Steam Down: Interview with Ahnansé

What is Steam Down? The creator behind Steam Down, Ahnansé (aka Wayne Francis) describes it best. “It’s a sub-cultural movement, centred around a collective of musicians, writers and creators with a weekly event on Wednesday, and a touring band and orchestra in the process of making a record. It’s multiple things but definitely a space to develop creativity.”
Around the age of 14, Ahnansé heard a pianist in his GCSE class improvising. “I remember hearing him improvise over Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon and also Giant Steps at that age. I was just inspired by that and the improvisatory nature of it. I didn’t quite understand it but I understood that it was really free- flowing. That was what really ignited it for me. Improvisation is what got me into music.”
From there Ahnansé learned the saxophone, stating “I just enjoyed the physicality of it. In terms of the instruments I play, saxophone is the first thing and piano goes along with that as a composing tool of course, and then there’s a lot of electronic stuff as well. But I would see myself more as a music conceptualist. I think that Steam Down and the other things that I do all relate to that. It’s not just about myself as a saxophone player.”
After formal training at Trinity College of Music, Ahnansé stayed in South East London. “After Trinity my learning continued and I played a lot of music from West Africa. That was an informal training which taught me a lot about music from another perspective.”
West African music and culture also influenced his conception of Steam Down. “My idea for Steam Down and the inspiration behind it comes from the West African griot music family where music is used as a tool for education and for solving problems, and telling the stories and the history of the people around them. For me there’s also something important for us as musicians to take those things and bring them into our music, so it’s not just entertainment. That’s a big part of the ethos of Steam Down, every song should
have a message and a meaning to it, more so a meaning than just a message. It doesn’t have to be just for entertainment. You can approach it from that angle, and take all the good vibes from it but you can also go deeper into it. The combination of the emotional power of music with words can open up our perspective to new things. That’s one of the core goals for me.”
Helping to create the friendly, inclusive and energetic atmosphere at Steam Down’s performances is the fundamental ethos that lies behind it, and Ahnansé sees that as being multi-layered. “One aspect is to bring people together. Music has that power to bring people together so it’s important to use it as a positive thing, and to encourage more than just fans. My theory is that if people like your music then some of them will like each other too, and they might be into the same things that they can end up doing together. The music should be inspiration and it should allow people to connect through that inspiration into each other and create what I would call an ‘abundance through creativity’. I would say Steam Down is a catalyst, a connection.”

“There’s also definitely a focus on the diaspora and the intersection between being born in London and our cultural heritage and how it influences music. Most of us have an interest in the ancient as well as the modern, and whatever the future could be. It’s exploring all of those spaces at the same time.”

That exploration involves a live album (likely to be released in September), a forthcoming UK tour, and a number of summer festival appearances, including Love Supreme and We Out Here. “We’re expanding so that it’s more visible to more people and right now it’s very offline, organic and very word-of-mouth in the way that people access it. But I think it would be good to have some songs that people know, that have come from us, but they can participate with, outside of coming to events. It’s such an expansive project at the moment, but our weekly session, every Wednesday at Matchstick Piehouse in Deptford, is the home of where the music is.”

As a former teacher with Tomorrow’s Warriors, he’s a firm believer in their maxim ‘each one, teach one’ and he sees the importance of giving younger musicians “a space to play music outside of any kind of limit of genre or style, to explore their sound”. “As time goes on, later on down the line, I’m looking at some kind of educational branch of Steam Down. Teaching is one of my passions and it seems like a kind of duty when they’ve established themselves to a certain extent, to pass down the information that they have. In one way I’m inspired by them and you can gain quite a lot from it.”

Ahnansé himself has also learned a great deal from his experience of running Steam Down. “What it’s teaching me is a lot about people. I’ve spent a lot of years playing music so I think that I know quite a lot about music, but actually it’s teaching me a lot about people, about working together in teams, the importance of having good strong relationships within your team, a lot about sincerity within relationships and connections with people, and how we build trust in each other and what are the parameters for that, what is required for that. And the fact that all of the musicians I play with, they actually really care, and that’s a blessing. For me that’s the biggest blessing, knowing there’s a group of musicians that I work with who really care about what they do, care about everybody in the group and how we work together, and just care outside of that. That really changes the feeling of it. It’s not ego-based, it’s not based on a self-centred goal or some kind of narcissistic aim, or individual pursuit. Their individual pursuit is still in there but it fits within the group. I think that everybody is supportive of everybody’s individual vision in that space, so it doesn’t become like a competition of who can be the so-called ‘best’ or the competitive nature that can exist within music, and also in the world at large. That doesn’t really exist [in Steam Down], there’s an openness and a safety which then allows people to really grow because people feel that they can try things and won’t be judged in a negative way. In terms of the musical and musician side of things, that’s really core: being around people who care and love music and enjoy playing music with each other.”

Returning to the question what is Steam Down?, Ahnansé considers the important questions that inspired the beginning of Steam Down: “How do you do anything that you do? How do you make the world more positive and a better place? How do you use it to inspire people?”

He concludes by saying “How can we live in a more harmonious way? How can we create the feeling of what that can be? That inspired what Steam Down is now, which is: how do we start thinking about how music can be the tool for creating harmony between people?”

Steam Down

The Great Escape Festival, Thursday 9th May, 2019

Love Supreme Festival, Saturday 6th July, 2019

We Out Here Festival, 15th – 18th August, 2019

Matchstick Piehouse, Deptford every Wednesday

 

Interview by Charlie Anderson

Photo by Lisa Wormsley