Artist of the day: Amandla Tunesmith
All week on Soundcheck we’re spotlighting some of the local artists performing at this year’s Tropical Heatwave on Saturday. Today: Amandla Tunesmith.
Amandla Tunesmith have been blasting the bay area with their brand of soukous since 1992.
Soukous — from the French word secousse, meaning to move or shake — is something of a pastiche of rhumba, Cuban, and reggae-esque rhythms; Caribbean consonant color; and an Afro-beat instrumentation similar to much of Paul Simon’s album Graceland. The music is traditionally sung in the African languages of Lingala and Swahili.
Drummer John Walman moved to the bay area from Hawaii, where he had previously performed in a world beat group called the Pagan Babies. Noting his group received the most positive response when playing the rhythm-driven African soukous, he decided capitalize on this concept. Itching to play again, he posted ads in a local paper, searching for local musicians. Guitarist Desi Saludes heeded that call, and the initial seeds of Amandla Tunesmith were sewn. Singer Zakayo Mutsache, a native of Kenya, soon followed suit at the suggestion of John Dubrule, host of WMNF’s now defunct Sound Safari program.
They started off playing gigs at local tropical venues like Skipper’s Smokehouse and The Lemon Coast Grill in Sarasota. Having been taken under the wings of local ska outfit Magadog, coupled with exposure and promotion via Dubrule’s raido show, they quickly gathered a strong following. Their popularity led to them being requested to play at many festivals, events, and weddings. After a short time, they were playing all over Florida, and opening for such acts as Burning Spear, The Refugee All-Stars, Steel Pulse, and soukous artists Tabu Ley and Franco.
Since then, the local soukous enthusiasm has settled down, and Amandla Tunesmith’s musical output has become less frequent. Over the years, the band has gone through many permutations, with the current line-up being: Zakayo Mutsache, vocals; Vincent Sims, guitar and vocals; Saludes, guitar and vocals; Sylvester Bryant, bass and vocals; Ed Pagliuso, percussion; Walman, drums; and the occasional assistance of Cheryl Barnett on vocals.
On Saturday, they’ll be playing WMNF’s Tropical Heatwave, in the Cuban Club Ballroom. Local act Big Night Out members Bruce Glasberg (trombone) and Keith Green (trumpet) will assist them, along with Malinese master percussionist Baye Kouyate sitting in on percussion. With this gig, they’re hoping to rekindle a soukous revival. In the future, they anticipate playing more gigs, heavily promoting themselves, and reminding the masses that soukous is alive again.
Having played Tropical Heatwave three times previously, Amandla Tunesmith should feel right at home on Saturday night.
-- Aaron Lepley, tbt*