An album I’ve been playing and loving since I first discovered it (rather late I might add) in the mid eighties. I bought it from a tiny record shop in Soho W1 which has long since disappeared. That particular buying trip also wielded albums from Chuck Brown And The Soul Searchers and Blue Magic if I remember correctly. I was particularly in love with Cymande though and reading recently that they were playing a comeback show at The Barbican in 2015 prompted me to revisit this hugely influential British classic once more.
Formed in 1971 in and around Brixton by no less than nine Caribbean born Londoners, Cymande had a unique sound. They called it ‘nyah rock’. A home cooked stew of funk, jazz, african, rock and rasta music which excited production genius John Schroeder so much he offered to finance and record the band’s debut album in 1972. It went on to be sampled by The Fugees, De La Soul, The KLF, Kenny Dope, EPMD, Raze, MC Solaar, Renegade Soundwave and dozens more, eager to paint their music in Cymande’s unmistakeable colours.
Zion I is rasta Hare Krishna with Steve Scipio’s fluid bass syncopation holding down a funky mellow meditation while the ‘I, I, I, Zion I’ chant floats above. One More drops to an even cooler tempo coming over like Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross cloaked in ganja smoke. Before we can settle, Getting It Back locks into a Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters styled groove with Herbie’s synths replaced by strings and flutes with a Norman Whitfield influenced menace underscoring the track. The lead vocal yearns “Once I used to be high . . . Now all my friends pass me by ….I got teardrops in my eyes , somebody else got all the smiles . . “. Next up, Listen sounds like Steve Marriot fronting Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions while Rickshaw rides a stripped, flute driven, uptempo funk with added African flavoured noodles. Dove comes over like a killer Santana jam, Scipio’s bassline one of many on this record you’ll find yourself humming as you walk through the city streets. Next is Bra (a colloquial West Indian expression for brother) and the reason I searched out this album in the first place. Truly about as iconic a groove as you could imagine. You’ll recognise it I’m sure most famously from De La Soul’s seminal hip-hop sample orgy 3 Feet High And Rising, featuring as it does on the track Change In Speak. The bass line has the kind of modal funk melody that sinks deep into your heart, that shimmering brass hook and vocal line will be dancing around your brain for days like it does to anyone within earshot. The breakdown halfway through compounds the theory by tickling the surface of the bass groove with clunky tuned cowbell and the GREATEST anti drum fill in history to bring us back to the song again. It’s so so good, and just when you think the standard can’t be maintained we’re gliding into that most London of rare groove classics, the spectacularly dense funk of The Message. The rhythm section is welded together this time with that driving monotonic chord on the keys and guitar while the brass soars fearlessly in a huge reverb high above the groove. It’s just stunning, still after all these years, their own sound, unmistakeably. You can hear why music aficionados hold them in such high regard and why they’ve been sampled so often.
If they’re not already, let Cymande in. You won’t be asking them to leave in a hurry.