Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Khari Cabral Simmons: Hot prospects

Khari Cabral Simmons
Khari Cabral Simmons Khari Cabral Simmons Khari Cabral Simmons Khari Cabral Simmons

With his current, Dome-released solo album "Clementine Sun," Atlanta, Georgia-based bass-player/producer Khari Cabral Simmons delivers an appealing, summery fusion of soul, bossa nova and jazz styles on a nine-track set which - mixed by Incognito founder/leader Bluey - is currently being pioneered by its hauntingly-shuffling lead single "Never In Your Sun" - a bossa-flavoured cover of a relatively-unknown Eighties Stevie Wonder ballad featuring the sensuous vocals of Grammy-winning/10-million-selling neo-soul songstress (and long-time Khari friend-and-collaborator) India.Aire.

Meanwhile, other guests of note on "Clementine Sun" include Japanese-American singer/songwriter Monday Michiru on the joyously-skipping "Belle Of Byron Bay"; upcoming Brazilian 'nu bossa' vocalist Sabrina Malheiros on the breezily-gliding "Major Bossa"; newcomer Chantae Cann on the infectiously-melodic soul groover "Get Back"; plus the internationally-revered horn section of aforementioned London jazz/funk/soul collective Incognito on the uptempo, hooky "How Can We Go Wrong."

All of which results in a consistently-uplifting release from the former leader of acclaimed Atlanta outfit Jiva and long-term member of India.Aire’s band. Who -having studied theory and composition at Atlanta’s prestigious Morehouse College before emerging as an integral part of the city’s thriving underground soul scene - last appeared on UK indie Dome with the 2006-released album of predominantly-Brazilian-flavoured cover-tunes titled "Moon Bossa." Which - released under the name Julie & Khari - interestingly found him hooking-up with Birmingham, UK-raised vocalist Julie Dexter.

… Cue an articulate and instantly-warm-mannered Mr. Simmons hooking-up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis from his Georgia home for a revealing introductory chat.

PETE: What were the reasons for you titling your current album "Clementine Sun" after its smoothly-lilting opening-track?

KHARI: “Well, the first record I put out with my group Jiva was called ‘Sun And Moon’, the follow-up to that was called ‘Day Into Night’ - and then after that I did the album with Julie Dexter where I decided to make the first song on there - 'Moon Bossa' - the TITLE. Which I think worked in a lot of ways, particularly in terms of letting you know what was coming on the record as a WHOLE. So, because for me this new album is somewhat of an extension of the ‘Moon Bossa’ album, with it being musically a touch more bright and not as earth-toned as that record - you know, this one has a few more primary colours - I kind of felt it was almost like the FLIPSIDE to it. Which is why, once I’d written the song 'Clementine Sun,' it just sort of stuck out to the point where, above all the other songs, its title easily became the one that fit best as a scene for the entire BOOK.”

PETE: So what did you want to achieve musically on this record?

KHARI: “Even though as a bass-player I’m happy to do the acoustic singer/songwriter thing with India (Arie) or the straight-up soul thing with (Atlanta indie-soul man) Donnie, in terms of expressing myself as an artist in my OWN right the guys I really connect with are people like Sergio Mendes, Burt Bacharach and Quincy Jones. Mainly because I guess as writers and producers their records have a myriad of things ON them. Like Sergio’s career spans everything from ‘Mas Que Nada’ to (the 1983 chart-topping pop ballad) ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’, while in the same way Quincy’s music goes from the ‘Soul Bossa Nova’ album right up to anything by (Seventies/Eighties funkers) The Brothers JOHNSON. And so because I think that I have that similar outlook, when it came to this record I definitely wanted it to feel the same as when you listen to a Quincy solo record or a BACHARACH record. Where, while it is definitely a cohesive album, it still takes you through lots of different MOMENTS. So, even though the heart of it I’d say is the bossa nova thing, there’s still a definite jazz element in there, there’s a couple of jazz/funk tunes on there, there’s maybe a soul tune or two - and then, in addition to that, there’s also the way that they all sort of swim TOGETHER.”

