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Issue 1084

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Feature

MATTAFIX: NO PROBLEM

Mattafix
Mattafix Mattafix

Following an extraordinary 18 months that`s seen them tour the world, sell records everywhere from South Africa to Australia to the Eastern Block, plus score a Europe-wide chart-topper with their first single 'Big City Life', West London-born duo Mattafix now return with their new album 'Rhythm & Hymns' - the follow-up to their internationally-successful 2005 debut set 'Signs Of A Struggle'.

Formed by the apparently-disparate forces of a steel pan-playing singer/songwriter raised on the West Indian island of St. Vincent (Marlon Roudette) and an Indian-rooted self-confessed âcomputer geekâ (Preetesh Hirji), the band`s ethos of bringing people together through positive messages is reflected in their name. An evolution of the old St. Vincent phrase 'matter fixed', which in turn represented a local take on the popular Caribbean expression `no problem`. With Mattafix`s music blending classic songwriting with elements of hip hop, blues, pop, soul, jazz, reggae and dancehall, their boldly cosmopolitan new album boasts big-named London production talent like Jim Abyss and Jason Cox (Damon Albarn`s right-hand studio man) alongside diverse global influences like South African Zulu singers, a West London flute boxer, plus samples recorded in Poland!

âWith this album I wanted to bring through more aspects of the live show, which is something maybe the first album lackedâ, begins Marlon, whose hauntingly melancholic falsetto-cum-patois-cum-rap vocals combine with Preetesh`s electronic beats`n`studio wizardry to create the Mattafix vibe: âYou know, we do go out with a seven or eight-piece band, and that has become a big part of the Mattafix sound. So, in addition to keeping the hardcore elements and programmed beats from last time round, with `Rhythms & Hymns` we`ve also used a lot of live drums. Also, we`ve added quite a lot of influences that we got from the road. Particularly in places like Johannesburg, where we played a couple of great shows. While lyrically we basically just try and bring through whatever we feel strongly about at the time. So, in addition to some relationship stuff I was going through, we`ve also got songs like `Shake Your Limbs`. Which was written after coming back from Israel a week after they went to war in Lebanon. Because we`d met people there who were caught up in the conflict, we were quite fearful for their safety. So, in one way or another, each song tells a story about stuff we`ve gone through since the release of the first record.â

Interestingly, the ever-eloquent Marlon attributes much of Mattafix`s bold embracing of new global sounds to the twosome`s own varied backgrounds: âI grew up in The West Indies. So a big part of my musical story starts there. While, with Pree being brought up in an Indian household in Ladbroke Grove, he`s also got many influences. Plus, because we spent most of the two-and-a-half years after the release of the first album outside of England, we HAD to pick up influences on the road too. Like there`s a Polish reggae band whose track we`ve sampled. Plus we`ve also got a big African rapper called Zola, who`s a massive star in South Africa, on the album. While the first single - 'Living Darfur' - was written with a huge South African songwriter called Chicco Twale, who brought his own music and his own choir with him from Soweto. And, for us, recording eight Zulu singers on one mic was just an amazing experience.â

Indeed, the soulful anthemic vibes of the aforementioned `Living Darfur` did prove a landmark in the twosome`s career, with it last October becoming the soundtrack to a big-name-backed campaign to bring hope to the war-torn region of Darfur In Western Sudan: âYeah, it was recorded in South Africa, where at the time a lot of people were expressing their disappointment that the African leaders weren`t doing more to put pressure on Sudan and Zimbabweâ, recalls Marlon: âSo the song was born out of that. Then, when a couple of human rights lawyers - who were involved in the Save Darfur campaign - heard the track randomly at some party, they asked if we wanted to get involved. So, as we`ve always been a socio-political band, we jumped at the chance. We flew out there to meet the people of Darfur, and shot the video for the song in a refugee camp in neighbouring Eastern Chad. Which, as far as I know, was the first music video by an international artist to be filmed in a war-zone. All of which to me was a life-changing experience. The only down-side to it all being that the song was rejected across-the-board by UK radio stations, who flat-out told us the chorus was too political for them to get involved with! Which disappointed me, not from a career angle, but because I thought we really had a chance at the time to build up a crescendo of pressure prior to the November United Nations conference in New York. But, you know, Mattafix remain dedicated to seeing a result in Darfur. We`re still talking about the whole situation in interviews, playing the song in shows, and generally getting a great response from the people.â

Nevertheless, with 'Living Darfur' (as with Mattaifix`s previous releases) going on to become a significant overseas success, Marlon remains philosophical over the unusual fact that all of Mattifix`s numerous Platinum discs to date emanate from outside their homeland: ââWe started out signed to a tiny, tiny independent label in the UK. But, once 'Big City Life' hit the Top 20 here, we got a distribution deal with EMI worldwide excluding the US and UK. And then it all happened very quickly!

'Big City Life' hit Number One in New Zealand, it became a big hit in France, Germany and Italy... And after that it was just about ensuring the ALBUM got the time of day. You know, at one stage on the European airplay chart we were Number Two, sandwiched between Robbie and Kylie! Which was like the most surreal experience! I mean, you`re going to Italy and Germany getting mobbed, chased down the street and seeing massive billboards of yourself... And then coming back to the UK - where there`s relatively nothing going on - and getting on the bus and the train and basically getting busy being normal again! Which was great in terms of making records and staying down-to-earth! You know, London became a refuge for us, where we could just get back in the studio and crack on really. So, while I think obviously EVERYONE wants to do well in their hometown - I`d like nothing better than to have a massive record in the UK - I`m also very grateful that we hit about 36 countries within 12 months! You know, that was a real trip - and I`ve got the Platinum records here next to me to prove it!â

The album 'Rhythms & Hymns' is out now through EMI/Buddhist Punk
Words PETE LEWIS

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