Fat Freddys Drop – Beyond Easy Skanking

Every album so far delivered by Fat Freddys Drop has brilliantly captured and showcased the unique blends of soul, jazz, funk, R&B, reggae and dub that New Zealand music is known and loved for. Those albums have also captured the spirit and sounds of the epic live Fat Freddys Drop journeys – from which the group built their grass-roots following and ultimate success, way back since their beginnings in the late 90s.

Fat Freddys Drop live in Brisbane - Blackbird Tour 2013

Fat Freddys Drop live at the Tivoli, Australia

In many ways the new album Bays repeats that Fat Freddys history, in others not.

Fat Freddys Drop - Bays (2015)

Bays (2015)

More so than ever before, Bays captures Fat Freddys Drop creating music in the studio rather than in the live arena. Like always, studio-style includes recording equipment and techniques at their most superior (analogue of course), pressed to sweet vinyl. The gentle, soulful voice of Dallas Tamaira is the only one you’ll find on this FFD album, consistently soothing you throughout. The subtle, perfectly-placed horn lines of Toby Laing, Joe Lindsay and Scott Towers are still present. So too are the living guitar and keyboard sounds of Tehimana Kerr and Iain Gordon.

Fat Freddys Drop - Bays

And yes Bays definitely delivers familiar doses of soul, funk, R&B and feel-good, easy skanking within its ten tracks. But this time around you’ll get a heavier-than-ever-before dose of techno rhythms in the mix. For some people those sounds will be welcome, for others they might bring discomfort. Either way, Fat Freddys Drop remain as true as always to the expression of their own evolution, independent of and unconstrained by the expectations of a label or others.

Love Bays or not. Take it or leave it. Whatever you do, at least try it.

I tried and took – ie. went to my local record store and bought it for my Forever-After Collection. And super-surprisingly, it was the epic techno-heavy journey of track 8 on Bays (“Cortina Motors”) that finally convinced me to do so. Producer and MPC genius Chris “Mu” Faiumu (who donated the base track) and the rest of Fat Freddys Drop have here achieved the unthinkable for me: made the experience of listening to techno rhythms an enjoyable and body-moving one.

Fat Freddys Drop concert - WOMADelaide 2014

Mu with Fat Freddys Drop live at WOMADelaide 2014

The killer groove of the album’s ninth and final track “Novak”, cemented my decision without doubt that I’d be a lot poorer if I didn’t have Bays in my music collection.

Check out these (mp3 only) samples of those two all-convincing tracks.

Fat Freddys Drop - Bays

Fat Freddys Drop – “Cortina Motors” – Bays
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Fat Freddys Drop – “Novak” – Bays
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Buy the whole of Bays direct from Fat Freddys Drop  here.

And be sure to find the live experience where you can. That’s generally where the most Fat Freddys Drop magic happens. Peeps around the world get their chance soon with upcoming tours happening in Aotearoa / New Zealand, Australia, the U.K. and Europe.

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Myele Manzanza: New Zealand Music Aesthetics

Except for the reformation of Trinity Roots and what a handful of other New Zealand music artists like Myele Manzanza, Fat Freddys Drop, Electric Wire Hustle and Ladi 6 are up to, these days I’m more out of touch with New Zealand’s music scene than I used to be.

Trinity Roots live concert Australia 2015

Trinity Roots: Citizen Tour 2015

The Sound

When I was on the pulse during the past decade and more, I always thought Aotearoa (New Zealand) was a musical gem undiscovered (to their loss) by most of the world beyond Australia.

For small South Pacific islands distant from so much of the world, there seemed to be a disproportionately high number of New Zealand music artists blending flavours of soul, jazz, reggae and beats to create chilled, spacious, smooth, feel-right music with an inexplicably distinctive (and unique) New Zealand sound. I couldn’t work it out except to guess that its stunningly dominant natural environment played some part.

Myele Manzanza on The Sounds

During my recent interview with “afro-elastic soul” artist Myele Manzanza, I asked him about that sound; and to share any home-grown insights into the evolution of New Zealand music throughout his lifetime – which included years of drumming and composing with Electric Wire Hustle and working on numerous solo and collaborative projects with fellow New Zealand (and international) artists.  

Check out Myele’s response with sample sounds from some of the players in that musical evolution…

Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic live at WOMADelaide 2015

Myele Manzanza: .

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“New Zealand music out to a wider world audience”

“I think as far as the era of New Zealand music you’re referring to, in order for that to happen, I guess the thing that really broke down the door was Fat Freddys Drop – as far as getting New Zealand music out to a wider world audience. I have to take my hat off to them because of what they did and the level they did it at. I don’t think anyone of that era has gotten to the level of where Fat Freddys Drop got to.

