A headline from the U.K. daily The Guardian kind of encapsulates the appeal of Fat Freddy's Drop, wondering - "Could these men be New Zealand's first soul superstars?"
Judging by their recent fabulous studio album "Dr. Boondigga and the Big BW," the answer's a resounding yes.
Various reviewers have drawn comparisons with '70s funk masters the Average White Band and War, and even to soul legends like Bill Withers and Al Green and the classic Memphis sound.
Kerry Brown photo
New Zealand’s Fat Freddy’s Drop will be playing at the MACC’s Castle Theater on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Hisashi Uchida photo
The MACC’s “Solo Sessions” series of intimate musical performances includes Jake Shimabukuro’s “Peace Love Ukulele Concert” on July 15 in the McCoy Studio Theater.
The exquisitely honeyed vocals of lead vocalist Dallas Tamaira inspired a JamBase review to proclaim: "Fat Freddy's Drop is fronted by a voice for the ages. Dallas Tamaira (aka Joe Dukie) is a singer with so much warmth and soul in his voice that he'd captivate you whether he was busking on the corner or crooning intermittent verses amidst a cacophony of horns and techno thumps, as he is on Boondigga's marathon second track, 'Shiverman.' Dukie is the best singer you've never heard of."
Employing classic soul as a foundation of this wonderful seven-piece band (including a trio of Wellington Jazz School-trained horn players) voyages far and wide, from mesmerizing reggae dub and pulsing techno trance, to Afro-pop and way out to cosmic jazz. And it's all based on massive grooves that allow the band to artfully dance around various influences within a song and venture into extended jams when they perform live.
"It's hard to pigeonhole," says FFD's MC Slave (Mark Williams) talking about the group's unique sound. "It's soul music in all its forms, from reggae to dance. There's a soul theme running through everything. So be prepared to be taken on a bit of journey; it's certainly worth the ride."
Besides soul, Jamaica's infectious rhythms from ska through King Tubby-style dub percolate on a number of tracks.
"Reggae music is a big influence and a big part of where we came from," Williams continues. "We're all reggae fans at heart, but our influences are real broad. Everyone has different styles they like. It's funny: We do get described as a reggae band, and we just accept that that's how people want to box us. OK, we'll go in that box, but if you see the band or listen to the band you know it's not as simple as that."
Just as in Hawaii, Bob Marley profoundly influenced the course of music in New Zealand. "The reggae scene was quite underground (in New Zealand) in the mid-'70s: There were pockets of people bringing in records, like friends of my dads, when they first heard about this crazy music," he explains. "Bob Marley came to New Zealand in 1979, and that tipped the scales. A lot of local musicians decided that was the music they wanted to make. It took off from that point. Now it's standard; there's a big reggae scene and lots of reggae fans."
Led by Samoan beat master DJ Fitchie, Fat Freddy's Drop's first studio album, "Based on a True Story," was a phenomenon in their homeland, debuting at No. 1 in 2005; winning Album of the Year; and remaining on New Zealand's Top 40 chart for more than two years.
After conquering their home, they gradually expanded their appeal beyond the Pacific and were embraced by fans across Europe, who relished their unique musical hybrid.
"It's not premeditated; it just sort of happens," Williams explains of their stylistic diversity. "The boys throw a beat around, and different styles and influences come out. We don't go out of our way to make a certain style of music; it's whatever the boys are getting excited about in the studio. And a lot of music is developed live, finding a good groove or beat, and that will get worked out and a song develops over a six-month to year period, and turns from a jam into a proper song."
Sometimes drawing in their songs from the works of Maori authors like Hone Tuwhare and Witi Ihimaera, one of "Dr. Boondigga's" gems, the dubbed-out "The Raft," pays homage to the epic ocean voyages by Aotearoa's ancestors. "It's about the Pacific migration from Hawaii to New Zealand, written from the perspective of someone who's got on a waka (canoe), as they say in Maori, and traveled across the Pacific," he says. "It's about a struggle and hope to find a new place."
