Soundtrack: Esperanza Spalding

The Grammy-award winning bassist, cellist and singer recalls how a cult album by New York Duo Cibo Matto helped shape her music career

Photo – Tawni Bannister
Photo – Tawni Bannister

When I was a teenager, my family didnt have a car so Id have to get everywhere by public transport. The Discman had just become a phenomenon, and I had mine on me wherever I went – for the walk to the bus stop and the journey onwards.

At about 15, I stopped playing classical violin and started playing bass. It was a very transformative age for me. It was also the first time I heard Cibo Mattos Stereo Type Athat record completely changed my life. Its playing in my head now… It takes me back to field trips and trying to avoid other people so I could just be in my own space. Or to being alone in my room. Or to all that time spent on the bus.

But even more, it takes me back to how I felt living in the world at that time. I thought I was really bad-ass. Walking down the street, Stereo Type A was my soundtrack to Portland. Everything looked cinematic and beautiful with it playing. The way the light came through the half-overcast sky on to the damp sidewalks. It made me think this world is my fucking oyster and Im going to crack it.

At that age, I had this compulsive enthusiasm about what I was going to make of my life. I thought I was so smart and cool and it was only a matter of time before everyone else figured it out. As soon as I got to school, though, I didnt feel that great. I was very insecure as a teenager.

But the fact that Stereo Type A was so beautiful, so sophisticated, and so bad-ass, and that I got it, that I liked it, to me meant that I also had to be sophisticated, cool and bad-ass. That I could even perceive how amazing it was meant that I must have shared those qualities.

That album influenced me two ways. First, it sounded so different to Viva La Woman. It was the first time I realised that bands and artists could sound completely different, album to album. That was part of my initial fascination: how can the same people make something that sounds so very different? I try to have that eclectic, unafraid approach with what I do. Ill do a hundred different things and theyll all sound different, Cibo Matto gave me that.

Also, its got that fuck itquality. That attitude of this is what Im hearing, this is what Im interested in, this is what I have to say. Fuck it, Im going to do it and make it great. Thats the fundamental energy I received from Cibo Matto. That approach to work to refine, to tweak, to edit it and to not stop until its right. There are moments that we all go fuck it, I hear this and Im going to keep on working on it in its lyrics, in its production, in its melodies… it sounds satisfying and completely beautiful.’

This article is taken from PORT issue 19, out now.

Words Esperanza Spalding


Soundtrack: Taylor McFerrin

Following his performance at Drambuie’s penultimate Brass and Crimson session, the music producer and keyboardist recalls discovering a life-changing album while searching through records owned by his father, Bobby McFerrin

Taylor McFerrin performing at Dramuie's Brass and Crimson session in Oct 2016, at Hoxton Hall, London.
Taylor McFerrin performing at Dramuie’s Brass and Crimson session in Oct 2016, at Hoxton Hall, London.

I grew up in San Francisco and, like most kids, I was into hip-hop. I remember listening to Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 chambers and Outkast’s first record Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. It was weird because I was more attracted to east-coast hip-hop even though I was on the west coast…

I was pretty young when Snoop Dogg’s first solo record, Doggy Style, came out and, of course, my friends and I wanted to listen it. It got so popular that there were conferences at my school about letting parents know what this music was about. My dad was not into it at all. He didn’t want me to listen that kind of stuff, and, before I was able to fully get into hip-hop, he threw away all of my records. But the outcome of that, was that I started to look into my parent’s CD collection for the first time, and that’s when I discovered Stevie Wonder’s early solo work.

Fulfillingness’ First Finale was the first album I borrowed from them, because I was like ‘oh this looks interesting’. Then I just played it over and over on the way to school, which was at least a one-hour bus ride in the morning. It was the perfect amount of time to listen to a whole album, and I was in this kind of barely-awake, headphones-on state, which is one of the best times of listening to music, because it’s almost like you’re in a dream and the music is the whole soundtrack to your dream.

That was when I got into the sounds from that era, the Moog analogue synthesiser, and non-real instrumentation; that’s just the sound that I’ve always loved, to this day. That whole album opened me up to that era. ‘Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away’ is a song that you don’t really hear on any classic soul station – lyrically and musically, that song is probably my favourite from that record.

I remember I had a gig in Jakarta Jazz Festival in Indonesia and Stevie was part of the lineup. All of the artists were staying at the same hotel and when I was outside waiting for the van to take me to the venue, he came out with his entourage. He was standing basically right next to me and I was totally freaking out. It literally felt like I was around an angel. I wanted to say something to him, but at the same time it was just enough to be around him.

