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Harambé [June 16th 2007]

I managed to interview Harambé – a five-piece soul/funk band based in London, UK, after their recent gig at the Jazz Café, London.

Harambé are:
ADAndre St. Clair Dyer (vocals)
KC - Karl Clews (bass)
MMMilt Mavrakakis (keyboards)
TPTony Pereyra (guitar)
TDTimur Djahit (drums)

Tracey: First of all welcome to Just Soul - how are you guys doing?
Harambé: Just hunky-dory, thank you!

Tracey: You recently appeared at the renowned Jazz Café. Can you tell us a little bit about the night and how it went?
Harambé: We had a few, uh, technical problems that night, which meant that up on stage we couldn’t hear too much of what it actually sounded like. But it’s a great venue with a cool vibe and a good crowd, so the buzz of playing that place pulled us through it just fine.


Tracey: Is there anywhere in London where you would really like to play a gig and haven’t yet?
KC: Ronnie Scott’s. I’ve played there as a dep for a couple of jazz combos but I’d love the opportunity for the band to play our own material there.
MM: Brixton Academy. I’ve seen most of my favourite artists there. It’s incredibly intimate for a venue its size and there’s always a good vibe.
TD: Wembley Stadium? Ya never know!
TP: I tend to prefer places like the Barbican, where everyone is just seated and listening to music.

Tracey: Harambé is the African concept of co-operation, working in unity, coming together as one. Please describe how you guys got together and became one as you work really well as a band?
KC: The band has actually been around since about 2001, under various guises and with differing line-ups, the only constant being me. We released our first album, Roots, in 2003, after which that particular line-up kind of imploded, as a result of the various members being unhappy with how the album was promoted – we had very poor management at the time; no PR budget, and very little support from the label or the distribution company. We’d put in a lot of work, produced something that we really felt deserved some attention, and it was heartbreaking to see it shoved to the bottom of the pile by everyone who was supposed to be trying to get it out to the public. At that point I moved to London, started hanging out at jam sessions as a good way to make contacts, did a bit of session and dep work on other people’s projects, but always with the idea of resurrecting Harambé and doing it right this time. And I just happened across Tim and Dre at a couple of jam sessions. As a bass player, it’s important to get on well with your drummer, and as soon as I played with Tim, I could tell that we felt the groove in the same way, and it just clicked, so that was the first stage in getting Harambé up and running again. I knew of Dre as a drummer before I even knew he could sing – then one time at a blues jam, he got up to do a bit of vocals and I heard this great soul voice and realised that was the voice I hear in my head when I write songs – so we had our front man. Tim brought in Milt on keys from another band he was playing with at the time, and I found Tony in a blues/rock band that I depped for on a couple of occasions, and the first time he rehearsed with us, we knew we’d found the last part of the puzzle.
TP: I think the secrets are good musicianship, a lack of egos, and, most importantly, that we get along really well. I feel that we have developed emotional links through our music and now we’re all close friends.

Tracey: Do you have a manager for the group and if not, who acts as ‘daddy’ within the group?
KC: We’re managed by Marcus Skinner of Funk Management UK, who have close links with a lot of the ’80s/’90s Britfunk legends we grew up listening to: Light Of The World, Beggar & Co., Incognito, Level 42, Shakatak etc. So we’re very happy that they heard something similar in us and wanted to take us on. Within the group, I guess I’m the ‘daddy’ in as much as the band was my ‘baby’ in the first place and I kind of steer the ship . . . mixing my metaphors rather badly there. But the baby has been adopted by the other guys, who all bring something to the mix – Milt is the walking encyclopedia of funk and the great organiser; Dre is the showman with the gift of the gab; Tim is Mr Reliable, the calm and collected one who keeps our feet on the ground; and Tony brings a touch of flash and light-heartedness to the whole thing.
TP: Yes we have and they’re working hard to make it happen…the daddy of the band? Mr. Clews, no doubt about it!

Tracey: Can each band member introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
KC: I’m Karl and I’m the bass player/producer and main songwriter.
TP: I am Tony, I play the guitar and I’m responsible of most of the weird and bizarre stuff on the album.
AD: ‘dre: Lead singer and whatever works…
MM: I’m Milt and I’m the keyboard player and secondary songwriter.
TD: I’m Timur and I play the drums.

Tracey: Please tell us a little about your album “Testify” - describe the music and how long it took to make from the initial stages to finishing the CD?
KC: “Testify” probably took about 18 months from beginning to end. I would lay down the basic tracks at my home studio and the other guys would overdub their parts at their respective places, give me the files, and I’d mix it all together. The final stage was recording the drums – which seems a disjointed, I admit. We hired a studio out in Berkshire for a couple of days for that bit. Then I took the files home and slipped them into the mix to replace the sequenced drum parts that I’d set up as a framework. The album was intended almost as a concept album – I had a baby daughter part-way through the writing and recording, and as a result of this, I think, I found that I wanted to say something about the state of the world – I found myself getting very angry about certain political decisions, for my daughter’s sake, because her generation are the ones who are going to have to live with the mistakes our generation has made. So with this kind of lyrical content, we had in mind that this would be a political album, in the style of the ’70s soul classics by people like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield and we wanted the music to have that old-school funk and soul vibe to it, with a bit of a production update. I think that comes across in the final product.
MM: Most of the keyboard parts are first or second takes, recorded at Karl’s studio. He always worries about things sounding too precise and clinical, so he likes to surprise me with new tracks and capture my first reaction as I struggle to play along!

