British funk group Cymande have officially reformed after splitting more than five decades ago. Finding their success one muggy summer in the early 1970s, the group went on to bag overnight recognition, concocting an eclectic mix of funk, soul, reggae, rock, African music, calypso, and jazz which they dubbed ‘nyah-rock’, a genre that appealed to a variety of music fans from different backgrounds, and shaped an entire nation. The group released three albums before making the decision to part ways in 1974, just less than three years after they had formed, but with a European and Australian tour just around the corner, it’s safe to say that Cymande’s journey is far from over yet.
Original members Steve Scipio (bass) and Patrick Patterson (guitar) had previously jammed together in the jazz fusion group Metre. The love affair with music began when Scipio had followed his family as a young boy from Guyana to Balham in South London in 1963, soon befriending Patterson who at the time was developing a real passion for rock music. Scipio, however, was a jazz lover, and took up bass. Before they knew it, they were enlisting other members to join them on their quest to tackle the British jazz circuit.
After a series of gigs at universities and working man’s clubs in the north, the dream had seemingly been snuffed out after drummer Phil Gibbs upped sticks and moved to Australia, pushing the duo to find a more permanent home – this time, at the prestigious Ronnie Scott’s in Soho. The pair were discovered by British R&B singer John Schroeder after he had stumbled upon them upstairs during rehearsals. Schroeder decided to take them under his wing, recording some of their demos and convincing Janus Records to sign them.
Cymande’s name derives from the calypso word for ‘dove’, which also shares the same name and lies in duality with one of their more known tracks, which followed their first single ‘The Message’. Once released into the ether, the group quickly began to make a name for themselves across the pond, with the song charting in the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B charts in the United States – a quasi-jazz-funk groove with hints of reggae that captured their essence perfectly. This quickly extended into invitations to tour with iconic American acts such as Al Green, funk-rock band Mandrill and jazz musician Ramsey Lewis.
Despite all of the buzz surrounding them, disagreements on style began to creep to the surface. Original lead singer Ray King’s departure pushed him to guide other artists on their journeys to success, including the formation of The Specials, and inevitably led him to be replaced by Joey Dee.
With a mixed Afro-Caribbean heritage, there was a real sense of community, with sometimes up to eight or nine members of the group interchangeably. Boasting a rich cultural identity and symbiotic relationship, the group were able to explore their sound a little deeper. ‘Brothers On The Slide’ was then born, and the group began to take over. Unbeknownst to them, Cymande had become the soundtrack to summer outings in the park, sticky basement jams and nightclubs throughout New York. By the turn of the 90s, their sound had grown particularly popular during the dawn of the hip-hop and house scene and had spread across numerous genres, with musicians like the Fugees and Wu-Tang Clan scrambling to sample them. Flattered by the recognition from different artists, the group have been promoting a specially curated Spotify playlist that includes all of the songs that have sampled their music.
Fast-forward to 2024, Cymande have embraced the digital age with open arms, taking to Instagram to announce their 2024 European and Australian tour, as well as a performance at O2 Shepherd’s Bush in London on April 20. The group said: “Our April show at @abconcerts in Brussels is now SOLD OUT. Thank you all very much. It’s been thrilling to see the excitement from all of you around this tour. Tickets are moving very quickly for Amsterdam and London so don’t miss out!”
The first page in a remarkable new chapter, the band have also unveiled the upcoming release of their own documentary Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande which was first launched at film festivals in 2022. Directed by Tim Mackenzie-Smith, the documentary is said to tell the ultimate musical survival story, transporting you from 70s Brixton to 90s New York to a present revival decades later.
Showcasing their legacy, influence and cult following throughout the ages, it will also feature interviews with Mark Ronson, Laura Lee and Mark Speer (Khruangbin), DJ Maseo (De La Soul), Jazzie B (Soul II Soul), Cut Chemist, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Louie Vega and Kool DJ Red Alert.
Getting It Back will touch down in UK and Irish cinemas on February 16 2024, with tickets available to pre-book now. The film will be screened in select theatres, including BFI (Southbank), Bertha DocHouse, Ritzy, Ealing Picturehouse, Picturehouse FACT, Hackney Picturehouse, Picturehouse Central, West Norwood Picturehouse, and many more to come.
Sharing their excitement surrounding the film’s premiere, the band commented: “We are thrilled to announce that Getting It Back: The Story Of Cymande will premiere at @britishfilminstitute Southbank in London on February 13th! That event will feature a Q&A and an after party as well...Come celebrate with us!”
An inspiration to musicians around the globe, Cymande’s discography has clearly stood the test of time, and with bands like Ezra Collective being crowned Mercury Prize winners, it appears there is a welcomed return of jazz and funk to the UK soundscape. Voiced in a statement posted on their official website, the band are said to be “currently working on new music to be released later in 2024.” You can listen to and browse through Cymande’s musical history here.