Soundtrack: Oliver Spencer

Exclusive image of Singer/Songwriter Seye Adelekan, from Oliver Spencer's AW16 campaign
Exclusive image of Singer/Songwriter Seye Adelekan, from Oliver Spencer’s AW16 campaign

Menswear designer Oliver Spencer reflects on the enduring influence of Talking Heads’ breakthrough album 

The album that has influenced me throughout my entire life has been Talking Heads’ ‘Speaking in Tongues’. I think I was introduced to their music at school; the first time I ever listened to them was ‘Psycho Killer’. From then I watched David Byrne do this amazing concert where he deconstructs and reconstructs a living room on stage. I just think at the time he was doing music that was so far and away, so forward in its sound and its theatrics compared to the time in which we were living. Even if you were to launch an album like that right now, it would just be a phenomenal thing – I really believe it’s an album without boundaries.

Oliver Spencer portrait
Oliver Spencer

I always think being a musician is quite a luxury, because you can take two years to do an album. Being a designer you have to do two collections a year minimum, so we’re just constantly creating and producing. I must say, sometimes I’d like to have more time and not to be on the treadmill, but in a lot of ways I enjoy the schedule. I’m that type of person that needs to be busy, so I’m not sure I’ll be good with myself taking so long over one thing.

Oliver Spencer’s AW16 collection is available online now

Soundtrack: Madness (Lee Thompson)

Saxophonist and founder of the English ska band Madness Lee Thompson remembers a personal introduction to the second album by dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson

Lee Thompson
Lee Thompson

By 1979, Linton Kwesi Johnson had written and produced his second, eight-track album, Forces of Victory, in his mid-20s. He took me out one night – not just out, but ‘out-out’ – after I had just returned from an American tour with bags of Converse, Levi’s and Flip ’50s clobber. At the time, the latest accessory was the Sony Walkman: a cassette player that you could carry around with you; a stereo system in a matchbox, heaven on-the-go. Forces of Victory slid into the compartment, the sliders went up to 11, jazz woodbines in my top pocket, and a compass set southward with a pushbike to get me in the groove.

I had caught Linton supporting Ian Dury and the Blockheads in town. Linton never had a band with him, just some blokes either side vocally backing him, with a sound system. I couldn’t make out his lyrics, so when I pressed play, this album spun my nut. The mix of this record – by guitarist, bass player and record producer Dennis Bovell – was, to me, something else…It was groundbreaking, up there with David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Lee Scratch Perry’s Return Of Django. So much so, that I put Dennis forward to work on a Madness album many years later. Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell supplied horns that tied together and fired off penetrating brass in all directions. Later that year, I was fortunate enough to jump up with Rico and Dick on the 2Tone tour: Scotty had Beamed Me Up!

The Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra will play at the 100 Club, London, on 25 Aug 2016 to launch ‘Bite the Bullet’

Soundtrack: Soweto Kinch

We travel to Drambuie’s ‘Brass and Crimson’ session at Edinburgh Jazz Festival to meet saxophonist and MC Soweto Kinch, who reveals the tracks that influenced him while growing up in the West Midlands

Soweto Kinch performs at Drambuie's Brass and Crimson sessions, as part of Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016
Soweto Kinch performs at Drambuie’s Brass and Crimson sessions, as part of Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016

I can’t tell you one song alone that got me into music – it was always a combination. But I’d say with jazz, one of the first songs I learned to play was ‘St Thomas’ by Sonny Rollins from his Saxaphone Colossus record. It was around the point where I got the jazz bug; it was important for me.

I’d say hip-hop wise, maybe something by Das EFX. I remember it was ’94, or perhaps ’93 when I first heard their rhyming come through. All I wanted to do was emulate their multisyllabic style of hip-hop. I’ve been involved with both artforms from the same time, which is nearly 25 years ago now…ever since I started recording albums, I started combining hip-hop and jazz. And since 2001, I’ve been driving towards a more personal melding of the two forms.

I grew up in Birmingham, UK, and moved here when I was nine years old. Artistically and culturally, I really cut my teeth there and  started to love everything I’m doing now; it’s a diverse and vibrant music scene here.

There’s really two Birminghams for me, which is probably the same in lots of cities: there’s the mainstream culture that you can see when you walk down Broad Street, the high street, the club culture, all the fancy shopping, etc. ; and then there’s this other hidden network of interesting communities that have retained some of their immigrant culture and blended it with Birmingham. You’ve got the city’s Conservatoire, with music students and lots of jamming in the city centre, and then you’ve got pockets of reggae culture in Handsworth, as well as Punjabi culture. It’s an exciting place to be creative.

Soweto Kinch 2

There’s lots of times when hip-hop and jazz overlap – they’re not the same form of music, but they definitely have a common origin. At the time I was getting into jazz, the hip-hop artists were sampling a lot of great jazz records, like Low End Theory, the second album from A Tribe Called Quest, which featured Ron Carter.

I’ve always seen the connection between the two art forms, and endeavoured to make myself the most authentic MC I can be as well as the most authentic jazz musician.

