Bah Samba are one of the UK’s longest running and most respected soul and dance bands. Founded way back in 1996 by keyboardist Julian Bendall, the Sambas have just released a wonderful new album – ‘Here For Now’. The set is the band’s most varied collection to date and it’s impressing soul tastemakers, discerning collectors and dancers everywhere. We hooked up with the genial JULIAN BENDALL to hear his views on ‘Here For Now’ but we began by asking him to fill us in on Bah Samba’s inception and its evolution….
Bah Samba first started in 1996, I had moved to Brighton and joined a band called U.R.U.B.U who used to play at the infamous Casablanca club … we had a residency there every Friday and Saturday night. The band was a kind of crossover of funk, soul with Brasilian influences from Bebeto de Sousa a São Paulo native, staying in the UK. I had been working with Graeme Park on various remixes including The Brand New Heavies ‘Back to Love’ and had become interested in dance music production, so along with 2 other members of U.R.U.B.U I decided to get a track together by recording some live parts and then taking them to a friend of mine’s studio where I had done some work with Graeme and the first single ‘ Carnival’ was born. The track very quickly got signed to Brighton’s Loaded records. We hadn’t got an artist name at the time so we created BAH by using my surname ‘Bendall’ and the saxophone players surname ‘Alexander’ and the drummers name ‘ Holroyde ‘ . It was either BAH or ABH (of which I thought was a bit aggressive for the project! ) … the Samba came naturally due to the nature of the track. At the time my musical influences were Stevie Wonder, Minnie Riperton, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davies, Bill Evans, Disco etc.. and had just started getting into MAW and some UK soulful houseOK … what happened next …?
We did 3 singles for Loaded, however and because of the nature of the music, Loaded decided to start a new label for our music called Estereo. After the 3rd single Holroyde and Alexander moved onto to other projects and I took a break and went to Brasil for some time. On return from Brasil I hooked up with Alice Russell. She had just been traveling in Africa at the same time as I was in Brasil, so we had a lot to talk about and decided to find some studio time to do some writing together, we took some of our ideas to Estereo and were offered an album deal along with a publishing contract with Sony. The first album –’Bah Samba’ – was then later recorded the following year. Some time passed and Alice and I went off to do many tours worldwide just on our own without a band … we used to just use some backing tape and a fender Rhodes and a microphone. We got tired of this and on the last night of a tour in Japan in Tokyo we said goodbye to the backing tape after a few cocktails! We turned the tape and the backup copy into many little pieces!!! Then we took a break from this and formed a live band consisting of some friends and a couple of new comers. At the time I had bad management and lost faith in the project, so decided to take some time out for some different projects, more in the house scene doing various sessions and collaborations with dj’s and producers.
How did you get from there to where you are now…?
I was lucky to get out of my management deal and soon looked for somebody else to manage Bah Samba. Eventually through a contact with Southport Weekender, I made contact with Byron Orme from BKO Productions who invited me and Alice to have a chat about the project and see which direction we wanted to go. We started again with a new outlook and hooked up with Roy Ayers for a live a show or two along with a few live shows of our own. I had secured a Japanese license to record a new album and along with BKO in the UK started to write and record Bah Samba ‘Four’. This took about 6 months. We released the album with various singles taken from it, remixed it and did various live shows including a week at Motion Blue in Japan with the full band, so things had changed for the better. After the last tour of Japan I said a fond farewell to Alice who went to embark on her solo career as I continued with Bah Samba -amongst many other side projects – one of the main ones being Shake The Dog. The ‘Shake The Dog ‘album was released in Japan and in the UK about a year later, so the ball kept rolling until I decided to take some ‘me’ time for about 2 years. Totally refreshed from after what I can only describe as a ‘difficult’ 2 years, it was time to make another album!
We’ll skip the difficulties… and get straight tot the new album ‘Here For Now’ – full of global flavors and foreign tongues … why was that?
From traveling basically. Things started to develop a natural pattern, so I went with the flow. The concept of the album for me was very simple …it was a love story alongside humanity. I began to realize that maybe the story would sound more interesting told from different perspectives. After many conversations with the different artists on the album I was able to express myself properly along with more impact and content from them, with the same message or sentiment. Personally for me the writing process was always about turning a negative into a positive and being easy on the ear at the same time.
