LondonNet Music Guide

London Jazz Festival: Interview with Sam Kelly

In the 1970s, Cymande created some of the best tracks of UK funk including The Message, Brothers on the Slide, Dove and Bra (featured in Spike Lee's Crooklyn soundtrack). The nine-man band was entirely self-taught, hailing from locations as varied as Guyana, Jamaica and St. Vincent. Recently, renewed interest by popular artists De La Soul, DJ Kool and the Fugees paid tribute to Cymande's lasting appeal through music sampling. Drummer Sam Kelly performs at the London Jazz Festival on the 18th of November with the UK Funk All Stars at Stratford Circus.

Here, Jackie Jou speaks with Sam Kelly about the London Jazz Festival and why London is good for 'jams'...

Sam Kelly, today.  Image: Tim HillLondonNet(LN): Since your last album was released in 1974, what have you been doing/ working on recently?

Sam Kelly (SK): Wow, the last 30 years - how long have you got? Lets just say as a working freelance musician I'm keeping myself busy.

LN: What do you think about popular music today? Your biggest criticism? Who are your favourite artists?

SK: I don't go out of my way to listen to it. Most of it I find non-plus, but once in a while you hear an absolute gem. My favourite artists are Professor Longhair, Dr. John & Tower of Power - OK so not exactly today's popular music, but it's my driving music!

LN: What is "funk", "rasta funk", and would you still describe yourself in those terms? Is funk dead?

SK: I don't recall us ever using the term 'rasta funk' - it may have been a media label for us. Naya Rock was another term they used. Funk in the 60's/70's sense is very much alive today.

LN: Who the most influence to Cymande's sound and music?

SK: Vocally, for the lead singer at the time (Joey D) it was Curtis Mayfield, but the music itself was influenced by African/West Indian/American Funk/Jazz & English pop music of the time.

LN: If you were to designate an heir to Cymande's music, who would it be? Who do you think your music had the most influence on?

SK: No other band as such. This time round, the music heirs are a new generation of artists - the DJ's who either play the original tracks or sample or mix them. Tracks turn up in films, on the TV & radio when you least expect it.

LN: Who are you most interested in seeing perform at the London Jazz Festival? Are you looking to do any collaborations?

SK: As usual, when you're working you miss out on a lot of performances. From my 'drum seat' at Stratford Circus I'll be watching the artists performing with the UK Funk All-Stars on the 18th. No collaborations planned at present, but after this, who knows.

LN: Where are your favourite places to go in London? Food, hotels, shopping, drinks and entertainment?

SK: On a rare night off the Jazz Caf´┐Ż is the place to go, or the smaller venues that run 'jams'. Living close to the capital I prefer 'home' to hotels. Nights off tend to be 'at home'. Mr. Jerk in Wardour St. and Dons Hut in Tooting do mean West Indian takeouts. As far as shopping goes - only under duress!

LN: What were the last five concerts you went to? What did you think of them?

SK: Great I can actually answer part of this as I went to the Astoria to see Tower of Power only last week - great. The previous four - can't remember. I tend to go to gigs at smaller venues, mostly to see people I know play.

LN: Why is London better than every other city in the world? If you disagree with the question, which city is and why?

SK: For music, in Europe, London is the best city, but it is an expensive place to live and work. At the moment, Athens is my favourite city (historic, relaxed and a good little music scene going) although I'm not very far down my 'cities to visit list' yet so that could all change!

LN: What do you really think about the other members of Cymande?

SK: We are talking about 'friends' & 'family' here, so just like those kinds of situations, you get on better with some people more than others. Sorry, no revelations here - after 30+ years we still keep in touch, so I think that says it all.

Jackie Jou

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