Rudimentals: The Afro-ska pioneers are back with “Blaze Up The Fire”

Stalwart ska band The Rudimentals are back: as a reinvented genre-spanning music machine that’s one part band, one part performance academy – and thirteen parts of ska-dub mayhem.

The Rudimentals (L to R): Nikolai Athiros, Doc Mike,Tony Fingers, Jody Engelbrecht, T-Boss, King Labash,, Whosane Pangaea, Errol Strachan, Khaos, Simon Bates

The Rudimentals (L to R): Nikolai Athiros, Doc Mike,Tony Fingers, Jody Engelbrecht, T-Boss (front), King Labash, Whosane Pangaea, Errol Strachan (front), Khaos, Simon Bates

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of Sunday 2014/10/05.

Talking about The Rudimentals 2014 veers into sounding like a sports team discussing game play. There’s a dynamic frontline; a solid backline; new players that are being given the opportunity to get some live experience… The Rudimentals started in 2001, with roots in ska and reggae music blended with African elements. Quickly hailed for their engaging brass-driven live shows, they were also lauded for how founding frontman Teboho “T-Boss” Maidza brought an undeniably southern African flavour to the mix, borne in part from his shows with Zimbabwean guitar legend Oliver Mtukudzi. Fast-forward thirteen years, and the vocal section has expanded to include two international fashion models and a Zimbabwean-born “toasting” MC. There’s still a keyboard player, but now there’s also an electronic and beats synth-player, a drummer who was first blooded in the heavy metal scene, a rotating roster of up-’n-coming backing vocalist – and it’s all still powered by a rude-boy brass section.

 “We said, let’s just play music, never mind what it’s called…”

– The Rudimentals, 2014

“Everyone always knew The Rudimentals as a ska-based band, and we went through a long time trying to find this place between ska and whatever was going to be the new sound. Then we said, let’s just play music, never mind what it’s called,” says trombone-player and co-producer Ross McDonald. “That took the pressure off, and allowed us to just play. There’s been some flak from die-hard ska fans, but we’ve generally been well received. It’s predominantly reggae-based music, but done in a very modern way. Live, we brought back an extra keyboard player, Antonio, doing beats and crazy synths and electronic drums. In the studio, we do things totally differently now: taking whoever has an idea for a song and crafting that in studio to keep the vision before we take it into the rehearsal room and let everyone jam in on it.”

The Rudimentals - "Blaze Up The Fire" (2014)

The Rudimentals – “Blaze Up The Fire” (2014)

The new Rudimentals band consists of musicians with various impressive pedigrees:  Marlon “Khaos” Cotterel, from Jamaica, who McDonald describes as “just ridiculously good doing that dancehall toasting MC thing” and Abdi Whosane Pangaea, from Brooklyn, New York, are the two models (you’ve seen them in Puma, Hyundai, Hugo Boss and Armani print and TV adverts). Trumpeter Jody Engelbrecht is a music teacher; bassist Errol “Bong” Strachan earned his musical strikes playing with Cape Town reggae and crossover bands like Sons of Selassie, Roots Rockers, Blunt and Braindead, and McDonald runs Hey Papa Legend studios. The band’s guitarist, “Doc” Mike Levy is, in fact, a medical doctor and founding vocalist T-Boss Maidza is an environmental consultant and author of a study on the fluidisation of ferrochrome alloy slag. Put the thirteen-piece outfit together, though, and you have a unique recording and performing ensemble.

The Rudimentals 2014 "frontline" (L to R): MCs Loyd “King Labash” Charles, Cotterel “Khaos” Jop and Whosane Pangaea, with The Rudimentals co-founder, vocalist and lyricist Teboho “T-Boss” Maidza.

The Rudimentals 2014 “frontline” (L to R): MCs Loyd “King Labash” Charles, Cotterel “Khaos” Jop and Whosane Pangaea, with The Rudimentals co-founder, vocalist and lyricist Teboho “T-Boss” Maidza.

“Everyone’s really got their place in the band now,” says McDonald. “The band is like a backing machine, with Khaos and Labash and Whosane on verses, T-Boss on the choruses and harmonising. We still do what we’ve always done: give a chance to people who want to get on stage, but don’t have the experience or the opportunity. Most shows, you’ll see new faces and hear new voices – us using different backing singers; giving them a step-up to wherever they’re going in their careers.”

The new-look Rudimentals announce their return with “Blaze Up The Fire”, an EP dedicated to the late Clyde Finlayson, long-standing friend of The Rudimentals, co-founder of the Synergy, Vortex and Resonance music festivals, and also of Concerts for a Cause. It was Finlayson who secured sets for The Rudimentals alongside The Wailers and UB40, as well as Lucky Dube, Johnny Clegg and Mango Groove. In that list, too, is a set on the same bill as The Prodigy in 2012: perhaps a hint at the acceptance of electronic music that helped chart The Rudimentals new course.

We wouldn’t be where we are today, as a band and releasing this new material, if it wasn’t for Clyde

   – The Rudimentals: R.I.P. Clyde Finlayson

“It was crazy: there were just ten days that he was so ill, and just like that he was gone,” McDonald says about Finlayson, who died after suffering from double pneumonia. “He was such a believer in us – and such a contributor to so much music in this city. He was always there to push us; he always gave us these lectures – he’d push us and shout and scream; then turn and give a sly little wink. We wouldn’t be where we are today, as a band and releasing this new material, if it wasn’t for Clyde. We wish he could be here – obviously for many reasons; but one of those is so that he could see the fruit of all that work and encouragement and how he managed us and guided us. We’re playlisted on 5FM; we’re on the Heart Top Ten, and being played on Bush Radio and Fine Music Radio. If you’d asked us ten years ago if that would ever happen…”

The Rudimentals used to be a live show that was all about a jamming, brass-driven band. This element remains, but now used as a powerful backing machine upon which the beats and the frontmen – and featured female vocalists – deliver a modern dub-infused step-up experience that’s proudly grounded in its acoustic, brass and ska roots.

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of Sunday 2014/10/05.

The Rudimentals launch “Blaze Up The Fire”, including the Lazersharkk remix of “Keep Your Fire Burning”, on Monday 6 October at  Jou Ma Se Comedy Club at the V&A Waterfront (old Pumphouse venue, 021-4188880; doors 6.30pm; show starts 8pm; R100; which includes a free EP upon arrival; tickets from Computicket.com).

Blaze Up The Fire” EP is dedicated to the memory of Clyde Finlayson, manager, friend and brother of The Rudimentals, who passed away earlier in 2014.

The Rudimentals at Jou Ma Se Comedy Club

The Rudimentals at Jou Ma Se Comedy Club

 

Evan Milton interview with The Rudimentals, Cape Argus "Good Weekend", 2104/10/05

Evan Milton interview with The Rudimentals, Cape Argus “Good Weekend”, 2104/10/05

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