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Mattafix

Mattafix

Mattafix are back. After an extraordinary 18 months that saw the duo
tour the world (30 countries and counting), sell records everywhere
from South Africa to Australia to the Eastern Bloc and back and score
a Europe-wide chart-topper with classic debut single proper Big City
Life, theyve headed back to the studio and are ready to unveil the
follow up to 2005s Signs Of A Struggle called Rhythm And Hymns.

Our sound has moved on, says Marlon Roudette. Weve kept the
positive element from the first record, that laid-back sound. But
touring is a great opportunity to see what rhythms affect people. Your
sound starts to evolve in a different way.

Music has always been a great force for pulling people together,
says musical partner Preetesh Hirji. Whether through hardship or
celebration, music is a uniting force for good. Thats whats so great
about having our music accepted everywhere. One of the best things you
can do for anyone is make them smile.

Its an appropriately Mattafix kind of message. Formed by the
apparently disparate forces of a steel-pan playing virtuoso from the
West Indian island of St Vincent (Marlon) and an unashamed computer
geek of Indian/ Harrow Road heritage (Pree), the band has always stood
for bringing people together, preaching a positive message and showing
everyone a good time. Their name, lest we forget, is an evolution of
the St Vincent take on the popular Caribbean expression No problem
Matter fixed.

Theres a quiet confidence with this album, explains Marlon. With
the first album we knew we had something special, but our songwriting
on the new album is unique.

Going to 30 different countries does change you, adds Pree. It
makes you grow. But in other ways were still the same people. Its
what links us together: were still two cool guys.

Indeed, Mattafix have pulled off that uncommon trick of crafting a
new set of songs thats a bold step onwards and upwards, while still
being instantly recognisable as the work of the same band (Thats
Marlons unique voice, observes Pree. Hes a very good singer).

So listeners will immediately recognise classic songwriting that
brings together elements of hip hop, blues, pop, jazz, reggae,
dancehall, calypso, even house, yet note a new harder edge to a track
like Shake Your Limbs which powers along on a thumping beat, soulful
new vibes on Living which utilises South African Zulu singers to
remarkable effect, plus newfound emotional depth to Far From Over.

In keeping with Mattafixs concerns as a truly global band, eager to
embrace bold new sounds, Rhythm And Hymns features talents as diverse
as the aforementioned Zulu singers, a west London flute boxer (someone
who beat-boxes, but with a flute), samples recorded in Poland, plus
Marlons trademark steel pan. The first instrument I played in the
Caribbean, he notes. People love it, everywhere we go. In many ways
its a sign of struggle made from an oil drum at a time of upheaval
in Trinidad, so for me it has all sorts of ramifications.

We strive for international appeal, says Marlon. Regardless of
language, creed and race. Its this same open-heartedness that has
attracted big-name production talents such as Jim Abyss (returning
from Signs Of A Struggle), Jason Cox (Damon Albarns production
right-hand man with Gorillaz) and Big Apple mastering legend Howie
Weinberg (Nirvana, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beastie Boys). The great thing
is, they all got involved for the right reasons, says Marlon. They
loved the music and where we were coming from. There was none of that
Ill-get-my-people-to-call-your-people. I find that such an
impersonal approach.

Big fans of the social commentary, story-telling ethos of blues music
(notably Nina Simone), Mattafix have always been regarded for their
intelligent, thoughtful lyrics Marlon travelling everywhere with a
notebook to hand. Their new album is no exception, with tracks being
directly influenced by their travels over the last 18 months.
Socio-political commentary is important to us, says Marlon. I keep
a notebook in my bag at all times, just travelling around taking note,
noticing things people say in conversation. Some of them I keep for
years before they end up being used in a song. But they all end up
being used in the end.

Mattafixs recent experiences in Tel Aviv are a case in point. We
did a couple of shows in Tel Aviv, just before Israel started bombing
Lebanon, says Marlon. We made a lot of friends while we were there
and, when we left, most of them were getting drafted back into the
army and sent to the frontline. Others were indirectly affected by the
situation in northern Israel. We were very conscious of both sides of
the conflict. When youre in your teens you are quite idealistic you
think that right and wrong is clear. As you get older you realises
there are many situations where both sides have a point. Whats
needed, actually, is restraint. Immediately on their return to
England, Marlon and Pree wrote Shake Your Limbs, inspired by their
experiences. Its one of the albums stand-out moments.

Meanwhile, the stunning video for lead-off single Living was shot in
Darfur. We were approached by some human rights lawyers and Oxfam to
get involved and the result was a video we shot in a refuge camp in
eastern Chad, says Marlon. It was unbelievable. We flew into the
capital of Chad and chartered an eight-seater, single-engine plane
into the refugee camp. We shot everything on 16mm film with five
camera crew and a producer. Mattafix saw Livings late October
release as too good an opportunity to ignore. The videos geared
towards raising awareness for the United Nations conference in
November. 200 governments descend on New York to decide various
things: one of them will be a vote to put more pressure on the
Sudanese government to sort it out.

Mattafix have a unique ability to deliver important ideas with
irresistible music. Im much more at ease with writing what might be
termed pop music now, says Marlon. Im getting more and more
comfortable with bigger tunes. On the first album we often tried to
bring it back to an underground sound. Big City Life, the biggest
hit, was actually written last. So we were just learning how to strike
the balance between saying what I want to say and putting it in a way
that was easily communicated.

Youve got to enjoy what youre doing, notes Pree. I make bizarre
15-minute pieces that no one will ever hear unless they happen to be
in my vicinity and I feel comfortable with them. But it doesnt mean
we have to go down that route. Why not make music people can get
behind, but music that still has a message? If youve got a message
but no one understands it, theres not much point in doing it, is
there?

So, Mattafix might bring the party but they take their role
seriously. After all, music can be the most powerful medium there is.
Young songwriters have more influence than most politicians put
together, says Marlon. Theyre listened to more. Songwriters have a
responsibility to keep that in mind when theyre penning music thats
going to have an effect.

Thats Mattafix: big tunes, big ideas, a big noise. Its good to have
them back.
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