Lots of people have a soft spot for Tamia. Eric Benét, for one, who enjoyed a chart-topping hit with her back in the late nineties: the romantic ballad Spend My Life With You. Others love her big, crossover slowies, some her playful R&B-pop numbers. Me, I can’t stop playing the new single Leave It Smokin’, a groovy soul dancer with an air of eighties Jam & Lewis about it. Produced by Salaam Remi, rekindling their studio relationship from Tamia’s 2012 album Beautiful Surprise, the song, it seems, came together in typical Tamia-meets-Remi fashion, following a pattern they’d already established. Explains Tamia:
“He doesn’t ever mess with my vocal – I always leave him with my best work – but then he sits there with the music for a while. He did the same thing with Beautiful Surprise, when we did that. I thought it sounded good before I left, from the demo, but then he played with it for a while and brought it back, and it sounded sonically just so much better. Same thing with Leave It Smokin’… ”
Obviously, working with one of the biggest stars on the planet has material advantages. Less obviously, there are artistic ones. Alto saxophonist Tia Fuller has been a member of Beyoncé’s band for several years now and, beyond the shock and awe of the super sized stadium experience, she has had the chance to see how the singer operates in a 12-hour rehearsal… and learn a considerable amount as a result.
“Just seeing how she put a show together, with the sequence of songs and audience engagement, is important,” says Fuller. “You have a structure for the show and you keep that almost every time, so it creates a seamlessness that everyone is able to rest in – but there’s a certain aspect of security where you’re then able to just explore a lot more. Not that I’m gonna do the same thing every time I’m on stage. But I’m always gonna take a bit of time and think about my audience and narrative.”
Last year was the 40th anniversary of Bob Marley and The Wailers’ Exodus and Bob’s eldest son Ziggy got to remix the bestselling album in its entirety. Twelve months later and it’s Ziggy’s younger brother Stephen’s turn, as Kaya reaches the same milestone.
Ziggy had dared to experiment, invent and replace. What he attempted didn’t always come off, but at least he tried to come up with something new. The changes on this anniversary edition of Kaya are imperceptible and whilst some of the vocal lines may differ slightly, there’s no such radical thinking, yet the sound is unmistakably bigger and better. The bass is rocking and every instrument’s sharply defined in the mix. These are the versions to play on sound-system.
The original Kaya album was released on March 23rd 1978 and spent six months on the UK album charts, peaking at number four. It sold well and yet the reviews were generally disappointing, with some critics complaining how the album was “too soft.” When questioned about this in interviews, Marley even admitted as much…
“Alright… from the roota to the toota, goddammit!”
Lifted from the classic early-nineties Eddie Murphy movie Boomerang, it’s a saying band leader Brandon Brown uses to introduce the monstrous funk jam What You On, encouraging his group to give it everything.
“Ah Brandon, you’re so old,” one of the girls in the 12-strong Collective can be heard to quip in response, teasing him.
“He says stuff like that… all the time,” states lead singer Mackenzie, on the phone from LA. “He’s a young cat, but a really wise old soul. When we greet each other, he’s like ‘Hey man, what it is!’ That’s him. Everyday.”
It’s that vintage sensibility which has inspired The Brandon Brown Collective – or “The BBC” as they refer to themselves online when pre-fixed with a hashtag – to boldly groove forth into the uncertain Black-American music scene and become that rare thing since the emergence of hip-hop: the glorious, stage hogging, multi-player, funky soul combo…