Prince Fatty

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Prince Fatty

As a producer, Prince Fatty is eclectic, working across the board; his collaborations read like a who’s who from the mid-90s to now. However, perhaps Prince Fatty is best known for his presence in the Jamaican diaspora music scene. Still churning records out now, the latest release Be Thankful For What You’ve Got featuring reggae singer Earl Sixteen is a beautiful prequel to those happy summer days to come.

We took the opportunity, with his Record Store Day release, to catch up with Prince Fatty.

Rhythm Passport: How did you get the name Prince Fatty? Was it given to you, or did you choose it? Were you following the likes of Prince Jazzbo?

Prince Fatty: It was a quick decision, as it all started with what I thought would be a one-off record for Stüssy Records called ‘Ninas Dance’ – a Jackie Mittoo-inspired instrumental organ work out. It was a limited edition, so I figured Prince Fatty would be too, but it didn’t work like that. The fat thing came from all the musicians always saying my sound was fat!

RP: Who inspired you musically, before you considered yourself a musician? 

PF: My older brother gave me Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland when I was 8 years old, and that blew my mind, then Burning Spear at 13 years old, when I discovered dub and playing bass.

Did you have a patron who taught you the ropes? 

PF: Yeah, many old sound engineers taught me how to record; not one in particular, but all combined gave me much knowledge. If I had to pick one, then Graham Dickson, who was the in-house engineer at the Hit Factory and was Gus Dudgeon’s engineer for many years.

Have you ever had a music nemesis/rivalry? 

PF: Sure, but usually it’s imaginary and thus virtual. I have a make-believe beef with Quincy Jones, because he always had a bigger budget than me! Competition is healthy in my opinion, so that’s every soundsystem show we do. Dub-wise, touring with Mad Professor was the closest I felt to a rivalry vibe, but it was friendly after all. The goal is always to give people a good show.

Of all your collaborations, is there one that you consider as surprising to your fans? 

PF: The Last Poets album Understand What Black Is took people by surprise, as on paper you wouldn’t imagine the combination geographically possible between Dub Judah, Horseman, the Nostalgia, 77 jazz musicians and myself, with The Last Poets via the Bronx. Through the universe and its random chaos theory, it happened very swiftly and smoothly. We are now working on a follow-up.

You’ve worked with literally everyone in the contemporary dub/reggae scene, from Mungos Hi-Fi, Hollie Cook, Gentleman’s Dub Club and the greats like The Last Poets and Dele Sosimi. Is there an act that you have yet to work with that you aspire too? 

PF: A new singer called Shniece McMenamin is my latest discovery, and we have been doing much work together in preparation for her debut release. A real soul voice for the 21st century. My collaboration with Monkey Jhayam from Brazil was big for me. Living in Sao Paolo last year was inspiring, and I recorded a lot. Brazil is special, and it felt like a re-birth.

You have a new release just out for Record Store Day – Be Thankful for What You’ve Got. It’s setting the summer scene for sure! Are you performing anywhere this summer? 

PF: Yes, we are, but this summer we are in the studio a lot, so I kept the shows to a minimum.

What equipment did you start producing and learning to dub on? 

PF: I learned on big analog mixers and tape machines via the traditional tape op/assistant engineer when I left school at 17. I was there for the start of the digital domination that followed. I resisted as much as possible, and have always believed in recording live and all together to get a vibe; looking for good performance and sound in combination. Art is often not a consideration for sound engineers, as they tend to be just technical. I try and find a mix between art and science. I am lucky, I have worked in some of the best studios in the world, like Townhouse, Olympic and the old Air Studios on Oxford Street.

RP: We are big believers that the music listened to by your parents shapes your own personal musical taste. What kind of music did you listen to growing up? Is it the same kind of music you produce?                  

PF: I grew up in Italy, so they were 20 years behind everybody else. They were still listening to TheDoorsJimi HendrixBob Marley, big Italian love ballads and plenty of disco. My mother loved BoneyM, and my father, being Italian, preferred Latin sounds like cumbia, salsa and samba. I liked it all. I started bootlegging at a young age, selling cassettes at school.

RP: Do you have a favourite music route? A soft spot for production, so to speak? 