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“a new vanguard”

You could maybe throw in Lorde, who’s stupendously big. She’s of a new vanguard/league/generation. Her success is incredible. There must be some element of influence of what’s happened in New Zealand music over the past 10 years on what Lorde does, but I don’t really bring her into this era of New Zealand music that you’re referring to. Even though it’s beats and soul, its a different thing.

“that sound”

As far as to how Ladi 6, Electric Wire Hustle or Fat Freddys Drop got here and got to that sound…when I was 14 or 15, Trinity Roots and The Black Seeds were coming to prominence (Trinity Roots reached their peak and then disbanded for some time). The Black Seeds and Fat Freddys Drop were still on their scent, but were in the community so I kind of grew up around that sound.

It might also trace back to Che Fu – he had a very big impact.

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Trinity Roots- ‘Egos’ – Home, Land and Sea (2004)

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Fat Freddys Drop- ‘Roady (feat. Ladi 6 & P Digsss)’ – Based On A True Story (2005)

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Ladi 6- ‘Walk Right Up’ – Time Is Not Much (2008)

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Che Fu- ‘Fade-Away’ – Navigator (2002)

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“Once Bob Marley hit…”

There’s obviously a very big reggae thing in New Zealand.

Once Bob Marley hit, and I think he performed in New Zealand in the early 80‘s [1979], that was a big cultural turning point; a. because his influence was so big anyway, but; b. when he came and performed he really got to know the local culture. I think there was a connection for him too because Waitangi Day (the day a treaty of agreement was signed between Maoris and the colonial population) is on 6 February which also happened to be Bob Marley’s birthday.

For whatever reason, and particular Maori and Pacific Island culture in New Zealand, people were very much drawn to Bob Marley, his message and his sound.

Bob Marley & The Wailers - Natural Mystic Vinyl - Tuff Gong Studios, Jamaica

Maybe there’s an ‘island thing’ too where the geography relates to the style. There’s something that can be related there and got taken up. There’s a reggae thing that’s been happening in New Zealand music for decades now. Trinity Roots and Fat Freddys Drop came out of that but they also had their jazz, soul, electro, dub and techno influences.

“the J Dilla-thing in New Zealand music”

It might be fair to say that whilst Electric Wire Hustle had those same influences, [we] were maybe the first to champion the J Dilla-thing in New Zealand music; that rhythmic aesthetic; that sound and style of contemporary left-field hip-hop/soul instrumentals. We latched onto that, and it might have given us a point of difference. Ladi 6 was in there as well. So were a number of other artists. Isaac Aesili –  part of a group now called Sorceress (previously called Funkommunity) was very much in that scene.

It’s interesting thinking about that timeline and the history of that – and will be interesting to see what happens next.

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Electric Wire Hustle- ‘This World (Feat. Georgia Anne Muldrow)’ – Electric Wire Hustle (2009)

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“what happens next”

Obviously Lorde is the now. It’s undeniable that whatever will come after Lorde in mainstream New Zealand music will be largely influenced by her.

But for me I think my next step is maybe taking those influences but maybe going further into the jazz thing. By “jazz” I mean improvised music that’s fluid and can move and shift as performed in the moment in real time, as opposed to pre-programmed drum machine stuff.

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Myele Manzanza- ‘Elvin’s Brew’ – One (2013)

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Even though that’s very much a big part of what I do, what I think I’ll be working on over the next few years of my life will be a synthesis of that – finding my line between the programmed electronic-thing and the improvised jazz/soul, real person, real time-thing and trying to make that my sound.

As far as where the rest of New Zealand music is headed, only time will tell.”

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More of The Sound

Start here if you want to check out more sounds and images of Myele Manzanza, The Eclectic and other Aotearoa New Zealand artists:

Myele Manzanza & The Eclectic (including father Sam Manzanza and Aotearoan soul divas Rachel Fraser & Lisa Tomlins) performing live at WOMADelaide 2015 last month…

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…or click the artist’s name for more live videos, photos and sample tracks by Myele Manzanza, Trinity Roots, Fat Freddys Drop and Electric Wire Hustle.

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…and stay tuned, because there’ll always be more New Zealand music artists added to Beaver’s world.

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Fat Freddys Drop Blackbird Album – As Unique As FFD Always

I maintain that the Fat Freddys Drop live experiences are where it’s best at, for me.

Fat Freddys Drop - Live - Tivoli - Brisbane - Blackbird Tour - 2013 - Beaver on the Beats

Live @ The Tivoli, Brisbane, 2013

All Fat Freddys Drop music though – live or recorded – makes me feel good when I hear it. Simple.

