Photography by Reza Khota

Carlo Mombelli: Composing emotional stories

Writing and playing music has been a lifelong pursuit for self-taught bassist and composer Carlo Mombelli whose interest in music was sparked after seeing the ballet Swan Lake at the age of 8. Despite his father wanting him to become a chef and join him in his restaurant he secretly took piano lessons at school, listening to classical music as well as rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Police. This lead him to discovering Weather Report and particularly Jaco Pastorius which drew him to the bass guitar. His circumstances forced him to become self-taught. “There weren’t many teachers around so I just took what I was learning on the piano and applied it to my instrument.” says Carlo.

As a composer he learnt through trial and error. “I’ve got tons of compositions and they’re all crap, but it’s from those compositions that I learnt how to compose music.” Nature has been a major influence on his compositions. “At school I used to go into the forest at break time and go sit and listen to the wind and the leaves and the birds. I started getting into the idea of looping long before loop stations were out because I would always hear birds and insects looping. So I tried to create that in my music back then already. And the natural reverbs that I heard in the forest I’d play with that and try to create that reverb on my instrument when I play.”

Photography by Christo Doherty

When composing music he doesn’t sit at his piano or with his bass guitar but rather is constantly inspired. “Compositions always come to me naturally. I’m thinking about something or something has happened or I’m thinking about various situations or feelings and then a composition comes to me. That’s how I compose music, and it’s always happening. My music comes from inspiration and it’s not a formula. I don’t try to look for a genre or anything like that.”

In studio he has played bass for some of the biggest names in South African music from  Sibongile Khumalo to Kyle Shepherd and Miriam Makeba. He was also a producer on the SAMA winning album Oscillations by Shane Cooper. However he focuses on developing his own sound and way of playing. “I’m simplifying my music and it’s becoming more like hymns and I’m starting to tell stories with more emotion and not technique at all. I want to tell a story with few colours. I know what sound I want. I’m also booking musicians that I like…and I need them to debate the topic which is my composition but I need them to debate it with their voice. I want to hear what they have to say in the composition and I don’t try to change that.”

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