PF: Reggae and soul are my natural reference points. I like musicians to sound like musicians and machines to sound like machines.

Can you give us five killer albums you listen to on repeat?

PF: Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus by Charles Mingus; the dub album of The Same Song album by Israel Vibration mixed by FatmanJorge Ben’s AfricaDub Judah’s Babylon is a Trap; and Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix.

RP: What’s next for Prince Fatty?

PF: I plan to record more in Latin America, and I am planning the next follow up for The Last Poets, which will have an Afro-feel, as I am planning to use Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s drummer) for the beats. The Bronx meets Lagos, Nigeria in a political-poetry style. Stay tuned.


Cymande

Cymande

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There are some bands in music that become established after they have been on the scene for a number of years, say one decade. Then there are other bands that become established through sheer genius and ingenuity. This was the case from the beginning with British funk band Cymande, who were uniquely popular in the United States, as well as Britain, in the 1970s.

Cymande derives from the calypso word for dove, which in turn symbolises peace and love. The band’s demographic represents the legendary migration of people from the Caribbean to London from the 1950s, with members from Guyana, Jamaica and Saint Vincent. I believe that it was this particular flavour of rhythms that they brought with them in their musical ideology that made Cymande as irresistible as they are, mixing reggae, beautiful funk, afro and jazz into innovative catchy tracks.

It’s fun to note that Cymande are also one of the most sampled bands in British history, touching every corner of music – such as hip-hop innovator’s recovery of Cymande post ’75 by DJ Kool Hereand Grandmaster Flash, onwards to De La Soul and The Fugees, to French-based Senegalese MC Solaar. The message their music produces is that of the black experience in ’70s racist London, through Brixton-based poly-rhythms, Caribbean inspired reggae, all smoothly jazzed through funk and soul.

The band left the road back in the mid to late ’70s, leaving behind three albums for the world to depict for the coming decades. However, low and behold, the collective reformed in 2014, and now in 2019, they are coming back to play in Ronnie Scotts, London on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th of March.

Ronnie’s is a legendary venue, one of the few in London worthy of hosting such an illustrious group.

We took the opportunity, knowing the guys were on the scene again, to shoot a few questions their way. Read on for the opinion and evolutions of Cymande’s music and members.

How would you introduce the music of Cymande to those that don’t know?

Our music is an original blend of funk, jazz and soul with an undercurrent of poly-rhythmic structures from the Caribbean and Africa.

How many members were initially in the band, and how has that differed to now?

The band started with six original members, which we refer to as the core members. They are SteveScipioPatrick PattersonMike RosePablo GonzalesDerrick Gibbs and Sam Kelly. We expanded the number over time to include an additional saxophone player Desmond AtwellRay King and Joey Dee(deceased). Following the second tour of America in 1973, we reverted to the original six structure, and that was the core of the band which returned in 2014, to which we added pianist Adrian Reid, vocalist RaySimpson, and Ray Carless tenor and soprano saxes.

Can you describe the first time you all played together as a band, where and when and why?

If memory serves us well, our first gig might have been in 1971, at the Oval house in London, which was a prime music and arts venue at the time. There is no one reason for the formation and creation of Cymande music, but the aim has always been to play original music that combines elements of funk, jazz and soul, with our own special rhythmic Caribbean sensibility with a pronounced undercurrent of Rastafarian drumming.

How has Cymande’s music evolved in the years since it started to present day?

The music evolved a lot from the band’s formation in 1971 to when it came off the road in 1975. This is evident from listening to the musical progression in the three albums recorded over that period. Of course, there was the hiatus of some 35 years before the band reformed around 2010 to start planning the recording for the album, A Simple Act of Faith, but its core poly-rhythmic sense and original approach has remained constant. The evolution is probably best seen by comparing the nature of the songs, music and blend in the albums.

What was behind the decision to take the band off the road in the late 1970s?

There were a number of reasons, probably the most important was that, although we had been accepted and appreciated by American audiences in a wonderful way (which was unique for a UK black band playing funk and jazz), we found that when we returned to the UK, we were back in the land of the unseen and unheard, which was the place to which black music and black musicians had generally been confined in the UK music industry. It was dispiriting and devoid of dignity, and we all had other options, so we took a little respite. We prefer to describe the extended absence as a sabbatical. We took the band off the road, but never really split, and we have always remained connected and friends, working together on various projects over the years and discussing the idea of returning when the time was right.