The next Drambuie Brass and Crimson session is on 10 Aug in Bristol. Soweto Kinch’s free festival ‘The Fly Over’ will take place in Birmingham, UK on 20 August 2016.

Soundtrack: David Adjaye

Celebrated British architect, David Adjaye OBE, shares the classic songs that soundtracked his childhood

Photo: Ed Reeve
David Adjaye – Photo: Ed Reeve

One of the first songs I remember hearing and enjoying was ‘Ghana Freedom’ by E.T. Mensah. It expressed all the energy of that moment, with Ghana becoming a free country, referencing military bands, churches and the general euphoria of independence. Later on, Message in a Bottle by The Police became the first record I ever bought. We were living in north London by then and it came out on my birthday, 21st September 1979. It was a collision with a new culture; the song resonated with all the influences that attracted me at the time really spoke about the diversity of London.

My parents introduced us to music, with tracks like ‘Ghana Freedom’ and then later I remember ‘Sweet Mother’ by Prince Nico Mbarga, for example. My family had moved to Saudi Arabia, which felt like a very closed place. We became transfixed by the story of “death of a princess”, which was highly topical at the time… The song was an ode to remembering. It symbolised our gaze back to Ghana and the sentimentality of the positive vibe of independence that we carried with us.

Dialogues by David Adjaye and his brother Peter Adjaye, is out now via The Vinyl Factory

Soundtrack: Michael Kiwanuka

British soul musician Michael Kiwanuka on the risk-taking Funkadelic record that inspired his new album


A record that really influenced me creatively for my new album Love & Hate was Maggot Brain by Funkadelic. I knew I wanted to do more of a soul album than a ‘folky’ album, so I was listening to a lot of bands and artists that weren’t straightforward. Funkadelic were a kind of psychedelic-soul-rock band – they had their own sound and it didn’t really fit into any boxes. I remember re-listening to Maggot Brain around the time I was recording Love & Hate and being influenced by just how adventurous and courageous they were with the length of their songs, their lyrics, and the sound of the record, so I thought ‘that’s the way I should be adventurous with my own music’.

The first track on the album, which is the title track, is a 10-minute opener; on Love & Hate I have a 10-minute opener. I realised that it can be a good thing for songs to be just instrumental or to have long sections without lyrics or vocals. Listening to that happen on Maggot Brain was something that really spoke to me and inspired me to be that bold.

funkadelic maggot brain feature
© Funkadelic, Maggot Brain, Westbound Records

Funkadelic’s guitar player, Eddie Hazel, was hugely influential for me as I learned how to put my love of guitar into my own music. The emotion in Eddie’s guitar playing is insane… I’ve realised that you can get the same emotion that you get via lyrics into a conventional song through just guitar playing, so I tried to get the same phase guitar sounds as him. He also successfully managed to bring rock ‘n’roll into soul – that’s something that has really influenced me.

Overall, it’s the experimentation, the adventure, the emotion, the childishness, and the psychedelia, that’s so great about Maggot Brain. All of that really helped me find another sound and get to another place in my own music, so I pretty much owe that progression to Funkadelic.

Michael Kiwunaka’s album Love and Hate out on Polydor Records 15 July 2016

Soundtrack: Barney Ales (Motown)

Ex-Motown president Barney Ales remembers the making of Marvin Gaye’s seminal 1971 album What’s Going On

Marvin Gaye’s music moved me from the day I joined Motown Records in 1961. So did the man. He lacked confidence then, but not talent. In those days, he wanted to be Nat “King” Cole. I remember watching him at Bimbo’s, a nightclub in San Francisco, all fitted out in a white tuxedo, singing ballads. The audience didn’t really want another Nat Cole, and I think the gig contributed to Marvin’s lifelong stage fright.

His subsequent success in the 1960s gave Marvin confidence. Whats Going On was his masterpiece, although it didn’t come easily. I was Motown’s general manager by 1970, and we needed new music from him. But Marvin worked at his own pace, reshaping and remixing the song which eventually was the album’s title track. On first hearing, we weren’t sure. Motown wasn’t known for protest songs. It certainly wasn’t the Marvin of ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’.

I remember a meeting with Berry Gordy in Los Angeles, and he was complaining about Marvin being up in the mountains, talking to God, not finishing his album. By the start of ’71, we had nothing new, so I got together with our quality control head, Billie Jean Brown, and we decided to release ‘What’s Going On’ as a single. That’s all we had.

I was in Detroit when Berry called and said, “How could you release that record? It’s the worst I’ve ever heard.” But it exploded – we couldn’t keep up with the orders. Marvin had captured the mood of the time. When he delivered the album and we shipped it in May, the same thing happened. It went Top 10 in the pop charts in five weeks, which in those days was amazing.

