Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Mick Jagger interview: "Fela always had great orchestration and an amazing horn section"
Chris Jagger talks to his brother, Rolling Stones frontman Mick, about his favourite music from around the world
(Photo: Steven Klein)
Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and pop bands had names like The Honeycombs, I was working at the Hampstead Theatre Club in North London after I left school and sometimes staying at my brother’s spacious apartment near Regent’s Park. He was mostly away in the US zigzagging across country, playing on the bill with people like George Jones and staying in Howard Johnson Motels. When he did return he brought with him stacks of records from New York, which contained the largest diaspora of people from across the world, and consequently stocked records in stores for them (in those far-off days when people bought LPs in stores).
Much of Mick’s stash remained unopened for months or even years as it piled up. There were records of choirs from the Balkans, mariachi bands, veena players from South India, the Persian oud, Oum Kalthoum from Egypt and a host of field recordings of blues from across the US, including Louisiana’s Clifton Chenier. “Clifton was a great influence on me,” Mick says of the zydeco accordionist. “We first listened to him around 1965 when we went to the States and picked up his records on the Arhoolie label.”
The track Mick has selected for the playlist is ‘I’m a Hog for You.’ “This is a shuffle with the washboard picking up the triplets and it moves along in the classic Chenier style that he really put on the map. We first met up with the band in Los Angeles, I think, and I love the way he just grabs a blues number and adapts it to his style. Now his son is out on the road playing the same accordion and it’s all in the great Louisiana tradition.”
There was plenty to listen to in his ever-growing collection. We would get rather stoned to some of the records and have a good laugh in our ignorance. Others left us wondering at their exotic sounds. Some we played frequently, intrigued as to how such different sounds came from diverse people across the globe. Years later this would be called ‘world music,’ but back then it was merely exotic sounds.
There wasn’t much African music, apart from North Africa, but that hasn’t stopped Mick from picking up on the various sounds coming out of West Africa. One voice that caught his attention was Mali’s Salif Keita. “He’s a lyrical singer from West Africa, which is where the blues came from.” Of the album M’Bemba he says, “the haunting voice and title-track from that album, which dates back to 2005, is still great to listen to today, in my view. He has a wonderful use of acoustic instruments and is rightly rated as the top man in his field.”
Mick was also drawn to the funky sounds of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, from Nigeria. He mentions Cream’s drummer Ginger Baker, who famously set up a recording studio in Nigeria and played with many Afrobeat musicians. “As far as I know Ginger was one of the first to get into these rhythms and travel to Africa to actually sit there and play them,” Mick says. “He might have been influenced by Phil Seamen, the jazz drummer who pre-dated him, but Ginger went to play with Fela Kuti, which must have been a daunting journey in more ways than one. But then he always did want to push things that much further than most drummers who came from England. Fela always had great orchestration and an amazing horn section, as he played horn himself and liked to use two baritones, which is unusual.”
➤ This article originally appeared in Songlines #93. Find out more about subscribing to Songlines
We also explored the sounds of India, with their long, flowing ragas and soon afterwards I travelled there to see and hear such musicians and even study some singing. Among Mick’s record collection were some Indian field recordings by Alain Daniélou. “I first had some of the records Alain put out in the 60s. He was a great pioneer, travelling across the subcontinent recording classical Indian music. I particularly like the simple flute – the closest instrument to the human voice, they say – and the South Indian style is particularly evocative from T Visvanathan and those that followed in his footsteps.” The track featured on his playlist is ‘Sandehamunu’ from the album Anthology of Indian Classical Music: A Tribute to Alain Daniélou.
The music of a people is the best international language and is able to bring communities together, even if the actual words are unknown. The only mystery is why this has all taken so long. But thanks to festivals like WOMAD and magazines like Songlines things have moved along. After all, it took most people about 25 years to cotton on to James Brown. I have been fortunate in working with musicians such as the fiddle player Robin McKidd and multi-instrumentalist Charlie Hart, who have turned me on to a wide variety of sounds. Together we have made our own music, sometimes borrowing from these genres, but trying to keep the original flavour and inspiration too.
Farafina, from Burkina Faso, provide the last track on Mick’s playlist. “I came across them because of Charlie Hart,” Mick explains. “They came to play on a track called ‘Continental Drift’ on the Steel Wheels record,” a song which also features the wailing shawms of the Master Musicians of Jajouka from Morocco. “Farafina have done really well now and deserve the praise of those who catch their shows.”
‘I’m a Hog for You’ From the album Out West on Arhoolie Records
“Clifton was a great influence on me. We first listened to him around 1965 when we went to the States. I love the way he just grabs a blues number and adapts it to his style.”
‘M’Bemba’ From the album M’Bemba on Decca Records
“The haunting voice and title-track from that album are still great to listen to today. He is rightly rated as the top man in his field.”
T Visvanathan and T Ranganathan
‘Sandehamunu’ From the album Anthology of Indian Classical Music: A Tribute to Alain Daniélou on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
“I particularly like the simple flute, and the south Indian style is particularly evocative from Visvanathan and those that followed in his footsteps.”
‘Dounounia’ From the album Faso Denou on Real World Records
“I came across them because of Charlie Hart who is a friend of my brother and knew all about them. They came to play on a track called ‘Continental Drift’ on the Steel Wheels record.”
Fela Kuti and Ginger Baker
‘Let’s Start’ From the album Fela Kuti and the Africa 70 with Ginger Baker Live! on Knitting Factory Records
“As far as I know Ginger was one of the first to get into these rhythms and travel to Africa to actually sit there and play them… Fela always had great orchestration and an amazing horn section, as he played horn himself.”