We’ve got something special for you this Jubilee bank holiday Sunday. We could have gone all ‘Best of British’, whacking Union Jacks everywhere and doing a British jazz special… but that’s a bit obvious right? No, instead we thought we’d throw a curve ball and do a full-on Latin jazz extravaganza. Ah the art of planning! Seriously though, this has been on our ‘To Do’ list for a while and when our resident percussion player Mark Townson suggested we try it out, it seemed only right we finally got around to fixing it up once the weather got warmer… and so it has!
Those of you who have reached one of our Jazz Meet Band gigs will no doubt know of Mark, or otherwise you may have come across his band ‘Caractacus the Conga Conqueror and The Afro Latin Ensemble of London‘ (Longest band name ever!) when we promoted two gigs for him at Favela Chic/Floripa last year (before we moved into the venue ourselves!), Well this Sunday he teams up with vocalist Andre Espeut and an enviable list of some of London’s talented session musicians to give us a ‘Latin Jazz Experiment’. Want to know more about it? Then read on…
So guys, can you tell us the idea behind the project, and what we can expect on Sunday?
Mark: Well, I love Latin music but I used to wonder in an absent-minded sort of way how it would sound sung in English. When Andre joined us at a Jazz Meet jam around a year ago, I actually started to think it was worth a try because he struck me as that ‘impossible to find someone’ who was perfectly fitted to such an experiment. As it turns out, Andre has already experimented with this idea when he fronts Los Charly’s Orchestra, and when he said he was up for having a go in a jam situation, we were sold.
For the gig, we will do a couple instrumental covers to warm up, and then it will be a mixture of Western songs in a Latin format and some purely improvised stuff with Andre freelancing. It’s an experiment too in the fact that we’ve serendipitously thrown the band together, so we’re definitely jumping in the deep end and seeing what happens!
Andre: I also hope it will break down a few barriers in that the music is a little more accessible to people in a language they understand. I hope it leads to people hearing the music in a different way and less like something they hear from a subtle outsider’s point of reference.
Great, well we look forward to seeing it in action. You’ve both played/sung with some great performers. Can you both tell us a bit about your musical journeys so far?
Andre: Well, I’ve been fortunate enough to have performed for Lady Diana, Karl Lagerfeld, Andrew Lloyd Webber and am currently the lead vocalist on the Masterman project with Andre Bonsor and also, as mentioned, Los Charly’s Orchestra. As such, I’m recording for various labels Including Defected, Tokyo Dawn, Soulful Beats and Imagines, and have in the past worked with numerous others including Spiritual South, Ghetto Freaks, Groove Assassin, DJ Saffrolla and Positive Flow. I was also the lead vocalist on Faze Action’s ‘Broad Souls’ album and have sung with Terry Callier, Duran Duran and Westlife.
Mark: After some study at PIT in LA and a few years gigging as a kit drummer, I gave up playing for 4 years for the unique experience of managing many of the South African musicians who were in exile in London from Apartheid at the end of the Eighties. These included Jonas Gwangwa, many of Hugh Masekela’s band, Duze Mahlobo of the Malo Poets and road managing Malombo when they came over to Europe from South Africa. I started playing conga and percussion in the early Nineties, signed to Acid Jazz as a member of Emperors New Clothes and later played, recorded and toured with James Taylor Quartet, Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Gregory Isaacs, Nicolette, Acid Jazz All-stars, Benjamin Zephaniah, Ray Gaskin and many others. More recently I was lucky enough to play for the London Jazz Collective and Hot Orange Big Band, and last year I put together the band ‘Caractacus the Conga Conqueror and the Afro Latin Ensemble of London’, and played a couple of times with Baaba Maal including headlining at WOMAD. And of course, you can often find me playing with the Jazz Meet House band when they let me!
Andre, tell us a bit about your influences?
Andre: I suppose my musical influences have always been quite vast, taking in funk, soul, jazz, blues, folk, classical and Afrobeat. My vocal influences are also numerous… George Benson, Omar, Stevie Wonder, Michael McDonald, Michael Jackson, James Ingram, Earth Wind & Fire, Terence Trent D’Arby and Seal.
And Mark, who would you say has influenced you the most? Give us a video or two of your favourite performances.
Mark: I have so much influence from musicians in general and couldn’t say really who has influenced my playing apart from my conga playing friends, but if I had to pick a couple of links that I really love for sheer conga fantasticness then, check these out:
Fania All Stars playing Congo Bongo at Yankee Stadium with Ray Barreto and Mongo Santamaria. The band go mad, Ray Baretto starts leaping around with his conga, its so INTENSE then the crowd go crazy, invade the stage and the gig has to be cancelled!!!!!!
Leah Performed by Mongo Santamaria, Love everything about it, the electric sound, the tone of the brass and particularly the sax solo at the top with the killer bongo bell, then the dance with timbales to die for and Mongos’ conga genius: Perfect!
Last but not least a personal one. I was blessed and lucky enough through my friend Noda to spend a couple of weeks with his Family in Matanzas, Cuba, where I studied with Afro Cuba de Matanzas. This video was shot in the house (some time before I was there unfortunately), where I was a guest of Yurien who dances with Afro Cuba De Matanzas, and her mother Anna of Munequitos De Matanzas fame, where I ate and studied and spent a magical 2 weeks, a truly amazing experience I treasure. Yurien is the lady who enters this just incredible dance half way through.
Thanks Mark, so obviously you know your congueros… Can you tell us what made you decide to take up the congas?
Mark: Good question. I had been a kit drummer and hadn’t played for about 5 years and didn’t think I would again. I was working as a tape op come distributer for Hazardous Dub studios in Brixton, and I went with the boss to a music shop for some studio supplies. There were a pair of cut price three quarter size Meinle congas in there, and I was seized by the thought I should get them just to have a laugh at the end of the day in the studio. 3 months later I was in Emperor’s New Clothes, signed to Acid Jazz and had recorded for Sugar Minott down our studio… a total fluke!!
Interview by Rob Coley (@robcoley)
Come witness Mark and Andre debut their Latin Jazz Experiment this Sunday 3rd June at Floripa. DJ support comes from Jazz Meet resident Rob Coley and special guest Vince Vella (Havana Cultura)