Incognito: ?Music for all souls – and all soles, too

Songs like Always There, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing, Still A Friend Of Mine and Everyday immediately conjure up that 1980s funk era, peaking in the 1990s: an energetic fusion of jazz, funk and R&B cooked up and served by the British band Incognito. 

The group has been able to do what few in the music industry have been able to accomplish over the past three decades, starting with their debut album Jazz Funk, released in 1981: they have stayed relevant. And offered up 15 more albums since. 

Their latest album Amplified Soul, released this month, has been declared by Incognito’s founding member Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick as an extension of the band’s ethos: uplifting lyrics, an experimental combination of musical styles and a cunning rotation and celebration of great vocals.  

The album’s first single Hats (Makes Me Wanna Holler) is an up-tempo, feel-good song that demonstrates why Incognito has been one of the most successful stories of the UK music scene. South African audiences will be treated to a performance by the band at the 2014 DStv Delicious International Food & Music Festival, alongside Brand New Heavies, Soul ll Soul and more at Emmarentia Dam in Johannesburg on Saturday, May 31. 

Maunick shares some of his memories of the 35 years, their enduring success and talks about the new album.    

What has been the greatest driving force behind the success and longevity of Incognito? We established our sound 35 year ago; this allows you to build on your successes gradually. We are not an overnight sensation that has to struggle with reinventing itself in order to survive. The quality of our sound, compositions, standard of musicianship and stagecraft has been the key to our success. We are not desperate, we are confident and joyous, and our happiness is our truth!

What has been one of the band’s greatest tour memories? Where do I start? Going into the studio in 1979 and jamming, then watching that jam, to our total surprise, become a hit. Having even bigger hits with Jocelyn Brown and Maysa with Always There and Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing (jazz funk/acid jazz bands were not supposed to be in the top 20). Playing with James Brown (not just as an opening act, but on stage with him). Having Stevie Wonder join us on stage unannounced, having George Benson play with us on several shows.  Playing to the most enthusiastic audiences on the beaches of Mexico, Thailand, Italy, Brazil and Bali. Being blessed enough to significantly use our talent and fame to bring hope and relief to survivors of tsunamis, earthquakes and typhoons by taking our music to the devastated areas. Going from gig to gig on a sleeper bus across Europe and America having fun, fun, fun. Playing in Tokyo for the first time! You choose.

Incognito has been around for 35 years so naturally there is a constant change of band members. What would you say has been the most consistent thread that has kept Incognito relevant despite those changes?  Everyone I choose has amazing skills, but that is not enough. You must be able to play and sing the songs with the spirit that was intended while adding your unique quality to your performance. You must be a part of it and embrace the family and its ethos. Most did, very few didn’t. Those that did very often revisit the camp; the few that didn’t are not missed.   

What is your festival crowd anthem? For the UK and Europe Always There, Everyday, Still a Friend of Mine, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing and if we are in the United States, Deep Waters. 

Your new album, Amplified Soul is packed full of stories and thoughts in terms of the music that was chosen – how long did you work on the album?  It took about six months from writing to mixing and mastering. We did however continue to do live shows in between studio sessions.   

What does the album embody musically?  All tracks embody the amplified soul, that of the pure spirit. It’s organic and does not conform to a preconceived format. Some of the songs are crafted to carry a message of hope and some are themes celebrating love and life. The rhythm section mostly recorded on tape after live jams. Just us being true to ourselves.   

What is one of the strangest pre-show rituals one of the band members has?  One of our African percussionists used to pour rum on the floor to honour the spirits of the ancestors. The rest would be mixed with coke (The liquid in the red and white can) and poured down his gullet during the show!

What can Delicious Festival goers expect?  Music to feed the soul … oh, and the feet!

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Rhode Marshall
Rhodé Marshall is the Mail & Guardians arts, culture and entertainment content producer. She started as a radio reporter and producer in Cape Town, before jumping into online news. When there is chaos, she is the responsible, cool and calm one. With one hand glued to her phone and the other to a can of Coca-Cola, she is a pop culture junkie. And dont you dare write her name without the accent on the e, she will make sure that you know how to do it on every device. Visit her blog: rhodemarshall.co.za

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