“Listen – Fencewalk / Hagalo MP3″
The weekend is finally at an end – an especially bitter pill for me to swallow since I had most of last week off. Nothing sucks worse than the last day of a vacation, whether it’s summer vacation when you’re a kid, or a few hard earned days off when you’re an adult. It was a productive couple of days off, including a trip with the family, and the inaugural Asbury Park 45 Sessions which was a blast, and an honor to be a part of.
This may sound corny to some of you, but there’s something amazing about spinning cool music for people to dance to. When it comes to DJ-ing, I tend to keep it pretty simple, running song into song, trying to create (and sustain) a vibe by programming sounds that – first an foremost – I dig, and that I think the people in the audience will dig, at least enough to start dancing (or bobbing their heads happily if cutting a rug isn’t their style).
Though there’s definitely an element of that in what I do here at the Funky16Corners Blog, doing it for a room full of people can be a positively transcendental experience.
I get off just hearing a song like ‘Iron Leg’ or ‘Jerkin the Dog’ over a super powerful sound system, but when I drop a side like ‘Lover and a Friend’ or ‘Hey Joyce’ and the crowd starts to get into it, there’s a kind of magical connection there, as if by spinning that particular record a room full of people is turned onto Lou Courtney or Eddie Bo for a few minutes, enough for the groove to grab them and take them out of the troubles of the real world for a moment.
A record like ‘Hey Joyce’, with its chant-like chorus, propulsive funk vibe and heavy, heavy breakbeats has the power to energize a roomful of people out to have a good time. That’s what I (and a lot of the DJ types I know) carry in my record bag. Not just thousands of dollars in fragile vinyl, with the totemic value for the fanatic collector (though that’s there too) but hours and hours of really powerful music. That power is why I sought it out in the first place (if it doesn’t move me there’s no way I’m going to whip it onto a room full of groovers) and why on the rare occasions I get to select and play these records for other people, I jump at the chance to do so.
It’s all about bringing soul to the people, and if you were lucky enough to be in the room on Friday night, you got to hear eight people who care about it passionately do just that.
In the continuation of that spirit, it’s time to get back on the MP3 horse and bring you something hot to start your (and my) week off with a bang. I’ve been wanting to drop something funky, and taking a look in the ole Funky16Corners trick bag, I see that I have just the thing at hand, a banger (and then some) from Mandrill.
To me, for the longest time, Mandrill was basically just a cool name and a series of wild album covers that I happened upon while digging for vinyl. I knew nothing about the group and as a result never grabbed any of their records.
However, over the years, as I started to orbit in a musical asteroid belt of sorts that included beat diggers, DJs and such I began to hear things of a positive nature about the group, mainly about a particular song, that being ‘Fencewalk’.
Mandrill – a group that I had long assumed (due to their sound) to be assembled from a variety of foreign sources – was actually formed in Brooklyn in the late 60’s. The three Wilson brothers – Ric, Lou and Carlos – had been born in Panama, but grew up in Bed-Stuy, which is where Mandrill was formed. They released their first LP in 1970 and continued to record and release music (including the soundtrack to ‘The Warriors’) into the 1980’s.
‘Fencewalk’ and ‘Hagalo’ – a medley of sorts by virtue of non-existant gap between the tracks – hail from their 1973 LP ‘Composite Truth’ and the pairing of their disparate styles is a good look at the overall Mandrill “vibe”.
‘Fencewalk’, which was their most successful single is a hard charging slice of funk. It opens with a wild horn blast that sounds like some kind of dissonant combination halftime show/elephant stampede, and almost immediately breaks down into a bit of Meters-esque, clavinetted funk, with snapping drums, wah-wah guitar and soulful group vocals. The groove never lets up, getting hotter through every one of its five-plus minutes, propelled by a long, Santana-esque guitar solo.
The really cool thing is, that around the five minute thirty second mark, the whole juggernaut stops short and is replaced by some undeniably Latin piano action, transforming from heavy funky into some of that sweet clave, including timbale, vibes and the whole nueve yards. It is truly a beautiful thing, up to and including a blazing salsa trombone solo. I mean, how can you not dig a great big slice of funk, with some of that spicy salsa to finish it off?
While today, this kind of musical diversity might seem a touch schizo, the fact of the matter is that the kind of blend that Mandrill were offering up to their listeners in the early 70’s wasn’t all that unusual. One of the better side effects of the 1960’s is that bands felt free to mix and match rock, soul, funk, Latin, African and other sounds, not out of some kind of pretentious progressivism but because those were the sounds coming out of many urban neighborhoods, and because it felt and sounded good to do so. Not everyone was able to mix it up as tastily as Santana, or Mandrill (or Fela, or Manu Dibango, or Osibisa or any number of artists) but you certainly can’t fault them for trying.
Fortunately much of their catalogue is available in reissue, as individual LPs, and in a very nice compilation of their best sides entitled (not surprisingly) ‘Fencewalk’.
I hope you dig the sounds, and I’ll see you all in a couple of days with some more goodness.