A group that has been around for just around two years is making a mark on the music scene to bring the best of the French Caribbean to listeners around the world. Sakesho, pronounced sah KAY show, is presenting to audiences the style of beguine music, which is intensely syncopated and polyrhythmic. This style of music has fascinated steelpan drummer Andy Narell, who for many years has always looked at many styles of world beat music. The group combines beguine with calypso beats, Afro-Cuban montunos, jazz harmonies and improvisations that extend the musicianship of the performers.
Narell has been playing the steelpan for quite a while. He says, "I have been playing the pan since I was seven years old. I started doing my own records and had my first solo album in 1979. It's been awhile and I have 15 or 16 albums of all original music. A dozen solo records, two with Sakesho and two with the Caribbean Jazz Project. For me, it's just ongoing. I just keep going as fast as I can developing and keep working on new music. My last album was completely different from Sakesho. I'm alternating discs now. I'm working with two bands now in Paris, Sakesho and the other one is Calypso Session, which is a 30 piece steel band that I compose for."
Sakesho not only features Andy Narell, but musicians from Martinique and Guadeloupe who now all live in Paris. Pianist Mario Canonge from Martinique is a session player and also a bandleader. Bass guitarist Michel Alibo, also from Martinique, is a much in demand player throughout the Paris music scene and is also a composer and founder of the jazz-fusion band Sixun. Jean Philippe Fanfant from Guadeloupe, also works as a session player and plays in the group Canonge.
Even though these musicians all were working in Paris, Andy Narell met his partners in the Caribbean. Narell says, "I met them in Martinique and Guadalupe. My music got popular down there and I started being able to go down there and play pretty regularly. At first, I took my own group and then I started hearing the music down there, and playing more with local musicians and doing different things. And I met these guys and I was so knocked out with them as musicians and as people and we decided to play together. Eventually after a few years of playing sporadically, we decided to make it a band. I also moved to Paris and that was one of the main reasons why I did just to play with them since they also lived in Paris. These are the heaviest musicians coming out of the Caribbean."
Andy Narell says he has always wanted to expand his musical vision. He says, "I keep on trying to move forward and go into new areas and grow musically. This group is very challenging for me. These guys are incredible musicians and they been playing together for a long time, much longer than I have been playing with them. They have an amazing chemistry and an amazing knowledge of music from their part of the world, particularly the French Caribbean music. Part of being in this band has been learning about that kind of music and what they do and being challenged by that all the time."
When Sakesho tours around the United States, Narell says people see a different side of him. He says, "For people who are kind of expecting to hear what I do, they are going to hear something different. They're going to see that I've kind of thrown myself into another situation that where I really have to learn and reinvent my own playing and approach to things and that's what I want. I want to keep growing. People in the United States don't know much about this music yet, but we believe it will happen. Every time we play, we connect with the audience in a powerful way and people can feel the excitement of a band that's trying to push the limits."
When Sakesho goes into the studio to record, there is something different about the process. Andy Narell says, "The concept of the group is that we are a quartet. We don't go in with an idea about production and overdubbing and doing the arrangements after we play. The arrangements are about how we play together. We do a lot of rehearsing to work on these arrangements, which are all group arrangements. It's not one person dictating it. Each guy composes for the group, but we all arrange together."
After a successful self-titled debut release in 2002, Sakesho has released their second CD called We Want You To Say, which wanted to capture the feel of a live performance in the studio. Narell says, "We took what we've been developing on stage into the studio along with nine new tunes and a whole lot of rehearsing. This record, compared to the first one, we all feel really reflects the couple of years of playing concerts that we were doing in between the records that we really grown a lot together as a group. We wanted to bring that into the studio. Stretch out, take chances, go for it. Try to give people a sense of how we play live. I feel real satisfied with the results of this record."
When he composes for Sakesho, Andy Narell says he has a different mind set. "I definitely compose for these people when I write this music. I wrote three tunes for this record and they're written for the group. The first Sakesho record was that way," he says. "It was all written for the group. All the way back to actually my album 'Fire in the Engine Room,' which was before the group Sakesho, but have met Mario, Michel and John Philippe and we started to play together. I wrote three songs for them," he says, "which are on that record. I wasn't living in Paris at the time and I went to Paris to record with them. This is actually my third CD where I have written songs specifically for this group," he says.
With both solo and group successes, Narell feels that he still has a long way to go. He says, "My approach to playing and to composing and recording is every time to go for something that hasn't been done. Especially with the steelpan being my primary instrument, I've kind of just set that in front of myself as a goal and made that my end goal. I just kind of keep on breaking new ground all the time. One luxury I have is coming into steelpan and coming into the door of jazz, there's always been only one percent of what's possible has been tried. It's not like being a saxophone player where you have to go through this incredible amount of literature, which has already been done. Musically there's so much that has been done that I need to study, but in terms of the steelpan and its role in music, it's so unexplored. There's so much unexplored territory that, for me, it's just a lifetime of looking around and imagining what next that hasn't been done. Most of it is still out there to do."
When Sakesho comes to perform, go and see them. You'll find four musicians who have knowledge, heart and the ability to respond to their most important critic, their fans. It is always good to learn to expand musical horizons and Sakesho bring the French Caribbean flavor to jazz.