Brand New Heavies still going strong, performs in Cape Town

Yazeed Kamaldien

The Brand New Heavies have been performing their brand of acid jazz music for three decades, and this weekend they were still at it.

When they sat down for this interview on Saturday afternoon, it was put to them that it seems quite an achievement to still be relevant after all this time.

They had just landed from London and Oslo, and were scheduled to perform at yesterday’s Delicious Festival in Green Point.

Brand New Heavies members Dawn Joseph (left) and Simon Bartholomew (centre) clown about while band mate Jan Kincaid takes it easy. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

Brand New Heavies members Dawn Joseph (left) and Simon Bartholomew (centre) clown about while band mate Jan Kincaid takes it easy. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

Founding band members Jan Kincaid and Simon Bartholomew offered an explanation on how they’ve managed to maintain success in the fickle music industry, since first starting out as a band called Brother International in 1985.

“It all depends how you started out. Our sound has always had a much wider sound and broader scope to it,” says Kincaid.

Bartholomew adds jokingly: “There’s depth in the music and lyrics. There are deep, hidden meanings.”

Kincaid then sums it up in a more serious tone.

“Our music has a timeless vibe to it. We’re not making pop music that changes every week or month. We’re making songs, rather than club tunes,” he says.

“That’s what we’ve always done. When we first started making music, we were influenced by classic sounds. We’re doing the same thing we’ve always done.”

The band launched a new album, Sweet Freaks, in October. It offers 45 minutes of their brand of acid jazz, funk and soul music.

Vocalist Dawn Joseph, who signed with the band in October 2013, says she wanted to leave her fingerprints on Sweet Freaks.

“It’s going to have a different twist on it because I’m putting my stamp and influence on it,” she says.

“I hope it’s true to what the Heavies fans love and expect. I hope it encourages new fans to listen to it as well, and like it.

“But ultimately, every record they make is always going to sound like a Brand New Heavies record. I guess it’s slightly influenced by whatever vocalist they work with.”

Bartholomew says the new album is not trying to copycat any particular sound, although some reviewers have categorised it as a 1970s tribute.

“We avoid trying to sound like the old 70s. We are trying to make new footprints in the fresh snow. We are not trying to be retro,” says Bartholomew.

Joseph adds: “We are not trying to be anything specific. It just happens. You would probably notice if we tried to do something specific, it just wouldn’t work.”

Every band in the world claims to not sound like every other band in the world. And they will defend their sound for not copying anything else that has ever been recorded.

Kincaid, from behind dark sunglasses that are not removed from his face throughout this interview, says they “just really do what we do”.

“We have played together for a long time and we have a sound. When we start recording, things happen organically. We don’t force it,” he says.

“It just happens. If we do something and we like it, we use it. That’s the only criteria. We have faith in the music we make. We don’t guess what audiences want. Fans follow us anyway.

“We don’t look at what’s on the charts. We have always had a life outside of that. That’s a blessing because it means we are freer to do what we want.”

While the band has had three mainstay members, namely Kincaid, Bartholomew and Andrew Levy, it has over the years worked with various vocalists.

Bartholomew remembers that when they started out “we didn’t have a vocalist”.

“Dawn has come in (recently). If she’s a glove, we’re a hand. It’s a good match and a good fit. I’ve said for a while now, Dawn is a gift for the Brand New Heavies,” he says.

Kincaid says the question of their rotating lead singer – there have been other former band members too – is “always something that comes up”.

“We came across different singers. I guess it’s been quite organic. People have stayed as long as they’ve wanted to stay,” he says.

“We adapt what we do into that.”

Joseph has added a funky front to the band’s live performances.

At last year’s Cape Town International Jazz Festival she appeared on stage in a flashy costume and hat that screamed ‘look at me immediately’.

Joseph also wears the hat in the cover picture for Sweet Freaks.

“The hat is from a fancy dress shop in Singapore. When I get to Singapore I drop my bags and head straight to that shop. It’s like Aladdin’s cave for me. I try loads of things on,” she says.

“I just saw it (the hat) and had never seen anything like it. I had never seen anybody else in it. It sums me up.”

Joseph says the hat also transforms her somewhat on stage.

“There’s the whole thing of putting the hat on and the outfit and then walking out on to the stage. You’re an actor almost,” she says.

“Every performer is an actor. You have to take yourself out of your normality and became an exaggerated personality.”

The band agrees after all these years they still get a kick out of entertaining audiences.

Bartholomew says “it’s good to put on a bit of a show”.

Joseph adds: “We just want people to forget their stress and problems. We want to entertain them.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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