PETE: The album’s lead single is a bossa-flavoured cover of the Eighties Stevie Wonder ballad "Never In Your Sun," featuring Grammy-winning acoustic soul songstress India.Aire…

KHARI: “Well, a long time ago - around ’95 - when India and I used to drive to gigs together, we used to spend a lot of our time in the car listening to Monday Michiru records, to where we both became huge Monday Michiru FANS. So when India found out that I had Monday guesting on this record, she got pretty excited about it and was like ‘Look, if there’s a place on the record for me then let me KNOW’… So literally one day I was sitting there going through some Eighties stuff, and when I got to Stevie Wonder’s ‘In Square Circle’ album I immediately remembered how much I’d liked that record when I was around l1/12 years old and in particular the song ‘Never In Your SUN’. So, while the actual production on Stevie’s original sounds very 1985 very computer-driven, because the song itself remains pretty much timeless, on listening to it again I thought ‘Man, if I do this song in another way - featuring acoustic guitar and percussion - India will fall IN LOVE with it!... So literally at that EXACT MOMENT I sent her an MP3 in an e-mail saying ‘Hey, what do you think of THIS?’… Within minutes she sent it back saying she loved it; I asked her what she thought of the key; she said ‘Seems like the key is fine’... So the next day I went in the studio, I recorded three versions for her, let her pick the one that she liked the most - and then we were off to the RACES!... And of course, with it being Stevie - and with Stevie and India already having that special relationship - I think the combination of her with the song worked PERFECTLY.”

PETE: So let’s discuss your little-known early background…

KHARI: “I was born in New York. Then a year later we moved to my dad’s hometown of New Orleans, where we stayed until I was four and I moved with my parents to the Hollywood area of Los Angeles - which suddenly meant that at that young age I was now around a lot of people like Diahann Carroll, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Diana Ross... You know, with my dad being an attorney at MCA Records at the time, the black professionals in Hollywood who were attached to the entertainment industry were literally like living all AROUND us... Which also meant that MUSIC was all around us - particularly with my dad working at MCA and always bringing me home albums by people like Steely Dan. Plus when I’d stay over at my best friend’s house, his mom would always be putting on like the early-Eighties boogie and soft rock... So yeah, I basically heard a lot of different styles of music at a very early AGE.”

PETE: So what led you to eventually decide on a full-time career in music?

KHARI: “When I was around 10/11 years old I wound up moving to New Jersey, where I ended up going to these schools where there were rock bands EVERYWHERE! One was Spin Doctors, another was an ultra-popular group called Blues Traveller... And it was actually when I started experiencing that culture of being around rock bands that I first started playing BASS. Then from there, when I got to 10th Grade - because my parents had spilt up by then - I moved to New Orleans to live with my DAD for a year… And looking back today I’d have say that musically that one year was singularly the most influential year of my LIFE! Because with New Orleans being such a big music town I was now playing bass with a lot of different people of my own age who were on the same musical level as me; I was going to see a lot of people in concert; I went to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival... Plus in terms of actual RECORDS, at the same time I also happened to get hit all at once by the Basia ‘Time & Tide’ album; the Swing Out Sister ‘It’s Better to Travel’ album; the Sade ‘Stronger Than Pride’ album; the Simply Red ‘A New Flame’ album; and the Everything But The Girl ‘Language Of LIFE’ album! You know, for a whole year I virtually listened to all those albums EVERY SINGLE DAY! Which in turn completely changed my musical WORLD, and completely set my ears up for everything that was to COME!... So yeah, basically that UK sound - which I guess you can describe as having that sort of jazz top with like a rhythm & blues sensibility - totally changed my LIFE! Which in turn ultimately led to me becoming the artist I am TODAY!”

The album "Clementine Sun" and single "Never In Your Sun (feat. India.Aire)" are both out now through Dome

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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