Their new album Blackbird, which I got hold of last week, is no exception. I know when I play it that the cruisy, soulful, jazzy, funky, bluesy, electro, dubbed out sounds will make me feel good.

Fat Freddys Drop music sounds like none other in the world. That’s pretty special in this day of our long musical history. Don’t you think?

Fat Freddys Drop - Blackbird CD - www.beaveronthebeats.com

Blackbird (2013) – Fat Freddys Drop

Here are some sample listening tracks from Blackbird in MP3 format (+ find 1 more here). Blackbird and other Fat Freddys Drop albums are easy to buy in real music stores, or on-line from most places in the world.

Silver and Gold – Blackbird (2013)

Bohannon – Blackbird (2013)

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Fat Freddys Drop & Their Blackbird Live @ The Tivoli

Ten years ago I went to a gig in Sydney where I found some of the sweetest, tastiest jazzy/dubby/electronic music I’ve ever heard live.  In a moment of excitement about my great musical find I told my friend Sammy “Fat Freddys Drop is the best band in the world”. He has laughed at me about that statement ever since – and would never let me take it back.

I don’t actually think Fat Freddys Drop is the best band in the world.  I was silly for having said that any 1 band is the best band in the world.

But I do think that a live musical journey with Fat Freddys Drop is always a pretty special one to go on.

I went to their gig at The Tivoli in Brisbane on the weekend- part of the Australian tour promoting the release of their new album Blackbird.

Fat Freddys Drop live in Brisbane - Blackbird Tour 2013

Fat Freddys Drop at the Tivoli

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I must have had 10+ live Fat Freddys Drop experiences by now. I can’t say that The Tivoli gig was the the best of them.

I can say the things I loved about The Tivoli gig are the same things that I have always loved about Fat Freddys Drop:

  • Their marathon-long live songs – where the music changes through that long journey, they jam out, and there are lots of awesome solos by each of the quality musicians that they are.
                            • The minimalist vocals of Joe Dukie.

Fat Freddys Drop - Live - Tivoli - Brisbane - Blackbird Tour - 2013 - Beaver on the Beats

                            • The subtle horn lines in the right places- and the even better horn solos.

Fat Freddys Drop - Live - Tivoli - Brisbane - Blackbird Tour - 2013 - Beaver on the Beats

                      • The fat bass lines DJ Fitchie creates. I love most things he does musically, but I can still never help wishing for that special energy that I think comes from having a live bass and drums.

Fat Freddys Drop - Live - Tivoli - Brisbane - Blackbird Tour - 2013 - Beaver on the Beats

  • At each Fat Freddys Drop gig the the same song will nearly always sound different.

Fat Freddys Drop - Live - Tivoli - Brisbane - Blackbird Tour - 2013 - Beaver on the Beats

  • The smooth way Fat Freddys Drop blend jazz, dub, soul, blues, electronica, funk, groove & hip hop.

With distinctive Pacific Island Aotearoa sounds…like so many other great contemporary artists from Aotearoa/New Zealand making fusion music from those genres.

Fat Freddys Drop - Live - Tivoli - Brisbane - Blackbird Tour - 2013 - Beaver on the Beats

All copies of Blackbird sold out at the gig so I can’t tell you anything about it yet sorry :(.  I was so relieved though that Fat Freddys Drop actually had good old fashioned CDs for sale at their gig.

Blackbird (2013)You can even buy it on sweet sounding vinyl.

ffd-vinyl

For now I have a video of Blackbird, their opening song at The Tivoli gig + some mp3 version (sorry for you) sample listening tracks off previous Fat Freddys Drop albums.

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Dr Boondigga & the Big BW (2009)

Dr Boondigga & The Big BW (2009)

Shiverman Fat Freddys Drop – Dr Boondigga & The Big BW (2009)

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FatFreddysDrop-BasedOnaTrueStory

Based On A True Story (2005)

Ray Ray  Fat Freddys Drop – Based On A True Story (2005)

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Live at the Matterhorn - Fat Freddys Drop - 2001

Live At The Matterhorn (2001)

Rain Fat Freddys Drop – Live At The Matterhorn (2001)

 

and finally this awesome track from Fat Freddys Drop earlier days…

Midnight Marauders  Fat Freddys Drop – Dub Conspiracy Sampler

 

Fat Freddys Drop live in Brisbane - Blackbird Tour - 2013

Ten years of live Fat Freddys Drop experiences and I keep on going back for more. That’s because I wanna hear their sweet, live marathon tracks where they jam out.   I suppose that’s why Live at the Matterhorn is still my favourite Fat Freddys Drop album – a 70 minute CD of only 4 tracks. We’ll see if Blackbird changes that once I get my hands on it.

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