
In Kyene yell ku me – My friend, tell me
But here now I have a story to tell
My friend tell me
This tune is a question and answer, a conversation perhaps between myself and the answers that come into my head when I ask the right question. Who’s voice is that?
The second verse, Inside mirror, unworthily reflects you, internal mirror ‘mere fraction of the real you, was again a poem written by my father about my mother and the fact that she didn’t see even a fraction of her real self, and his hope that she would be able to see herself as he did. His love and hopes for my mother are another example and gift he gave me which I honour by using his poem.


Fire – to start side B, we have another element, FIRE. The feeling that frustration and failure and shame all building in my arms when I play and go wrong again and again and again.. this fire stays in my arms as I play and play and play until I suddenly realise we’ve finished and I did it. Fire burns, fire is good.


I Love You – We all speak a different language if we don’t leave, difference is dignity. On all levels, we are different, me and you, us and them, women and men, white and black, left and right, young and old; however you differentiate.. Our language IS different, and if I can bear that and just stay, let go of the need for my way to be the only way, I find something else; that difference is dignity, that difference is true, that difference does not offend, it just is. The chorus, I’m sorry, please forgive me, I love you, Thank you is a ho’oponopono from the Hawaiian practice of healing, forgiveness and responsibility. It was given to me by a dear friend years ago, and just like the verse, these words can be used to ask forgiveness for something I have done, but the real amazingness is in using them when I feel wronged. Turning ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ inside out and eventually throwing them out.


Breath the Air – Breath and breathing and enjoying the air is something I often forget, or I remember in special places like North Yorkshire where the air is so sweet. I once drove down from my favourite place to breath with no windows open and no fans so that I could ‘keep’ some of the air. When I opened the door in London, of course, I tasted the difference. But a talk with Gaye Donaldson once offered this nugget which I love: Go up and up and right above your head, because up there somewhere the air tastes sweet (even in London). I love that.


We Are – For any track to make it on to my album, it has to be my favourite at some time. We Are was my favourite first and last: the music is in tension so much, and is written on the Dagaare funeral form, bine. Powerful long forms, long melodies.. less of a verse/chorus, more trance music… We’d been playing We Are for a while, even tried a few versions and something was still missing when I was walking in my favourite woods in Swaledale, North Yorkshire. I felt so connected, grounded, capable and wonderful but suddenly struck with the fact I was coming back to London and the stresses which came with. I sang to the trees, particular trees I have known for many many years, and I call them my ancestor trees. I sang “Stay with me when I’m gone”, I sang this and sang this, and I felt coming back, not just “We will”, but “we are, we always were, we never left”.

The trio has announced details of a number of UK live dates – check them out HERE.


CF Smith

Permeating your ears with good music.

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