You are one of the most sampled British bands in history: Why do you think the musicians in Cymande were capable of creating such innovative and desirable music?

It is difficult to point to any single factor that explains why the music developed in the way it did, but obviously, our background as Caribbean people and our experiences as second-generation immigrants in the UK served to create something unique and influential, with a great rhythmic sensibility that was infectious.

What do you think is the most important thing that happened to Cymande in the 40 years out of the limelight?

The recognition of Cymande as a historically important band in black music and the appreciation of our music, particularly by hip hop, rap and other audiences. Also, the fact that the band has managed to sustain a wonderful following by a knowledgeable and discerning audience.

As a band, who are some of your favourite artists to listen to and why?

We all have different favourites, players, bands and singers; Herbie HancockMiles DavisStevie WonderGladys Knight etc. The attraction they hold for us would be because of their musicianship, artistry and longevity. Most of these musicians (Miles Davis in particular) also put creativity and originality above commerciality, which was also the ethos followed by Cymande.

Is there anything that surprises you about the longevity of your band’s popularity?

The fact that the music has sustained itself, not simply in the United States, which is where we had our principal success but has spread far and wide to Europe and other places. Also, it was the modern younger generation who found something in our music that they could relate to.

What’s been the most rewarding part of getting on the road again?

The opportunity to be playing to great and wonderfully receptive audiences and making music for a new time period.

Anthony Joseph – ‘Caribbean Roots’

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A few days ago, I met with Trinidadian poet and writer Anthony Joseph in a coffee shop in Brixton. It was a pleasure to listen to Anthony’s stories of growing up in Trinidad, the music of calypso and soca, and what the Windrush generation means to London’s identity.

Anthony also talks us through a track from his latest album People of the Sun, talks of his book tours and speaks about his upcoming Windrush celebration gala at the Barbican Centre on Saturday 17th November part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2018.

Tracks played:

LISTEN BELLOW

Gentlemans Dub Club

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Gentleman’s Dub Club are a staple dub eight piece outfit based in London whom have been producing albums since their debut ‘Open Your Eyes’ in 2012. No celebration of Jamaican music and it’s diaspora would be complete without a couple of GDC anthems blasting through the sound system. I spoke to singer Johnny ahead of their upcoming concert at ‘The Electric Brixton’ 19.10.18.


So reggae, ska and dub are an integral sound for the band. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what Jamaican music and  soundsystem culture means to you personally and within the band?

Most of it, to be honest, did come from specifically within those genres and most of it came from us discovering the music together, and like I said, that was sort of through ‘Subdub’ to begin with. A dub sound system evening hosted by ‘Iration Steppas’, who brought in these big dub rigs from around the country and got others to clash their sound system. Also through the artists that they brought up at these nights, people like, ‘Jah Tubby’ and 'Nucleus Roots’, and then they’d be playing tunes from people like ‘The Twinkle Brothers’ playing live and ‘Lee Scratch Perry’…yeah he came over and played live. So they had a mixture of Jamaican artists coming over to play, and in the UK, more sort of underground sounds and through that we just explored more and just enjoyed listening to those sorts of styles. 


Our influences aren’t really just in those styles though, that’s what we are you know - that’s the umbrella we all huddled under, but, the personal sort of fascination goes really vast, and a long way beyond any borders. We all listened to a lot of hip-hop when we were younger. Certainly we’re all into a bit of drum and bass in various sorts of ways, but then we also went to see jazz and rock and heavy metal music, and classical music. So really that’s where the sound comes from - our appreciation of it is slightly different to the stuff that we put out there. Our appreciation is vast, as any musicians is, because it’s fascinating, you know. You don’t wanna stop, you don’t wanna stop the ear from having the opportunity to enjoy something, and so you gotta explore that stuff. 


But then with the band, you know we’ve never really made any conscious decisions in terms of what we’re going to make and how we’re going to make it - we just kind of jam, come together and see what happens. 


