5 Questions: Dunia & Aram

Like master chefs, the talented duo Dunia and Aram are all about making delectable confections out of the best ingredients possible.

Dunia and Aram 6

In the case of Dunia and Aram, those ingredients include punky reggae, soul, jazz and more than a dollop of indie pop.

There’s an almost indefinable quality of magic to the way Dunia and Aram weave these disparate sounds and styles together in songs that are both effervescent and emotional. The quality of the musicianship is dazzling, a clear reflection that, after making music together for over 20 years, Dunia and Aram have mastered their craft.

Over the years, Dunia Best and Aram Sinnreich have performed around the world as a duo and with their bands Dubistry and Brave New Girl, as well as supporting a broad range of artists including post-punk icons Vivien Goldman and Ari-Up, as well as King Django, The Specialized Project, and Low Lily. It’s a testament to the duo’s versatility that they can play with such a wide spectrum of performers.

During the pandemic, Dunia and Aram have honed their performance as an acoustic duo at home in Silver Spring, Maryland, working with legendary German producer Hans Nieswandt on a new album of original music, titled “Bedfellows,” which was just released. The album includes a cover of Vivien Goldman’s post-punk classic ‘Launderette,’ and it can be streamed and downloaded starting July 8th from duniaandaram.bandcamp.com.

With Dunia & Aram set to play the Friday, July 1st edition of WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe in Mt. Pleasant, I reached out to the duo to ask them a few questions about their remarkable music project and their first proper album.

1) How does it feel to be releasing your debut album after playing together for over 20 years? 

D&A: This isn’t really our debut album! Dunia and Aram have collectively released many recordings over the years, including three EPs and two singles by our neo-soul band Brave New Girl, and two EPs and an album of dubs and remixes by our reggae soul band Dubistry. Plus we’ve played together on a bunch of other people’s recordings, such as ska super-group The Specialized Project UK. This is still a first in some ways, though. It’s the first time we’ve recorded just as Dunia & Aram. And it’s the first album we’ve put out together with label support, which has been fantastic.

Dunia and Aram album cover Bedfellows

2) When I listen to your music, I hear so many disparate sounds and styles coming together – reggae, punk, jazz, indie pop – how did you arrive at the Dunia & Aram sound? 

D&A: We think of this as New York music. Growing up in Brooklyn (Aram) and the Bronx (Dunia), our sonic environment was a mix of all these styles and more. There was no clean dividing line between jazz people, Latin people, hip-hop people, reggae people, punk people, and so forth, so there was no dividing line in the music. One of the nice things about recording for a “world music” label in Germany is that they’re not bound by America’s segregationist aesthetics, and they appreciate all of the many voices that crowd together and mix in unexpected ways in our music.

Dunia and Aram and Vivien

3) Outside of making music together as a duo, you have played with some legendary musicians from the post-punk era, most notably Ari-Up of The Slits and Vivien Goldman. How did you come to work with these legends and what was the experience like?

D&A: The musical partnerships we’ve been so lucky to have are really friendships in sonic form. When we first met Ari-Up in NYC back in 2000 or thereabouts, at a now-defunct club called Wetlands, we just instantly vibed. We spent the whole night talking, and from that moment on, we were family. Within a week or two, we were backing up Ari at shows (the first one might have been the Knitting Factory). She trusted us to play the right sounds without even rehearsing the material. For a while, Brave New Girl was her backing band, but our friendship long outlasted those particular collaborations, and she was in the hospital room when our daughter was born, about a year before she herself departed this plane.

Ari always wanted to introduce us to Vivien, but we never met until we collaborated on organizing a giant tribute concert after Ari passed, with members of the Slits, PIL, Neneh Cherry, and countless other punky reggae luminaries playing her songs together at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. After that, Viv was family, too, and when she decided she wanted to start playing live shows (around the release of Resolutionary), she brought us with her — as much for the emotional support as for the musical support. We’ve been gigging together ever since.

4) Dunia & Aram recently played in Cologne. How did this show come about and what can you tell us about the way audiences respond to your music there?

D&A: Our original Cologne connection is through our producer, Hans Nieswandt, another wonderful collaborator who began as a friend. We put the album together with Hans over the internet during COVID, and he’s the one who brought it to GMO the Label, which is also in Cologne. So when we were planning a trip to Paris for Aram’s academic work, we let GMO know, and they put together a showcase concert to debut the new album, just in time for the first batch of CDs to be printed. We played at a legendary rock club called the Blue Shell, which has amazing old NYC vibes, but is also very European in a way. We connected with the wonderful drummer Opek, who’s played with us on Brave New Girl and Hans Nieswandt recordings, but never met us in person before, and the three of us really clicked. The room was full of music and media industry people, and they were so enthusiastic, we felt like rockstars. Even our perfectionist, audiophile mastering engineer NUMINOS gave us a good review. It was wonderful to feel appreciated for everything that we are, as opposed to having to fit American musical categories, pleasing a ska crowd at one gig and a jazz crowd at another, and a folk crowd at another, never getting to show off all of our facets at once. That said, Cologne does have an amazing ska scene, and they were dancing the hardest!

Dunia and Aram at Marx April 2022

5) Now that your debut album is out, what are your near-term future plans? Please tell us we won’t have to wait 20 more years for the next Dunia & Aram album. LOL!

D&A: We’re already writing material for the second Dunia & Aram album, and we’ll be playing two of those songs at WFTBO. We’re doing a lot of gigging together in the USA (next stop, NYC), and Dunia is also gigging a lot with her all-women ska supergroup Rudegirl Revue. We’re currently trying to set up some shows in the UK this fall, since we’ll both already be in the British Isles for other gigs. We’re also playing now in the DMV with an incredible world music group called Tributary Project, which combines elements American folk, rock, and R&B vibes with Kenyan percussion, plus Egyptian and Balkan vocal music, among other traditions, plus the two of us doing our thing. We played at the National Cathedral for the One Journey Festival last week, and we’ll be playing again at Bossa next month. Two of the drummers from that project, the Grammy-nominated Joseck Asikoye and Justo Asikoye, will be playing with us at WFTBO. It’s the same vibe as back in our Ari-Up days. We haven’t even rehearsed with them yet as we write this, but we know it’ll sound great because we vibe with them. Maybe they’ll be gracious enough to play on our next album!

Listen to and purchase Dunia & Aram’s music on Bandcamp. Be sure to catch Dunia & Aram at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE at the Marx Cafe (3203 Mt. Pleasant St NW) on Friday, July 1, 2022 at 10pm. Come early at 9pm for a sneak preview of “Bedfellows.” Translove Airwaves producer, filmmaker, radio show host extraordinaire Matthew Levin will be joining us behind the turntables. Join us for the fun!