How did you manage to pull together so many global players?
Simple, I paid them extraordinary amounts of hard earned cash! – I’m joking of course – Again, this came totally naturally, through making new friends on various travels, speaking to old friends who live all over the place. It was never a case of sourcing anybody. I think people have been fond of Bah Samba’s music for sometime now, and hopefully sounding humble , I guess it makes it a pleasure for them to be part of something, as much as it is for me to have them a part of something.
Yet…. you describe the music as ‘Balearic blue-eyed soul’ – what do you mean by this… isn’t that pinning things down to something much more specific than the range on the album….
It maybe pinning things down a little, but maybe only when quoted by the media? Balearic Blue Eyed Soul was and is just a little expression I used myself, something that kept me going and to help me change the direction in the sound of Bah Samba a little, I wanted to record something different to the previous records. Besides it does sound Balearic in places and does have a glimpse of blue eyed soul….
Why did you select ‘Here For Now’ as the title cut?
This was easy. The song summarized the whole feeling of the time making the record, it summarized what the album is about, and it summarized me personally.
What kind of sound were you trying to achieve here … it’s very spacey, airy….
Well …Balearic! ….. or at least how I see or hear Balearic. Originally the file name of the musical sketch of this was called ”Marooned but with friends’. I was in the south of Portugal at the time trying to find some peace of mind. I had traveled to the west coast of Portugal around this time to play some music at a club I was invited to. I made some great friends there and one of those people was a young singer called Daniel. I had a few summer parties at my home in the south and Daniel came to one of them where we discussed writing together. We had a listen to some musical ideas I had constructed and ‘Marooned but with friends’ seemed to stand out. We had many conversations about my last 2 years and Daniel’s last 2 years, so lyrically the story was already written. We started to record some vocal’s about 3 or 4 months later and had chatted about the vocal style in depth, I had always envisaged a kind of Hall and Oates , Sting and even a Lionel Richie approach. The ideas bounced backwards and forwards for a considerable length of time. During this time I had returned to the UK to start recording the music for the album in London. I had been listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell at the time and I think this influenced the recording of what had now become ‘Here for Now’. I knew exactly how I wanted this song to sound, and to be honest it is probably the first time I achieved what sound I was after in the history of Bah Samba. Daniel’s voice seemed to just hit the nail on the head.
One of the big tunes is the Bollywood makeover of ‘Let The Drums Speak’… what was the thinking behind this?
We recorded a version of ‘Let The Drums Speak’ with Fatback Band for the album ‘Four ‘. I tend to have a history of using one of the previous album tracks on the next album, it’s just a little thing I like to do if I can decide on a suitable new version. This version came about by some conversations with an artist called Jassur from Uzbekistan. He had written to me in some length about global peace through music so to speak, amongst other subjects. I had been quite prolific at the time via social networks covering many religious, cultural, race and humanitarian issues. Jassur had contacted me as he thought I would be a good listener and he shared my opinions. He later sent me a demo of the track ‘Yor Yor’ which he had used my original version of ‘Let The Drums Speak’. I immediately loved the sentiment behind it and we took it from there to where it is now. The language is actually Turkic, the official language of Uzbekistan. I think what gives it a Bollywood flavour as you say is the Traditional Uzbekistan Guitar, which does sound quite similar to the Sitar. Yor Yor Yoyoray has no English translation, it is from Folk roots, if you use ‘love’ in lyrical content then it creates the link to ‘happiness’.
What do you hope to achieve with the album?
I would like to achieve a broader range of listeners to be fair. There is some great new talent on this album and I have always tried to push new talent where I can, even if I am not that well know or influential myself, I will always try. I would love the opportunity to do some live shows of course … for me the writing to live performance is like a new born baby turning into an adult.
I guess your short-term plans are to promote the set?
Yep. I have a nice team of people behind me right now and feel in a good place.The new album is out now, the first single with an Incognito remix is out now and our first show performing some of the new songs is coming up very soon at The Margate Soul Weekender on August 4. . I am really looking forward to this, it’s been a while! and I have a special guest who is not on the new album but will be coming along to perform alongside us.
What about long-term ambitions and plans?
Simple – Take every new day as it comes