When Cymande first formed in London during the early 1970s, their music evaded easy categorization. Hits such as “Bra,” “The Message” and “Brothers on the Slide” seemed as conversant in spiritual jazz and rasta reggae as American soul and Nigerian afro-funk. Not surprisingly, the group’s members hailed from across the Afro-Caribbean diaspora but, despite being at the vanguard of an emerging generation of black British musicians, Cymande found little support at home.
Instead, it was American audiences who embraced them when the group toured the U.S. twice in the early and mid-Seventies, playing alongside everyone from crooner Al Green to keyboardist Ramsey Lewis to Afro-Latin rockers Mandrill. However, the indifference of the British music industry eventually led the group to disband in 1974, and it wasn’t until 2014 that co-founders Patrick Patterson and Steve Scipio decided to reform the group, including with man of its original members. Now, 43 years after their last tour of the U.S., Cymande returns for a half-dozen dates beginning with a show in Los Angeles – the group’s first – on June 4th.
When you decided to reform Cymande, was the primary intention to release a new album, 2015’s A Simple Act of Faith, or were you also hoping to begin touring again as well?
Patrick Patterson: The long-term aim was to get to America. We found our first acceptance there, great support, all the time. Even the revival, if you like, through sampling and covers and what-have-you, came from America. It’s a favorite place for us.
You’ve said throughout the years that you always found greater support in the U.S. vs. the U.K. and that seems surprising since many American soul and jazz artists have complained that they’re embraced more in Europe than at home. Yet, for Cymande, it seemed like that was flipped around.
Steve Scipio: Our music was so eclectic. [Producer] John Schroeder had confidence in the band, financed the project and really put us on the road, but we were having difficulty in getting mainstream record companies to look at us seriously because we didn’t fit any of the categories that they were familiar with.
Paterson: That was very much a sign of the times in the United Kingdom music scene in those days. Cymande was focused on doing an original body of music, a mixture of jazz, funk, and all sorts of things, and that was not mainstream music.
When you were first touring the U.S., who were you sharing the bill with?
Paterson: Our first tour, we supported mainly Al Green. Massive venues! It was a fantastic first tour, and in among those gigs, we played with people like Mandrill, Ramsey Lewis, Patti LaBelle and the Blue Bells, Billy Preston. And then, you probably know, we did a week at the Apollo [opening for Jerry Butler in 1973].
How did The Apollo crowd respond to you?
Scipio: The Apollo audience was a very discerning one. I assume they still are. If you did not come up to what they expected, they would let you know.