Tracey: What did you all do before joining the band?
TP: Well... I am a composer and I’ve got my own solo project. Apart from that, I’ve been working as a session musician and teaching guitar and composition.
AD: Session/touring musician, DJ, multimedia author.
MM: I used to play in a funk-rock band with Tim. He brought me into Harambé when the previous keyboard player left.
TD: I was involved in a few projects before Harambé. I played in a band called Broken Angel with Karl and was also part of a funk-rock band with Milt for about four years. All of us in Harambé like to keep busy outside of the band. It keeps us fresh.
KC: Studio musician, sheet music editor.

Tracey: How do you guys perceive the UK soul/funk scene at the moment?
KC: Sorry to say I don’t really listen to a lot of UK soul/funk – I love the ‘elder statesmen’ of British soul, guys like Omar, Roachford, Beverly Knight, Geoffrey Williams, and the Britfunk guys – but their brand of real soul and musicianship has all but been edged out these days in favour of over-processed, modern R&B, which does nothing for me. I’m an old-school guy at heart, so I always go back to the source: the soul, funk and blues that came out of the US, particularly New Orleans, back in the 60’s and 70’s.
AD: Eska has been making some serious waves for quite some time now. Nate James is heavily underrated and needs a real push. Noel McKoy is somewhat of an ambassador for sure; I’d really like to work with him again one day. I just fear that with anything that develops, ‘cliques’ get formed and no one from the outside gets in. That said there are a lot of movements happening at the moment promoting UK Soul/Funk: SoulUnique, Jazzfly and even Kindred Spirit come to mind on abstract thought. I’d like to see more promotion for the Nate James’ of the UK and less of the UK talent presenting awards to their overseas ‘counterparts’…
MM: I have to disagree a little with Karl on this one; I think there’s been a real renaissance in the UK scene the past few years. There’s now a soulful sound that is uniquely British, specifically London-based. I’m talking about artists like Tawiah, Eska, and Mpho Skeef… Also, I believe there’s a very definite soul edge to some broken beat stuff. For example, the last Bugz In The Attic album was real funky. You can’t tell me Kaidi Tatham doesn’t have the funk!
TD: I’ve always loved the UK funk/soul scene. There’s always a different vibe compared to the stuff that comes out of the States.

Tracey: Karl you write many of the tracks on the album. Where is the most unusual place you have written lyrics to one of your tracks?
KC: I must admit, I really hate writing lyrics – I find it painful and tedious, I agonise over it - and I always find myself putting it off till last. But I also understand that the lyric has got to say something worthwhile – the novelty of a great melody or groove will wear off eventually, whereas a good lyric will stand the test of time. So I guess I don’t make it easy on myself. Lyrics don’t just come to me out of the blue – I have to make a conscious decision to sit down with pen in hand and focus. Which kind of precludes the possibility of any writing happening in an unusual place, I’m afraid! Sorry to disappoint, but my lyrics basically all get written in the same place – usually on the sofa, late at night, after half a bottle of wine.

Tracey: Between you all, you must have quite a music collection. What was the last song you listened to as a band, to give us a flavour of your musical tastes?
KC: We don’t really listen to music as a band. Which isn’t a bad thing. I think that’s one of the things that make our sound unique. If we all sat down and listened to something by, say, Prince – who we all love, by the way – I think there’s a danger that the next thing we played together would sound like him. Instead, we listen individually to different stuff and bring all these various flavours together. Personally, I can’t get enough of the Neville Brothers – three great soul voices and the funkiest live band on the planet - not a day goes by when I don’t listen to something by them.
MM: I try to listen to as broad a spectrum of music as possible, but I can’t go a whole week without listening to Sly Stone, particularly “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” – it’s my favourite album. As a keyboard player, Bernie Worrell of Parliament/Funkadelic is my all-time hero. I even got to meet him a couple of years ago in New York. That was a truly humbling experience!
TP: Personally, I’m not that much of a funk/soul listener. I listen to lots of contemporary classical composers, jazz, and some more unusual stuff. What’s on my I Pod? From Zappa to Pat Metheny, Kronos Quartet, some guitar stuff, progressive rock, Ravel, Falla, Holst, John Williams, Hiromi Uehara... You get the idea!

Tracey: Dre – you have distinctive vocals – with an almost old school flavour, seductively smooth. Is there anyone in particular you admire vocally at the moment and whose voice did you sing along to most as a child?
AD: Interestingly enough, I didn’t really sing that much as a child, I picked up the drums first then keys so I listened to more session musicians than vocalists. Although in saying that, huge Prince influence aside, I vividly remember finding myself singing a lot of Steve Arrington and Slave – especially “Just A Touch Of Love” or “Steal Your Heart.” However, with regards to contemporary influences, a huge nod goes to Maxwell, Omar and Stokley from Mint Condition (who coincidentally is a drummer too). I’m an appreciator of identity. Influence is fine as long as I can hear you and the aforementioned do it very well.

Tracey: Tony, I love your guitar skills. Who do you admire in the guitar field?
TP: Thank you very much – I’m glad you like it! My main influences are Steve Vai, Pat Metheny, Mattias Eklundh, Allan Holdsworth, Mike Keneally, Tommy Emmanuel, Greg Howe, Paco de Lucia, Pat Martino, Brett Garsed, and Scott Henderson.
TD: Tony, I love your guitar skills too, mate!

Tracey: Any other gigs coming up which you can tell our readers about?
Harambé: 14th July: Lewisham Festival
15th July: Hackney Spice Festival
12th August (TBC): Dingwalls, Camden

Tracey: Hit us with your MySpace link and any band site links so our readers can keep posted on what you are getting up to.
Harambé:, and

Thank you for the interview - it’s been good getting to know more about Harambé. Here at Just Soul we appreciate and promote worldwide soulful music and are more than happy to feature you and your music, so please keep in touch with us. Dre, I interviewed Nate James last year and am looking forward to reviewing his latest album which I received watch this space. Take care & have fun. Tracey.

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