One of the album's biggest surprises, the 10-minute "Shiverman," launches the band into blissful techno territory. Stretched out in their live shows, "Shiverman" can ignite a massed audience into a throbbing whirl of motion - as seen in a video on the band's website from a memorable London gig.
"Into the techno, we like to call it," he notes. "That influence comes from Fitchie; he's a bit of a techno fiend influence comes from Fitchie; he's a bit of a techno fiend - he likes the deep house. And our keyboard player, Ian (Gordon), is mad about it also. After all our trips to Europe, some of it started rubbing off."
After developing a cult following in Europe, Fat Freddy's Drop is getting ready to cultivate the American market. "The last six months we've been introducing ourselves a bit to the West Coast audience because it's relatively close to us," he reports. "It's only in the last year that we've actually attempted to come to America. Before it seemed too difficult, like where do we start? It was clear after many requests and the second album that we should pay a visit. It's exciting to come to a new place and get it going. The shows we did in November compared to now, we're playing to double the crowds. Hopefully we can visit the East Coast and New York. We know from feedback on the website: People are dying for us to go there.
"It's a good live show," he continues. "A lot of bands these days are caught in the same format and are very structured. We have a structure, but there's room within the structure; there's the ability to jam, and that's what keeps it interesting for the band and for the fans. It keeps it fresh for everybody. The songs get a workout every night. And I don't think there are many bands in the world that do that much anymore these days. It's a bit of a lost art form."
The band will release two albums this year, a new studio project and a live CD captured at London's historic Roundhouse.
"It was exciting for us to know that people like The Doors and Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix had played there; so many legendary gigs had gone down there," he says. "It's an awesome venue."
Fat Freddy's Drop "Live At Roundhouse World Tour" arrives on Maui on Saturday evening. "We're very excited about coming to Hawaii," he enthuses. "Talking to people, I really get the feeling there's an excitement there. I met the tour manager for Alborosie, and he said all anybody was talking about was Fat Freddy's Drop coming to Hawaii."
* Fat Freddy's Drop plays the MACC's Castle Theater on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 day of show. Tiva & Pacific Vibes and DJ Boomshot will open. There's a dance floor.
The 2010 Maui Invitational Music Festival presents a free "Concert in the Park" prior to the fireworks at Lahaina's annual Fourth of July Celebration on Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m. on the Library lawn.
The celebration features musical performances by the Maui Community Band, jazz group Latitude 21, and singer Sheryl Renee from Colorado. The Maui Community Band will perform holiday favorites and an especially commissioned new work by Carl Strommen, "Fanfare for Festival."
Produced by the Arts Education for Children Group, the Festival also includes a party at the former Oyster Bar at 744 Front St. in Lahaina from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m., with live and DJ music. There is a $10 cover charge.
Coming up at Stella's Supper Club, John Cruz, joined by bassist Hutch Hutchinson, will perform July 9 and 10. Dinner and show $60, and $30 just for the show.
The MACC will begin a "Solo Sessions" series of intimate musical performances in the McCoy Studio Theater on July 15 with Jake Shimabukuro's "Peace Love Ukulele" concert. Jake says, "I'm thrilled about the show's concept, casual and relaxed, just like playing for my mom and dad when I was a little boy."
Acclaimed classical guitarist Ben Verdery will play a concert at St. John's Church in Kula on July 20 at 7 p.m. The program includes music by Bach, Laderman, Strauss and Jimi Hendrix, as well as his own music.
Ben recently premiered a new work for eight guitars at the Boston Guitar Fest. His most recent album, "Branches," features arrangements of works by Bach, Mozart, Strauss, Hendrix ("Purple Haze") and the traditional "Amazing Grace." "It is exceptional and even rare to find an artist who can successfully record so many diverse styles, and each work brilliantly arranged," praised the French magazine Guitare Classique.
Donations are requested at the door to benefit the church.