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Kelowna gets a taste of German Sea and Air
Daniel and Eleni Benjamin want to show the world Germany has something to offer musically.
The fact that they'll need to source harpsichords internationally in order to do it doesn't seem to faze them.
The young couple have just launched a two-year world tour, which currently has the diehard musicians traversing Canada like a pair of roving minstrels, beginning at Canadian Music Week in Toronto and concluding, this week, with a daring drive from Penticton to the mid-prairies and back again for Kelowna's Saturday engagement at the Minstrel Café.
"The idea of the tour is to play 500 shows in two years, but it's not as difficult as it sounds. If you play six shows a week, after five weeks you can take a week off," said Daniel, a lifelong musician with a penchant for pushing boundaries.
This is the couple's third band, though really the first to approach their partnership as an equal musical arrangement.
Sea and Air means "he" and "she" when spoken in context in German and the pair rebranded to recognize Eleni's considerable contribution to the project.
Their first singer/songwriter act, operated under the band name Daniel Benjamin, followed a brief interlude as a hardcore band in their late teens. Daniel Benjamin operated under Daniel's name, but the concept was to constantly find someone new to play with and continue to push the boundaries of the German music scene.
"We were thinking of trying to be something really unique," he explained. "I was sick of trying to be the German version of something international.
"I realized a few years ago that to find something really unique I had to dig into the cultural heritage of my own country and I found there were really three periods where German musicians really came out."
The first was during the Baroque era. Johann Sebastian Bach's music defines the movement and the influence of the German composer's layered melodies, backboned by the sharp harpsichord trill, stand out in Sea and Air's compositions.
Eleni wasn't even a musician when she met Daniel. He was handing out pamphlets for a Norwegian band to promote a show and she was dancing in a club. After joining forces, she acted as the scream in their hardcore band and, initially, a dance act in Daniel Benjamin. But listening to her intuitively fill in the blanks for Daniel, it's not hard to imagine that the story unfolded just as they say. She picked up the musical side of the business with ease, even mastering the difficult task of playing the harpsichord, and soon they needed a band name that reflected more equal contributions.
The second period where the two see German music's influence peaking is the brief Prog Rock stage of the 1970s and the emergence of The Berlin School and Krautrock. The movement built more complicated melodies and instrumental influences into pop/rock—like that harpsichord—and really is a natural fit for their music. They also claim to pull in Neo-classical influences and combine all of this with Eleni's Greek heritage (and composers like Mikis Theodorakis.
It's an extremely dense description of their music and while the untrained ear can certainly grasp what they're saying, the couple are quick to explain it's all really about finding a recipe that's both catchy and interesting to their audience.
"People tell us the vocal harmonies are very beautiful. We may have a deeper view, but it doesn't really matter what we think. It's what the people think," Daniel admits.
Sea and Air may conjure images of light, friendly surfers but these two are intense and honest about their musical tastes and Canadian Music Week proved a bit of a let down, they said.
Daniel professes a love of Owen Pallette, saying he and Patrick Watson really personify how Canadians are influencing the international music sense. The bands they saw in Toronto didn't measure up.
"It was good for me to see there are mediocre bands in Canada as well," he said. "In Europe, we always have the impression Canadians are so much further ahead than we are."
Then again, he was also somewhat saddened that Bruce Cockburn could not play.
Sea and Air put their musical talents to the Canadian test this weekend at the Streaming Café. The show is free and can be seen live at the café, 596 Leon Avenue, at 7 p.m. or over the Internet.