Have you ever had mango? Then surely you have your own experiences with its seed. When I think of a mango seed, I see myself holding one after having eaten the delicious flesh around it. It’s both a sad sight – the mango is finished! – as well as one filled with the promise of another tree filled with delicious fruit. The mango seed, even discarded, leaves behind a delicate, sweet, unique smell, and an urgent need to floss.
Seeing my relationship with mango seed, it must come as no surprise that the name of this band intrigued me so. It seems to promise something deliciously exotic for the ears that leaves behind something both positive, hopeful, and perhaps a little irritating. The picture of the band fooled me at first; I was expecting a full on reggae band. But as soon as you start playing Basquiat, you realise that while there is definitely a strong reggae flavour throughout, Mangoseed is so much more than that.
The band, hailing from South London, is a world fusion band that brings together elements of funk, rock, reggae, electronica, dub, and even metal. This makes for a very distinctive sound, the likes of which I have never heard before. Perhaps this is linked to the fact that the members of the band are of Trinidadian, Jamaican, Australian, and Irish descent.
Basquiat was released on 22 May of this year. Initially formed in 2008, members Nicholai La Barrie (lead vocals), Karlos Coleman (lead guitars and backing vocals), Richard Hardy (bass guitar and backing vocals), and Sam Campbell (drums and percussion) allowed the band to develop organically. They started with jam sessions, and when they went onto live gigs, they gained a reputation for putting on wildly energetic and original shows.
But the music is not only to be danced to. The songs carry important messages. According to the band, Basquiat “is inspired by the work and spirit of Jean-Michel Basquiat … his focus on suggestive dichotomies and rebellious ability to use any influence in his work”. The group says its music is also inspired by all the genres and artists they love and that “lead us to create music and made unique homage to them, so Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wu-Tang Clan, the Watts Prophets and Bjork meet in the same track and hopefully it becomes an homage to all of them but also taking the inspiration from those artists and many more to create our own idea, our own flavor”.
The album counts five sections divided by shorter “bridge” songs that either introduce the next section or conclude the previous one. Mangoseed goes straight into it with “Lioness”, where rock guitar, reggae-influenced tempo and singing meet. The vocals are very passionate, combining with the unique fusion of music genres to create a strong song to begin Basquiat by dragging you without pity straight into the middle of a firestorm.
“Careful” starts with a smooth electronic ambiance feel, but despite the electronic sounds, a clear reggae influence is present throughout. “Brix-Tone” is the song that begins as a purely totally reggae style, but blends in rock. The raw vocals also tell their own story.
The first of four “bridge” songs, “I Shoot My Friends” begins with a great guitar solo and features softer vocals in the background. It gives the image of a jam session. Imagine a lone artist on the stage of a café filled with dust and smoke, sitting on his stool, bent over his guitar, a bright light shining on him, playing his heart out, and a patron, inspired, starts singing from the crowd.
The next song, “Devil in the Road,” is the one second to truest to the reggae genre to me but still features definite rock influence. Despite its energy, it is a mellower one that makes you think.
The next bridge is the electronic-influenced “The Soul Bird” that brought to mind the sounds of entering The Matrix. It introduces the new age, “floaty” song that is “She Is All” that begins, aptly enough, with the distinctive striking of a triangle. “Bali Men Interrupted” is another bridge of sorts with the same new age feel that also incorporates rock. The collective “mmmm” from the men providing vocal backup to the song both made no sense when thinking of the rest of the album, but perfect sense in light of the previous song.
The transition to the next song, “Standing on High”, an angst-driven punk protest song, is quite jarring – like waking up from a wonderful dream to the sound of someone screaming in your ear. It reminded me of the way that the album started in the first place – unapologetically and going straight for the core. “This Life” reminds me a little of “I Shoot My Friends”, with a sound reminiscent of 1990s rock. It comes as a contrast with the previous song, but makes the message it contains more powerful because of the unsettling transition. The high energy begins the next song, “Rise and Shine”, which significantly mellows throughout into the mellow, fourth and last “bridge” song of the album, “Interruption”.
The last two songs are incredibly upbeat, so much so that I dare you to remain motionless while listening to them, especially the second one. “Thief Head” merges again rock, electronic, ska, and reggae elements, while “Army of One” is the song on the album that is truest to reggae. The album wraps up with a short and confusing outro, “Bali Men”, in which the various sounds of the album are brought together, including the group of men chanting.
Great instrumental skills, combined with emotional vocals and a refreshing fusion of music genres come together in Mangoseed’s debut Basquiat, an album well worth the listen.