We sat down for an interview with Shepherdstown Street Fest’s alternate headliner. Mike Ounallah, original member and cofounder, was able to fill us in on all things Black Masala.
What does your band name mean?
“So the band started 5 years ago, right? So when we were coming up with a name, we wanted to find something that was a little diverse and represented everything we wanted to do. I came up with Masala, and it’s an Indian spice that’s a combination of different ingredients, and I just really liked the word and thought it was really cool. And then we wanted to put a color in front of it so we chose Black, and that’s how we came up with the band name!” We took a moment to both establish our appreciation of the color black; it’s mysterious but cool, always classic, and will instantly add oomph to whatever you apply it to.
How would you describe your music to a first time listener?
“We do gypsy brass, or rock and brass music, mixed with funk, and New Orleans street band music.” Referencing back to the band’s name, ‘Masala’ completely makes sense. Just like the spice contains many different ingredients, so too does Black Masala. Covering such a broad range and unique blend of genres, Black Masala can be described as a band for everyone. No matter your musical preference you’ll hear something you like. “It’s got a similar thread, believe it or not, that being its dance music, and some of the language crosses genres pretty well,” is his response when I sound surprised at the combination.
How did you guys meet?
“I started the band 5 years ago with a guy I met in D.C. who was a trombone player, and we wanted to do rock and brass music, and gypsy music: Romanian, Serbian, Arabic, whatever… and so we were just kind of figuring it out and interested in that kind of style. Then we started wanting to add more musicians and expand the band, so we added Kristen, who’s the other singer in the band. Then we added Kirsten, who’s the other trombonist, and they’ve been in the band the longest. Then we added tuba, which is one of the hardest instruments to find because no one plays it anymore! Then we added accordion… and you know we’ve gone through some changes. Like this year we’ve added a whole new horn section that’s doing everything now, so that’s going to be great. We’ve got a guitarist we met in D.C., but generally speaking we all met in D.C. through friend’s recommendations, so that’s kind of how it all started,” he summarizes.
How do you feel about playing at the Shepherdstown Street Fest?
“Shepherdstown is beautiful, we love playing there.” Black Masala has played at the Opera House before, but never at the Shepherdstown Street Fest. This will be a brand new sound to many people in the audience, and they won’t be disappointed! “Last year some friends of mine from North Carolina headlined called Holy Ghost Tent Revival, so when I saw that, I thought this is a festival that we should be a part of.”
What are you most looking forward to?
“I guess we’re just most looking forward to playing, hopefully reaching some new people that haven’t heard the band, and playing outside.” Short, simple, and to the point, Black Masala will find that they are widely accepted by the crowds in Shepherdstown on the 24th.
Interested in hearing some of their music? We thought you might be. However, we don’t recommend clicking play unless you’re ready to get up and dance!
Mike himself was incredibly down to Earth. If you didn’t ask him about Black Masala, you’d probably be fooled into thinking he’s just your Average Joe. However, being a master at vocals, drums, and percussion, I’d say he’s anything but ordinary! I even asked him a trick question, which he answered with ease (and correctly).
Batman or Superman, and why?
“Batman! Because he has all these cool gadgets, and he can shoot up into buildings. Plus he’s got the Batmobile, and that thing’s pretty sweet.” Good answer Mike, good answer.
Ready to see Black Masala live? Join us at the Shepherdstown Street Fest for 70+ vendors, great food, and fantastic live music!