If you listen to the party voices at the beginning of ‘What’s Going On’, you’ll hear a couple of football players from the Detroit Lions. We all used to love the Lions and I had season tickets. Marvin had become buddies with some of them; he wanted to be on the team. That was never going to happen, but I remember a few of us playing football at a Motown summer picnic. Phil Jones and I were the linebackers to stop Marvin, but as big as we were, we couldn’t. The next day, Phil and I had to fly to Europe, and we were all beaten up and bruised. That was Marvin – tough, stubborn, determined. A lion in his own way.

Motown: The Sound of Young America by Adam White with Barney Ales is published by Thames & Hudson, £39.95

This article is taken from PORT issue 18. Click here to buy single copies or to subscribe.

Soundtrack: Morcheeba (Ross Godfrey)

Morcheeba founder member and multi-instrumentalist Ross Godfrey reveals how Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Electric Ladyland’ helped shape his career

Morcheeba members Skye Edwards (left) and Ross Godfrey (right)
Morcheeba members Skye Edwards (left) and Ross Godfrey (right)

My dad had a great record collection and by the time I was 12 years old I was already working my way through it. On weekend visits, I ‘liberated’ the records I really wanted to take home… I was a bit slow getting to the Jimi Hendrix albums as I had traumatic memories of my dad, who, one night, scared the life out of me by blasting a terribly recorded live tune called Woke Up This Morning and Found Myself Dead at crazy volumes and drunkenly yelled “You’ll get it one day!”

He was right, but it wasn’t until I started playing the guitar myself that I began to appreciate what the hell that noise was all about. Plus the cover art made Jimi look like a demented drug-addled weirdo, which I found a bit intimidating at that age.

I had started to play basic rock ‘n’ roll stuff on the guitar and I was really getting into Chuck Berry when I stumbled across a recording of Hendrix playing Johnny B. Goode live at Berkley. It was like discovering alien life on another planet; it freaked me out! As soon as I could, I permanently ‘borrowed’ Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold as Love and Electric Ladyland from my dad. I rushed home and listened to them in the order they were recorded. From the first creeping feedback intro of Foxy Lady, I knew my world had changed.

By the time I got to the self-produced Electric Ladyland I was floored. It was less constrained and much deeper and heavier. The cover, featuring a bunch of naked ladies, was interesting for me at that age too… There was so much going on in the music: delta blues, free jazz, The Impressions-type soul, rock, pop and spaced-out freeform psychedelia. The album stayed as my favourite throughout my teens and the first time I listened to it on acid was when I truly understood the power of it.

Quite simply, 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) is the best piece of recorded music ever. It pretty much fills up a whole side of the vinyl and takes you on a journey under the sea and through Jimi’s imagination. I love the shorter pop hits too: Crosstown Traffic and its funny, fuzzy breakbeat funk; All Along The Watchtower, which is probably the best cover version ever; and of course Voodoo Child (Slight Return), which is Jimi doing his thing – being the best electric guitar player there ever was.

Electric Ladyland has had the biggest influence on me as a guitar player, producer and songwriter, and will stay with me as my companion through life until the day I die. It still sounds fresh and I don’t think anybody will ever make a better record.

Skye & Ross will be playing Love Supreme on July 2 2016. Their new album, ‘Skye & Ross’, will be released September 2nd 2016.

Soundtrack: Chris Watson

Sound recorder Chris Watson writes exclusively for PORT about the European composer that inspired his latest work, The Town Moor: A Portrait in Sound

Chris Watson at Lindisfarne
Chris Watson at Lindisfarne

The work of French composer Pierre Schaeffer, and in particular his idea of musique concrète, is what really got me interested in working creatively with sound. It goes right back to when I was a teenager and it has really come to shape my work.

Schaeffer was working in French radio in the 1940s and famously made a piece called Etudes aux Chemins de Fer, which he recorded in a railway station in Paris. His concept of musique concrète is clearly visible in my Town Moor piece where we recorded everything that happened on this vast area of common land over a year.

At the moment, there’s a large fair being installed on the Moor and thousands of people will converge for the rides. Then there’s lot of public sporting activities and the Newcastle University Engineering Society flying experimental drones. It’s also full of wildlife: birds, foxes, bats and insects all live on the common and they’re always there – even when it’s quiet, in the middle of the night or in the middle of winter, you can still hear the wildlife.

Schaeffer’s Etude aux Chemin de Fer got me interested in the idea of using sound recording devices as creative tools, as recording instruments. In this project, I wanted to use the tape recorder as he did then, as a musical instrument, as a way of enabling you to shape recordings into musical compositions.

Interviewed Cécile Fischer

Opening 21 June 2016 at Tyneside Cinema, Chris Watson’s The Town Moor: A Portrait in Sound, is an acoustic picture of the Town Moor – a vast ancient common located in the centre of Newcastle – produced in collaboration with BBC Newcastle.