Can you talk me through the musical make-up of the band? As though we were in the recording studio: who would lay the first track down and in what order?

Well we have eight people on stage, and then we all play on the records, and so the rhythm section in the reggae band is always, the beats (drums) and the chords and the bass. That’s generally like the bedding of all of the tracks, and so on this last album (Lost In Space), which is fairly unique, it was quite an interesting process for us to go through, and we’re pretty happy with the output. The whole concept of the album started when I wrote a story…


The story was about wanting to go in search of the ultimate bass line in the far reaches of the galaxy. So we got someone to build us a spaceship, and we went up into space. We went through this process of leaving earth and leaving loads of things behind us, and you know… looking beyond to who knows where… 


We kept on travelling and went past Mars and then ended up getting dragged into Saturn and then flipped up in one of its storms. Then we got flipped onto this other planet, umm, what was it called? Uropa, which is like a moon, and then uh, that’s where we crash landed. As we got out of the spaceship we could hear this distant sort of rumble and it was the sound of this bassline that we had been in search of. So we had to go on foot to try and find it and we ultimately found it being played by this guy called ‘King Jabba’ - the omnipresent bass dictator - who was playing it in a volcano he inhabited. Once we got there, we couldn’t stop moving, so uh, we knew what our path was, and it all made sense suddenly. 


And so we came back with the bassline, um…


So I wrote that story and then we came together, five of us, and we would look at the story, see how it had developed, and then jam at the same time. So we would just sort of play around and then I’d sing on the mic., and Tommy would be on drums, and Toby on bass and Nick on the guitar and Luke on the keys and we’d just find the rhythms and find the melodies. We already had these visuals from the story in mind - these pictures - and so it was quite easy to then just, you know, allow the tracks to appear.



I guess the next question should be: Have you found the perfect bassline, and where was it? 

Yeah oh yeah, ‘King Jabba’ had it…he’s got a 23 stringed bass guitar, that’s attached to the underside of his belly. He just goes really long. 


The single from the upcoming album, ‘Stardust’ has an amazingly creative and image provoking video. For me the impression was that it was a representation of: what’s going on in these crazy space exploring imaginations? What was the focus or aim for this video? 

Without wanting to put a too fine a point on it, the process of writing that tune was sort of spacey and not thinking about it. We were really exploring: it was really late at night, like three, four in the morning, we just started when this tune came out. The sun just came out, some low lighting, mad lighting, you know, and it’s all sort of psychedelic in a sense and so we wanted to follow that through as a theme. We just thought let’s have a crack and see how it goes. A lot of it was developed in the process of doing it rather than conceived at the start, so it was more of a concept we ran with. We had all just met a really great video team and they helped us develop this nugget. 


I see that you also played in Tunisia this year. How do the audiences compare to European and British audiences on the opposite side of the planet? Does everyone have the same skank (dance) in the world? 

Hell yeah… There all wikid… hell yeah. We actually played in Morocco a year and a half ago, and there was a different type of skanking that they do. It was a lot less knees… it was more sort of like a sea of people doing the pencil - sort of bobbing up and down, jumping up and down as high as they could. Yeah they have a different vibe: a full central square of pogo sticks, yeah… and so it’s a different vibe… but you know, that’s got to be the most captivating element of being in this band - performing live, you create a point with every audience. 


It’s just so easy the music, it’s like: we enjoy laying it, and so it seems that sort of filters through to an audience. So wherever they are, if you're playing to a mixed crowd early in the afternoon at a festival set with you know, six year olds to sixty years old with families - Bestival say, that’s really nice. It’s just like you create that connection with an audience, and they’re all unique, I don’t think it makes much of a massive difference at all - location. 

The major difference is, if the audience knows your tunes verses not knowing your tunes, because at the start of the set, there in from the off, they’re kind of singing along, they’re excited, you can sort of feel like the energy straight away. Then other times, you’ll have to step up and sort of really bring that energy, prove yourself, because they don’t know what they’re going to get. 


I think for me, ska and reggae and dub: it’s a community music, and I think part of the pleasure of seeing bands play live, is that you see that connection between the band on stage that is shared with the audience: through the skanking (dancing) and such. But do you guys have songs that you feel obliged to always play live, or that you definitely wouldn’t play live anymore?

