MUSIC and memories are inextricably linked, and a new mini-album explores their connection with the added focus on the effect of dementia.
London-based songwriter-producer Alex Mankoo, performing under the name Holy ’57, has created his new mini-album ‘L’, which looks at lesser-told stories of culture, family, and human experience.
Describing his music as ‘cinematic pop with a funk edge that explores mixed race heritage’, he tells The Sunday Post: “I’ve always liked the idea of making music with a cinematic edge to it; pop songs that also feel like little movies, that sort of thing.
“With this project I felt like one of the most interesting and personal ways I could do that was by focusing on my family history. My family is part Indian and part Greek, and acknowledging family is such a huge part of both of those cultures, so I think that route came naturally.”
The album is laced with a poignant nod to Mankoo’s family, including voice clips of loved ones being weaved into the music.
“Family history is all about memories, so I decided to use my grandmother’s memories as audio clips in the record as a kind of way of giving the listener the puzzle pieces to my story,” says Mankoo.
“I don’t want my music to just be my voice; I want it to include the voices of some of the people who made me who I am. These recordings are ways of doing that, and also on a personal level are ways of me commemorating my loved ones… I wanted this record to be about memory, but to also make memories on the way.”
He adds: “It also seemed like an interesting way of exploring my family history, as there are points where gaps or inconsistencies are noticeable, which is often how memory is.
“I like the idea of memory not being a factual recollection of our past, but an emotional one – memory is our version of our past through who we are today.”
The album touches on the impact of dementia, influenced by Mankoo’s recent experiences with loved ones.
He made the record while his grandmother was in the onset of the condition.
“Some of these songs are centred on the feelings and experiences I’ve had seeing that,” he says, “as well as my realisation that memory is something to be cherished.
“A Fragile Thing, for example, is musically a very fractured song with lots of twists and turns, certain elements coming to the fore and then disappearing – that was my attempt at transcribing some of the feelings of confusion and disorientation that I’d seen into music.”
As well as representing thoughts and feelings surrounding dementia, Mankoo recognises how music can help those living with the condition.
It’s the first musical project in which he’s touched on the topic, but while working with a healthcare charity he met ‘a lot of very interesting people’ developing apps and systems surrounding dementia.
“I think it’s beautiful what music can do for those with dementia,” he says.
“My grandmother loves to sing classical Indian music, and over the last few years singing along to the pieces she loves has been a great joy for her.
“Music has such a powerful ability to bring comfort, elicit memories and help people express themselves. There are some amazing videos online that show people living with dementia re-invigorated by listening to music that brings back memories for them.”
The cinematic approach to Mankoo’s ‘L’ was influenced by the likes of Kendrick Lamar and his To Pimp a Butterfly album where a story unravels across the tracks whilst still containing tight, powerfully written songs.
“There’s a lot of that going on in the more experimental side of hip-hop right now which is exciting,” he says.
“I’m also influenced by a lot of world music, some from my Indian background but also a lot of African music, for example, Fela Kuti, Mulatu Astatke and Orchestra Super Mazembe.”
In terms of his own music, Mankoo hopes that people will be able to draw their own messages from ‘L’, saying: “That’s one of my favourite things about music and art in general.”
He adds: “At the most basic level I hope these songs are something that people feel they can relate to. I’ve learned that memory is a fragile thing, and it’s something to be cherished and appreciated while it’s still available, but I’ve also had some of the most special times I’ve ever had with my grandmother during this time. When she was healthier she even joined me for one of the music videos!
“So in that sense I think the project is a testament to how there can still be beauty in a very challenging situation.”
You can listen to L on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/2Zsuizkz35mE0L1t2aLxbS
Holy’57 plays London’s Old Blue Last on October 29