DMCWORLD check in with South London-based band Soothsayers as they release their ninth studio album’We Are Many’. Held together by heavy basslines, solid grooves, and socially andpolitically charged lyrics; the album takes the listener into different sonic spaceswith elements of dub, Afrobeat, improvisational jazz and electronica…
Hello, thanks for speaking with us. For anyone not familiar with Soothsayers, please introduce yourself and what you do.
Hi, I’m Idris, I play sax and sing, compose and produce, and have been collaborating with Robin in Soothsayers since we started the band over twenty years ago.
I’m Robin and I play trumpet, sing and produce
Tell us about your new album ‘We Are Many’ – it’s your ninth album, how does it differ to your previous ones?
This is a continuation of our previous work in that we have the three-part vocals and horns-led framework with heavy bass and drum grooves and dub influenced production. What is different is that we worked on some of the tracks in Brazil with the producer/bass player Victor Rice, and with an incredible group of musicians that he assembled, and also we worked with Wu-lu and Kwake at their The Room studio in south london. Both of these collaborations were immensely enjoyable and produced some music that took us into new territories of groove and sonics.
A lot of the album was recorded in Sao Paulo, Brazil with local musicians and singers. Please tell us about your time there, what was special about recording in Brazil?
We had written tunes specifically to take to Brazil before we left London, but these tunes were transformed, embellished and greatly affected by the musicians we encountered and the environments that we found ourselves in whilst in Brazil. A lot of the lyrics to the Brazil tracks were written when we spent some time in a lush rainforest/beach location in the south of Sao Paolo state, and had time contemplating the beauty and power of the nature that surrounded us versus the calamities of the current political situation in Brazil and beyond. The musicians brought their own angle to our initial ideas and added a feel that is pretty unique to this collaboration. Ligia Kamada was initially brought in as percussionist but also contributed some beautiful vocals to a couple of the tracks. Victor contributed fat basslines plus a production and recording sensibility that helped define the overall sound of the album.
You worked with Wu-Lu and Kwake once you returned to London. How did you hook up, what was it like working with them, and what did they bring to the album?
It was a pleasure working with Wu-lu and Kwake in their studio – both very creative and very talented musician/producers – really nice to get their input on what we do – they’ve got an interesting left-field angle on the contemporary scene, and it was really interesting developing the tunes with them. Amazing grooves and synths from Kwake and guitars/bass/keys from Wul-lu gave us loads to play with in the mix.
Having to finish the album in lockdown must have been a first. What challenges did it present and how did you deal with them?
Luckily myself and Rob both have home studios so we could carry on recording/editing etc. Also most of our musicians have a home studio or access to one, and we managed to get everything we needed whilst not actually being in the same room as the musicians. I think it worked because we had the basis of the tracks recorded before lockdown, so we were mainly overdubbing to tracks that already had a lot recorded. If we had to start from scratch during lockdown, it would have been more of a challenge!
What have been the biggest influences in your careers so far?
Idris: My biggest influences are still the jazz musicians from the 40s/50s/60s – Dexter Gordon, Coltrane, Miles Davis. But there’s so much music that has influenced me from classical to dub to afrobeat to pop that it’s hard to really be more specific
Robin: Jazz musicians as above plus Hugh Masakela from South Africa , Fela Kuti for Nigeria,, Jamaican musicians like Tommy Mckook and singers like Dennis Brown , Bob Marley , vocal harmony groups like Culture , soul artists like Marvin Gaye and British bands like The Specials.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Elvin Jones the legendary Jazz drummer said ‘play every gig like it’s your last’ which is a great piece of advice for any musician because that way you will always enjoy it and give your soul to the audience. It also reminds me that we are lucky to have music in our lives and as humans we excel to our best when create and perform music
What are three new tracks or albums you’d recommend someone to listen to?