POP Montreal: justice for Cymande’s funk-soul

On the other side of the screen appear, smiling, bassist Steve Scipio and guitarist Patrick Patterson, young septuagenarians finally enjoying the recognition they were deprived of when their group Cymande recorded its legendary albums, between 1972 and 1974.

» Life is good ! chants Patrick Patterson who, with his colleagues, will give his first ever concert at home on Wednesday evening at the invitation of POP Montreal. The festival is also organizing a screening at Cinéma Moderne — and a Quebec premiere — of the brand new documentary Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande.

Anyone who’s ever spent an evening dancing in a club or re-listening to American or French hip-hop classics knows Cymande, which says it all about the ascendancy the British funk band’s music has had on modern music. Example : Get out of here, MC Solaar’s first success, does that ring a bell? That bass melody supported by the organ that goes “dum, du-du-dum dum du-du-dum”? It’s Cymande — the song The Messagetaken from his first album.

« As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t know that in the 1970s New York DJs were playing our albums, » says Steve Scipio. At the origin of rap — and before the disco sound froze in a rhythmic signature imposed by the success of saturday night fever (1977) — , Cymande’s albums were in every DJ’s record collection.

“And I think the first time I found out that we were sampling our songs was through MC Solaar. That’s when our editor let us know. And yet, the Parisian rapper was not the first to do so: before him, the American Master Ace had taken up the same loop of the same song. In 1989, two years before the release of Solaar’s first album, De La Soul recycled a few bars from the jovial Bra on Change in Speakfrom the classic 3 Feet High and Rising. A few hundred rap, house, jungle, garage and r&b songs have been drawn from the group’s recordings.

Short but striking

Cymande’s work is brief – three albums recorded in as many years before their separation in 1975 -, but his impact is absolutely crucial in the invention of disco, hip-hop and house, which is clearly explained by the documentary dedicated to the group, in which DJ, beatmakers and producers such as Mark Ronson, Little Louie Vega (of legendary house duo Masters at Work) and Cut Chemist.

However, if Cymande managed to reach a certain audience in the United States, thanks to a tour supporting Al Green, the group was ignored at home, in the United Kingdom, which led its members to throw the napkin. “Because the public can’t appreciate what they don’t hear on the radio!” jumps Patrick Patterson. The music black was simply not on the air in England at the time, with the industry keeping control over the airwaves. »

On the other hand, abounds Steve, “what is remarkable with the American public, it was his openness to a sound so different from what was being done then. One of the reasons we had a hard time getting accepted in England was that our music was hard to label, to put in a box — it’s reggae, soul, jazz, with African rhythms and Caribbean influences . The record companies listened to this wondering: but what is it? For that, it was marvelous what happened in the United States. »

When Cymande disbanded in 1975, the members pursued musical careers in various other projects and orchestras. Steve Scipio also took the opportunity to study law and his title as a lawyer gives him an interesting perspective on the question of intellectual property, copyright and the practice of sampling in musical creation.

“For my part, I have absolutely no problem with sampling, as long as this practice is declared,” he says, referring to the lawsuit he and his friend Patrick filed and won against The Fugees, who had sampled the sublime groove of Dove for their song The Score, from the album of the same name (1996), without crediting the authors. “Then where it gets interesting is when you look at the aspects of our music that they recycle, and how they manage to incorporate our recordings into their own songs. »

The spirit of Cymande

Cymande struck the creative chord of many DJs, club music composers and rappers because the band’s music was unlike any other; reggae without the weight of low frequencies, funk without the edge of percussion, soul in its melodies and harmonic progressions. In the documentary, it is referred to as music “coming from space”, which underlines both its uniqueness and its spiritual dimension.

“It’s because, for us, music is a spiritual experience, abounds Patrick. The rasta dimension [de notre démarche] is very important in our sound, and it says something about the unity that reigned in the orchestra and our understanding of the identities of the black community to which we belong », all the musicians having roots planted in Jamaica, Guyana , in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, etc. “It’s part of our rhythms, our percussion, it was inevitable that the spiritual dimension would arise in our creation. »

To see in video

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