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Steppin' Into The Screen | Cymande

Updated: May 6, 2022

The band gathered together at a time of political unrest, audiences were not only racist in their beliefs but also within their own musical taste...

The European preview of Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande will be on May 12th at Melkweg, Amsterdam. Tickets are available here.

Getting It Back taps, beats, drums and tells the Cymande story of integration as immigrants and how racism affected the success of the band. In this film we see a rise, a fall and then a complete resurrection equipped with an ironic twist. Cymande’s sound spanned many genres, attempting to unite audiences across the world and very much succeeded decades later.

To understand Cymande, you need to hear about the immigrant experience. All the members from Cymande were second-generation immigrants, hit wholeheartedly by the racist backlash of UK Nationalists. We see footage from the early 60s of beautiful West Indie people in Panama straw hats and suitcases, hopping on to the foggy UK shores. Their parents were filled with a dream for opportunity, yet they were greeted with ignorance and bigotry instead. Drummer, Sam Kelly, reflects on how his father was an experienced baker and yet they refused to hire him as “they didn’t want a black man’s hands in their dough”. We see faded footage of woollen clad racists with ignorant fear in their faces, spilling hate across the news.

The band gathered together at a time of political unrest, audiences were not only racist in their beliefs but also within their own musical taste, Percussionist Pablo Gonsales gazes out as if he’s back where it all began “There was a barrier against black music”. Cymande’s sound was far beyond its time and an absolute fruit salad blend of rock, African rhythms, soul, funk, psychedelica, Caribbean calypso and jazz. To blend all these sounds felt like the catalyst to bring peace and love together amongst the contrasting communities but the blockade was as forceful as a copper's truncheon. The film flickers 1960's footage from a political Q and A “In the same way that the Englishman believed that he had the right to go out and civilise Africa, I believe that we are here to teach you again how to be human”.

With the unnecessary bitterness of the UK’s music taste, Cymande had no choice but to share their self-titled album with the US, and once it landed there, it skyrocketed right to the top 10 national charts. They were given a plethora of opportunities like touring with Al Green (at the peak of his career) and playing out to thousands of people. Interviews with legends like Nicky Siano, Louie Vega, Jazzy Jay and members of De La Soul unveils a quintessential appreciation that Cymande so rightly deserved.

Returning to the UK after touring, life for Cymande was not so fruitful and Craig Charles (UK Radio DJ and Actor) disappointingly sums it up “It feels as though no one was really listening. To me, they were the British Black super group that never happened”. Their expectations were utterly dashed and financially they couldn’t survive which led to the group going their separate ways in 1974. It wasn’t until the late 1980s where DJ’s like Norman Jay and Jazzie B brought back the rare groove sound to UK radio and dance floors across the nation and Cymande was at the top of their list.

“They were the first band to come along that tapped all my cultural buttons. The music isn’t frivolous, it’s not throw-away, it’s thought out, it provokes a reaction, it’s challenging, it confronts you and it makes you dance” - Norman Jay.

Thanks to these curious British DJs and with a cheeky sampling step-up from artists like Wu-Tang Clan, MC Solaar, The Fugees and The Coup, Cymande rose from the ashes of the unsung heroes and into pivotal prominence across the globe. We see a delightfully chaotic montage of people from YouTube dancing, singing, covering, driving, skiing and even weight lifting to Cymande tracks. These 70-something-year-old band members were flabbergasted by how their sonic sound had spread so far and to such an array of people. “It’s very non-polarising, very pleasing, very inclusive. Very for-everybody-music.” says Laura Lee (Khruangbin). By this point (2006), naturally, the band decided to reform, I mean, wouldn’t you?

What is fascinating is that after so much bigotry, ignorance, racism and hate, such an enormous part of their fan base are white people from the UK. The film even shows a recent concert where ironically the crowd is a sea of predominantly white men, which is an interesting twist to the hardship beginnings of this seminal band.

I'm rating this film on the condition board as Near Mint (see below for the legend). Cymande shows us that the limitlessness of sound is possible, that infinite appreciation of music can happen no matter what decade it may be, and that no matter what political barriers stood in their way, they defied them.

Ps. We have a special surprise for you during the screening, better be on time. ;)


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