It all just happens as it goes, we’ll add new songs as we write new tunes, and if we like them and we think they’re good enough to go in the set, then we’ll put them in, and then you got to make a hard decision with what comes out, and so yeah, it’s not easy. We do get quite a few people coming up to us asking us to play old tunes, you know, there’s a few that you can’t get away without playing, and it’s not really up to us to a certain degree. 


I think that’s a great debate - people buying tickets to go see bands they love, then feeling disappointed in the act if they don’t play “the classics”.

I’m kind of on both sides of that: as a musician I believe in your freedom to express whatever comes, or whatever moves you - that has to be the point of it. That’s why being too closely managed in that outlook, can really water down a project - you got to be able to do what you feel like doing. At the same time, you got to understand why people are buying tickets, so in a way if you lose your audience, then you’ve lost your audience, you have to be able to work with what’s there. 


Is there somewhere you guys feel at home when you play in that area?

We’re playing in Leeds on this tour, where we’ve played loads at the Uni. up there, so that will be a bit of a homecoming. But yeah, London kind of feels like our real home. I mean Leeds is a transient student based audience: so it’s the venue rather than the people that remain the same, but in London you can always really feel an energy.


It wasn’t like that when we first started, I remember when we first went to London the audiences were the hardest. When we first started playing, like seven, eight years ago in London they were always a really hard audience. I’m not sure why, I think it was sort of a case of people standing back and saying “come on, you gotta impress me” rather than knowing what they’re going to get and being up for it. Now however, when you come in and it’s like a really powerful sense in the room, so when you walk on stage, you’re just bang into the moment. 


——————————-

‘Lost In Space’ is availble for pre-order 

Releases in January 2019 

Band are also on tour. 

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Yazz Ahmed

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I interviewed Yazz Ahmed: the established face of contemporary fusion jazz. Since her debut album in 2011 - ‘Finding My Way Home’, Yazz Ahmed has been conquering the scene with her original blend of Arabian maqqam scales played on a unique quarter-toned flugelhorn. As well as this, Yazz’s long list of collaborations, such as Lee Scratch Perry and Radiohead has contributed to the addition of electronic music into her sound, earning Yazz global acclaim and success in her creation of a truly psychedelic East to West form of jazz. 

 

We chatted over the phone ahead of her debut concert in the Southbank Centre, in which, Yazz Ahmed will be launching her remix EP of her second album ‘La Saboteuse’.

 

So can we start by telling us the story of how and when you first started to play musical instruments?

OK, so I grew up in Bahrain, we had you know sort of strange instruments in the house, we had the guitar amongst others, and I would just mess around with those not really knowing what I’m doing. I would drive my mum mad by playing recorder duets with my sister. Then when we moved to England when I was nine my mum asked me if I wanted to learn a musical instrument in school and I said “Yes I would love to learn the trumpet”.

 

Why I chose the trumpet is because my grandfather Terry Brown used to be a jazz trumpet player in the 1950’s, and so I saw him as this big kind of hero, and I just thought he sounded pretty cool, and, you know, I just thought: Yeah the trumpet sounds like fun, I want to be like Terry. So that’s where it all started

 

Is this where you got your love of jazz from?

I think so. My grandfather would play jazz records to me, especially British Jazz artists, and my mum used to play jazz in the house and other quite cool music. Reggae, my mums a big reggae fan, so there was a lot of influences around in the house, and I really loved all of them, particularly jazz.

 

Do you feel that psychedelia was always a part of your music, or was it something that grew?

It just seems to have grown into that way. Since working with electronic artists and using electronic music, I’v found it can make you are more fluid, dreamy and outer worldly. It’s just amazing what you can do to music if you just sort of add an electronic element to it. It’s opened up lots of possibilities and  what colours I can get from using electronics as well as acoustic instruments, and it’s really fun to experiment.

 

You’ve had rather a lot of success after your debut album “Finding My Way Home’, can you tell us about an event that really had an impact on you or your music?

