Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

Welcome To B&S



Incognito: Always There

Bluey (Incognito)
Bluey (Incognito) Incognito Incognito Incognito

With the arrival this month of the intriguingly-titled “Amplified Soul”, London-based jazz/funk/soul collective Incognito are impressively celebrating both their sixteenth studio album and thirty-fifth anniversary.

Arguably the most multi-cultural band in Britain (current and past members hailing from a remarkable list of 32 different countries!), Incognito was initially formed back in 1979 by Mauritius-born Jean-Paul Maunick, known to all since childhood as “Bluey”. The son of Edouard Maunick - a distinguished African poet and writer - Bluey first moved to London in 1969 at the age of 12. By the mid-Seventies, his fascination with watching visiting US bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, Weather Report and Kool & The Gang soon led to him hanging around with key players in the UK’s then-emerging jazz-funk scene - including groups like Gonzalez, Hi-Tension and Average White Band - before going on to form his own aforementioned combo.

With Incognito’s debut album “Jazz Funk” (released through British independent Ensign Records in 1981) immediately establishing them at the forefront of London’s then-thriving black music underground, the band however did not reach their commercial peak until signing with Phonogram’s hip Talkin’ Loud label in 1990. When a string of British hit singles (like 1991’s “Always There” and 1992’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”) would eventually lead to early-to-mid-Nineties Incognito albums like “Positivity” and “100 Degrees And Rising” prestigiously cracking the US Jazz chart and in turn selling over 750,000 copies in America alone. Since which time, with Bluey going on to collaborate (frequently as producer) with such bona fide black music legends as Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, George Benson and Philip Bailey, Incognito have remained a staple of the live international music arena; performing at all the major festivals from Montreux and Monterey to North Sea Jazz.

Meanwhile, with their last eight albums all having been released through UK soul indie Dome, Incognito’s latest set interestingly sees a move to Edel Germany’s earMUSIC label and boasts a vocal line-up which includes regular singers Tony Momrelle, Vanessa Haynes and new addition Katie Leone in addition to such guest vocalists as former Young Disciples songstress Carleen Anderson and Connecticut-born funkstress Deborah Bond alongside the return of fans favourite Imaani and the addition of soulful 22-year-old Australian debutant Ciara Hunter. While instrumentally - in addition to Bluey as always leading on guitar - the band’s tight rhythm section of Francis Hylton (bass), Matt Cooper (keyboards), Francesco Mendolia (drums) and Joao Caetano (percussion) is joined by guest performances from the likes of original Jamiroquai drummer Nick Van Gelder on two cuts, alto saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock, synthesizer wizard Ski Oakenfull, and regular Incognito contributor Richard Bull.

Which in turn results in a consistent, high-quality 16-track set which - largely recorded at North London’s legendary Livingston Studio, famed for such multi-million-selling albums as Buena Vista Social Club’s eponymous first release and Bjork’s 1993 debut - boasts tracks ranging from the spirited, uptempo single “Hats (Make Me Wanna Holler)” and a live-brass-punctuated update of Atlantic Starr’s “Silver Shadow” to the powerfully-assertive “Hands Up If You Wanna Be Loved” and the soul-searching, introspective closer “Stop Running Away” complete with Bluey’s own Curtis Mayfield-inspired falsetto lead vocals.

All of which an ever-affable Bluey happily discusses with long-time industry friend - and “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor - Pete Lewis over lunchtime drinks on the 15th floor of the West End’s St. George’s Hotel.

The new album’s intriguing title, “Amplified Soul”

“Well, to me what’s really reflected musically more than anything else on this new album is my SOUL collection. You know, I just feel that, compared to the whole jazz-funk and jazz-fusion thing that we can also do, this time round we really have amped up that soul ELEMENT. And so with that in mind I actually came up with the title thinking along the lines that when you have an inspiration or an idea and you’re able to gather your thoughts and your spirit enough to actually fulfil it and make it real, then that movement of idea to material is in itself the amplified SOUL. You know, it’s kind of like where you push yourself and do everything you can to make an idea happen to the point where - because there’s a pure essence that’s a part of that journey - it eventually DOES… So yeah, that’s basically my definition of “Amplified SOUL” - which to me not only defines the record MUSICALLY but also the journey we went on in actually MAKING it.”

The album’s uniquely eye-catching cover art, which in some ways harks back to the iconic Afrocentric-style images of a late-Sixties Marsh Hunt

“Well, when I decided on the title “Amplified Soul” I called up (long-time Incognito artist/designer) Mitchy Bwoy and basically said ‘Can you get your HEAD around that?’ - and he actually got it STRAIGHTAWAY! In that he immediately started referring to the kind of album-sleeve images I’d already been THINKING of, like Santana’s “Abraxas” or Miles Davis’ “TUTU”. So what he then basically decided to do was take a photograph of this girl and then impose a BUTTERFLY effect on it - which to me just completely NAILED it! I mean, when I showed the record company they were like ‘We’ve gotta put this poster EVERYWHERE!’… And by mentioning Marsha Hunt you yourself have actually just hit the nail on the HEAD! Because that was exactly the name and image that came up when we first started discussing the possibility of using a MODEL. In that we were looking for someone with a kind of Afrocentric wordliness but at the same time young with a future AHEAD of them. And to me the way the way the girl’s eyes look on the image we’ve used - you know, the way they’re staring not necessarily into emptiness but with a sense of wonder - and that whole kind of almost soaring/flying-like feel you get from it all just makes for a beautiful piece of art that to my mind does actually say “Amplified SOUL”!”

How “Amplified Soul” came together musically

“Well, I was basically doing it on a track-by-track basis because what I find when you make an album is there are these little journeys that can either take you on a complete LEFT-turn or a complete RIGHT-turn. And I guess a perfect example of that this time round was the song “HATS”, which was an idea that came about because I was seeing a fashion-movement around the DAPPERNESS of hats! Like while they can be useful and practical if it’s raining, they do also make a little statement about you as an INDIVIDUAL. Because no-one puts a hat on their head and actually thinks ‘That’s not me’ and still WEARS it! So to go with the lyrics I basically decided to put a kinda MOTOWN sound to it, but more along the lines of Motown-meets BLUES-Brothers because of the Incognito HORNS. You know, I basically wanted get away from the kind jazz/funkiness and go more for a straight-ahead rhythm thing that was a bit like a live version of the programmed drums on Pharrell’s “Happy” but with my own thing on TOP of it... Then on, say, “Something ‘Bout July”, because there I’d written the song about holiday love I decided to inject that SAMBA feel that ALSO exists in my catalogue - a but like Stevie’s kinda take on soul when he mixes it with a BRAZILIAN feel, like on his original version on “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A THING”... So yeah, in terms of how it all came together musically there was lot of that kinda ‘let’s-see-what-happens-as-we-go-along’ happening on this album.”


From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

Join the B&S Mailing List

Blues and Soul on Twitter