“Listen – Bra MP3″
Hey, hey, hey.
It’s a late post on this Monday night (though some of our brethren overseas are already well into the day of Tues…
It was a nice weekend here in NJ, though for some strange reason it’s suddenly winter. Despite searching high and low I was unable to locate my fave Peruvian hat (kind of an ear-flapped woolen headpiece favored by hippy types) that my sister got me for Christmas a few years ago (along with a nice, long scarf – which I was able to locate). As my ears are unduly large and more susceptible to cold than those of the average bear, I dragged Miles into the local K-Mart (a wholly depressing joint that looks to be on its last legs) and purchased a new Peruvian. It’s not as cool as my old one (though there are clearly those that would try to convince you that NO Peruvian hat is capable of coolness), but it’s nice and warm.
After leaving the sad, sad store, Miles and I headed down to the beach for a walk. I know that walking at the beach in 28 degree weather sounds at best ill-advised (and at worst, stupid) but let me tell you brother; there’s nothing like a perambulation at the seashore in the dead of winter. Whether or not the peaceful vibe is real or simply a matter of contrasting its summer condition with its wintry emptiness matters not a whit – at least to me – because the air she is fresh, the noise she is non-existent and the company is top shelf. Miles is happy to watch dogs playing fetch in the sand, and we’ve set it up so that the halfway/turnaround point of our walk brings us to the best three-year-old-friendly playground in Bradley Beach, with a wide variety of slides and things to climb on.
Either way, it’s good for the soul (and the heart in more ways than one), and as long as he can do it without complaining about the cold (which he never does), I’m down.
The cool thing is that getting out of the house on a Sunday and soaking up some of the windy Zen at the beach clears the head nicely, pushing out some of my the work-associated negativity that has been haunting me of late (not entirely, but whatever…).
Anyway, I promised some weeks ago that I’d be dropping something by Cymande in the coming weeks, and the week has come.
The main reason for my procrastination – and there are often many – is that Cymande is one of those bands that defy easy description. Though their records are coveted by the funky crate diggers of the world, they are not really a funk band (though they were certainly capable of creating some very funky music).
Those of you that had your ears pressed to the radio in 1973 may recall that they actually had a Top 40 hit that year, with ‘The Message’ and their follow up (and coincidentally the selection du jour) ‘Bra’ made it to number 51 on the R&B charts. To most others – aside from the aforementioned crate diggers, DJ types* and other associated members of the cognoscenti – who generally happen to be possessed of a certain musical hipness not found in the general population – they are pretty much an unknown commodity, which once you’ve listened to ‘Bra’ you will likely agree is a damn shame.
The band Cymande was formed in the UK in the early 70’s by a group of West Indian immigrants (hailing from Jamaica, Guyana and St. Vincent among other locales), who described their sound as NYAH-ROCK (the NYAH no doubt derived from the nyahbingi chants of the Rastafarians**).
Despite the invocation of Rasta, Cymande were hardly a reggae band. Their music was a sophisticated mixture of American soul and funk, African pop, Latin sounds, rock and all of the various and sundry intersections of those sounds. A close listen to their first LP is like a drive through Harlem in the early 70’s with your car windows down, letting snatches of Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Santana and a thousand lesser groups (woven securely into the fabric, but essentially lost to the ages) drift through the windows and into your ears.
There are elements of early-70’s prog-cum-stoner rock guitar, hard drums, jazzy bass and horns as well as a bedrock of polyrhythmic percussion.
The most important element of their sound, and the one that runs through almost every one of their songs (whether fast or slow) is the groove. There are elements (similar in some ways to the sounds of Manu Dibango and Fela) that presage the more interesting aspects of disco, but unlike those artists Cymande were essentially a rock band, in the way that the Band of Gypsys was a “rock” band, i.e. working with rock-based motifs and settings but always infused with an essential “blackness” you’d never be able to locate on a Pink Floyd record (no matter how many times you played it backward or changed the speed).
It was the kind of blend that was all over the place in the wake of the 1960’s (employing different elements of course, but in essentially the same spirit) yet is rarely heard today, unless you’re familiar with the stylistically fragmented “jam band” scene in which a seriously diluted but no doubt related vibe rears its head now and again.
Though Cymande hailed by and large from the West Indies, they did come together in the UK, in an atmosphere in which groups like the Soft Machine and Mighty Baby were building with similar materials (those including but not restricted to marijuana, borrowed copies of Bitches Brew, sax-o-ma-phone freakout and a certain all encompassing mellowness we may never see the likes of again). Where those groups leaned in a largely soul-less direction (often dominated by pretension and artistic over-reach), Cymande were always soulful, buttering their popcorn with groovy Mayfield-isms (JEEBUS…check out ‘Brothers on the Slide’ from their third LP which sounds like Curtis himself) viewed through a ganja haze.
If you haven’t already scored the LPs, Castle/Sequel in the UK put out a 2CD set that includes all three of their LPs (Cymande, Second Time Round and Promised Heights as well as a couple of previously unissued tracks) and is absolutely essential, and you should get it while you can***.
*The DJ-types being crucial to the sampling of Cymande by De La Soul, Heavy D, the Fugees et al
**Group members Mike Rose and Pablo Gonsales are namechecked as Rastas in the liner notes of the ‘Cymande’ lp.
***And whip it on the nearest trustafarian Phish fan, who will undoubtedly wet their pants with delight, and then steal your CD, so maybe it’s not such a hot idea….