Yeah I think working with Radiohead and other major electronic artists has really inspired me quite deeply. In all sorts of ways, learning how to rehearse, how to take myself seriously… that as well, and again this electronic aspect with the recording. Things such as using pre-recorded material and manipulating it, collating it and using it the live performances. So I learned a lot with art-rock kind of people definitely.

 

You are of Bahraini and British origin, when did you start to connect to your Arabian musicality origins?

So my father is Bahraini and my mum is British,  and as I continued my music studies and graduated from music college, I started to discover new music.

 

The album that really inspired me to look into the music of my first home, was an album by ‘Blue Camel’ by Rabih Sbou-Khalil who was an oud player. This album brought up memories of the music of Bahrain from where I was  from growing up. That then inspired me to start researching the music and I experimented with mixing what I heard with jazz: then I suddenly felt like I had purpose and I felt a lot more rounded as a person because I was mixing my Bahraini heritage and my British heritage together, and yeah… I became one, I feel like I’m always evolving.

 

So thats where it really began, with that album, ‘Blue Camel’ -  It’s awesome, its a brilliant album

 

From the ‘La Sabateour', I think Jamil Jamal is my fav  - can you tell me about how you came to write this song ?

Sure, so that was the second piece I had written inspired by Arabic scales and rhythms and I mean it’s quiet a complex tune, but also very simple in it’s idea - along this idea and theme of evolving both identities. I used a couple of Arabic scales, but it’s all meshed together it had the kind of complex, kind of, menacing quality to it. I really enjoyed that feeling of being able to mix these two types of music together and also to bring out the wonderful improvisations of the band. Everyone has their opportunity to shine and it’s lovely how it all comes out in the piece…

 

Where are you based at the moment?

I live in a very sleepy village just outside of Lutton, it’s very peaceful it’s a nice change to London, it’s nice to write music and chill out.

 

Can you tell us about your quarter tone flugelhorn?

A flugelhorn is just like a trumpet, but it’s bigger - you can kind fo think of it as a pregnant trumpet, so it’s a little wider, the tubing is bigger, it creates a warmer more mellow sound - so the colours are slightly different when you’re playing this instrument. Flugelhorns don’t usually have quarter tones, which are used more in Arabic music, Indian music and music with that kind of free jazz.


So I had been wanting to play quarter tones to really get into the very emotional notes that you have in Arabic music: which uses quarter tones. For me, I often think of them as the blues qualities in Arabic music: similar to the blues. This kind of music where its very emotional and they tell stories about their struggles - for me thats the Arabic version: quartertones.

 

I feel I can get deeper into the music with my emotions having this new instrument. It was made for me by the guy who makes my other instruments, his name is Kenny and his company collects trumpets. He lives round the corner from me and he has a little workshop at the end of his garden where he makes fantastic instruments all by hand.

 

Are you looking forward to your concert? Have you played the venue before? What can we expect from the experience ?

I’m really looking forward to it, so my band we haven’t played at the Southbank Centre, so its obviously a very exciting thing.

 

What you’ll expect is, we’re going to be playing music from ‘La Sabatoure’ and we’re going to be playing music that is inspired by the music of the pearl divers from Bahraini. Also music that will be using the drumming groups who would typically perform in wedding celebrations, so you’ll here a bit of that.

 

I’ve also invited Brigette Baraha, a singer, and she’s going to sing you three melodies that I’ve written inspired by this music, so that’s really lovely.

 

There’s also going to be some wonderful lighting by a visual artist called ‘Tupac Martia’. It is going to be a visual experience as well as sonic. So hopefully all the senses will be awakened, enthused and excited.


We will also have an oud player who’s going to be opening the set who’s name is ‘Rihab Azar’ and she has an amazing story:

She is from Syria and her birth place is Khan and obviously Khan has been destroyed, and so she moved to London. She’s got this amazing story of her birth place and moving to London and this emotional journey she’s had.

 

I think it’s a wonderful theme of migration and collaboration of cultures, so yeah, she’s going to be opening it, so I’m very excited about that.

 

I should also mention the it’s the launch of my remix EP, it’s really fun to collaborate with other people who are not jazz musicians.It’s really exciting when you never know what’s going to happens, and that’s the beauty of music.