The French trip hop band collaborates with Indian musicians before their India debut.
As the sound check rolled to an end with Ze Mateo and High Ku giving a taste of what’s to come, it was quite apparent that it was going to be a hell of a show. Add to that a sold-out venue and a frenzied crowd that led to stretching the live set by an hour.
If the French trip hop group Chinese Man doesn’t ring a bell to you, now would be a good time to discover this decade old outfit comprising of DJs Ze Mateo, High Ku and Sly. Strange names for a group of Frenchmen calling themselves the Chinese Man. Wonder what they were on when they cooked up this version of themselves, especially since one of the members has a “High” in his name. But the band prefers it that way.
Says Sly, “We don’t want to put ourselves as individuals in the center of the project. Most important thing is the music. So it was easy for us to invent a character to spread the music.”
That they have a zealous following in India could be attributed to the number of foot soldiers that marched in on Saturday night, the kind of attendance that you may have experienced when a band like Indian Ocean plays at Blue Frog.
The band busted out their chops with a blend of reggae, dub, bass and old school jazz during their gig organized by Gently Altered as a pre-gig for the Lost Party music festival scheduled to happen later this month.
The band’s bio describes Chinese Man as: “One quarter Cantonese, two thirds Manchou, the Chinese Man appears to be from the Wu Tang Mountain, not far from Marseilles, France. In 2004, the Chinese Man (as we affectionately call him) decided to send his disciples around the world to spread the Zen spirit with old music samples and supersonic bass.”
“It was just to create characters and stories. We thought it was richer than just saying we started music in 92 and blah blah blah… And then the whole concept of Zen and stuff like that came a bit later. It’s just the way we do things. We took our time to produce and we grew step by step,” Sly adds. Their hit track “I’ve got that Tune” where they tweaked the vocals from an old vinyl record put them on the map and garnered them millions of hits.
So now that the French and Chinese bit has been established, let’s talk about the Indian connections. Tracks such as “Indi Trip”, “Calling Bombay” and “Eighty y cinco” feature samples of Indian taal and other classical elements. But now they have graduated from experimenting with Indian samples to actually collaborate with some Indian classical musicians during their tour of Mumbai. The band is tightlipped about the project but has guaranteed some Indian collaboration in their next album.
The Indian musicians included flautist Paras Nath, Chirag Katti on sitar, Finix Ramdas on violin while Vieick Rajagopalan handled the mridangam, Kanjira, Tasha,and bols.
“They are really great amazing musicians. Viveick helped us to find good musicians so we are really lucky,” Ze Mateo says.
“They had sampled some ideas and we got some parts played on the tracks they had made,” Rajagopalan says.
The band had in their early stage itself floated their own independent record label to leisurely dish out their EPs and albums as well as for few other bands and rappers associated to them.
Says High Ku, “The idea was to release music that could not be found easily. Finally it was like we’re gonna use every trick we can find in the different music we were playing to take it forward.”
Although Sly exempted himself from playing at Blue Frog, Ze Mateo and High Ku brazenly worked up the crowd with their turntable antics and volcanic grooves of originals and covers ranging from remixes of Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up and The Doors’ “Break On Through”.
After their brief Goa trip, I caught up with the trio backstage before their maiden and only India gig where they talked about coming back to tour the country, collaborations and why this gig was a test.
How’s your first India tripping turning out? Any surprises so far?
Ze Mateo: It’s been super cool. We had three days in Goa to prepare for crazy Mumbai. We just saw a little part of Goa and a little part of Bombay. India is very unique and big.
Sly: We checked on the internet and stuff like that. We communicated with the promoters to know about the music scene here. It was all unknown for us in an unknown country but it was all good surprises. To be honest we didn’t get an opportunity to go to a concert or whatever. But tonight there are other Indian artists playing before us.
You’ve jammed with some of the musicians here. What’s your verdict?
Ze Mateo: They are really really great amazing musicians. Viveck helped us to find good musicians so we are really lucky.
Sly: He chose guys who were used to playing with electronic musicians. Most of them are classical instrument players but they already knew how to play to the electronic beats. It was easy actually. Even the communication wasn’t complicated.
Any chance we’ll hear these collaborations in your next record?
Sly: Yeah, but it’s a secret. Let’s say, for our next project. We don’t even know the release dates. As we are independent we can decide and take time in this project. But it’s going to be released one day.
What’s the story behind the formation of the band?
High Ku: Mateo and Sly were in high school together. I met Mateo when I was around 16; it was AT?? For a show we went together. For 2-3 years we had totally different projects and each one of us got back to normal jobs, studies and stuff like that. Then I started to DJ, Sly was already an electronic producer. We went out like for a weekend with our gear to do music and created two tracks and it was not so bad and we decided to start a vinyl label. In the beginning it was not a band but things worked out.
How did the Indian influence come about in some of your tracks?
Sly: Sometimes we put samples because it matches with our music. Yeah, we experimented to sample Indian music and now we got to really play with Indian musicians. It’s the next step.
With just one gig here, do you have plans of coming back?
Mateo: Yeah, we hope. It was really fast this time.
Sly: Tonight it’s a bit of a kind of test. It will depend on the people’s reaction on whether we’ll be able to come back for a tour.
High Ku: I think we’re really gonna have to come back and play a live show. What we’re doing tonight is DJ set. We’ll play Chinese Man stuff but we’re also going to play different kind of music not produced by us. It’s like half of Chinese Man for me. It’s interesting; it’s cool because people can dance a lot. This maybe a good introduction to our music. But to see the real Chinese Man, the band, I think it’s better live.
Do you guys have any back stage rituals or something?
Sly: When we all play together there’s this habit of huddling together and letting out a big scream before going on stage. It’s the thing we need to do, TO DO a good show. On stage it depends on whether it’s live or DJ set.
By Mohan KK