Misha Marks | ( Pics by Eshan Dasanayake)

Misha Marks discovered a whole new world of experimental music, while he was at Wellington. It changed his direction and paved way to his later musical creations. Some of his projects are based on traditional music with an experimental element.

“Fusing traditional music offers a platform for this music to expand and get into different territories. These can be Mexican traditional music, Balkan music, Eastern European and Middle Eastern music. I use different musical languages as vehicles to explore in to different areas,” he says.

The fusions come from the music he likes to listen to, and through the years he has been listening to music from different places. “I was fascinated by the music I listened to from different cultures. Eventually it starts to permeate one’s own music. These include non commercial music from all the festivals and traditional events, which is very inspiring. Especially now it is easy to access music from different places through internet,” he shares.

He grew up in west coast of New Zealand in a small community. He learned music by copying his older brother playing guitar, when he was about six years old. After leaving high school, he took a break and travelled around the word. He travelled to Europe, Spain, Austria, England, and South America. He then joined a jazz school, only to drop out after two years.

Misha Marks (2)“I had enough. But I continued making music,” he says. Since then, Misha has taken part in music festivals round the world, from Chak ‘ab Paaxil in Mexico (the term means free music in Mayan), to music festivals in Caribbean, USA, Europe and New Zealand.

When he moved out to Mexico first, he was only going stay for six months. “But I kept staying,” he says. “Mexico is a huge country with each region having different traditions. There is a lot of brass band music, especially from South West of Mexico, Oaxaca,” he says. There is a long tradition of brass band music in the indigenous communities. They have been playing brass band music in that region for about 100 years.

“The melodies are often very baroque. Due to colonization, in 1700s there was lot of baroque music that came down with the Spanish. This music has taken unique rhythmic structures, from the indigenous music from isolated places and evolved further,” he explains.

Some of his compositions are inspired by Oaxacan and baroque music, emitting multiple free voices conceptualized to issue three separate melodies at the same time. “It’s a sort of repetitive, circular melody that goes on forever. It is an inspiration from Mexican music which has an eternal quality to it. It just goes on forever, it doesn’t have to stop and it’s hypnotic,” he shares.

He has played few different musical instruments so far. First he started playing acoustic guitar. He also studied classical guitar and jazz guitar. “Then I bought a baritone horn and inherited an accordion so I started playing these instruments as well,” he says. The most interesting instrument Misha plays is the Latarra, his own invention.

“It is a simple homemade electric guitar. My friend and I made it from an old metallic first aid box. I found the box in the market and fixed a normal acoustic guitar head and a guitar pick up. There is a long tradition of making instruments out of whatever you have at hand. Old blues guitarists would make guitars out of cigar boxes. You can make an instrument out of anything,” says Misha.

In Spanish the word ‘lata’ means 10, ‘guitarra’ means guitar. “It’s like a cross between a ten and a guitar, so I named it Latarra,” he explained. The Latarra also has small pieces of mirrors fixed on to it. According to Mexican superstition, these mirrors help ward off evil spirits.

However, he has no favourite instrument. For certain projects he uses more Latarra. For Oaxacan music it would be just the horn. “They are good for different things. I usually play one at a time. But I have been trying to play all of these at the same time,” he says. “It’s about finding the logistics of doing it simultaneously,” he shares.