When asked to think about musical groups who laid the fundamental foundation for Funk, the same names tend to pop up in people’s minds. George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, James Brown, Maceo Parker & Fred Wesley, Sly and The Family Stone, Graham Central Station, and Earth Wind and Fire. However, one of the most underrated groups to have played a roll in defining the funk genre emerged from Brooklyn, NY in 1968. Calling themselves Mandrill, a trio of brothers, Carlos Wilson (trombone, vocals), Lou Wilson (trumpet, vocals) and Ric Wilson (sax, vocals), would join their collective multi-instrumental forces to make up the backbone of a group that would come to be one of the most important pioneers of World Music and one of Funk and R&B’s most progressive bands.
Over the years Mandrill has rotated through members included Bundy Cenas (bass), Neftali Santiago (drums, percussion, vocals), Juaquin Jessup (lead guitar, percussion, vocals), Charles Padro (drums), Claude ‘Coffee’ Cave II (keyboards, percussion, vocals) and Fudgie Kae Solomon (bass) and Omar Mesa (Guitar).
Still touring the U.S. and abroad, the Wilson Brothers remain the driving force behind Mandrill. Their current band is fueled by a new generation of multi-talented musicians including Marc Rey, Arlan Schierbaum, Keith Barry, Michael Beholden, Gemi Taylor and Stacey Lamont Sydnor. However, it was the first generation of musicians that made the greatest impact on what Mandrill stood for and how it helped shape our musical culture.
Mandrill ‘s reputation as a World Music group began with their self-title debut album. This first record is considered one of the truly great opuses of the late 60’s hippie scene recorded at the then brand new Electric Lady studios in New York. Containing the raging composition titled Peace and Love, it would eventually be sampled on Kanye West’s Two Words with Mos Def, Eminem’s On Fire, and Vinni Paz’s No Spiritual Surrender.
The Wilson brothers, whose melting-pot background of Caribbean culture blended with the sound and heart of urban America, would make up the brass section while they found their groove with drummer and percussionist Neftali Santiago, keyboardist Claude ‘Coffee’ Cave II , guitarist Omar Mesa and legendary bassist Fudgie Kae Solomon. These seven players played over 20 instruments and would fuse their Latin and jazz roots with gospel, blues, soul, salsa, psychedelia, straight up rock and funk. Tackling every genre with ease and combining them seamlessly, by their third album, Composite Truth, Mandrill’s focused combination of percussive instruments and funk had defined their trademark sound.
Many argue that Mandrill was actually the first funk band to actually make an impact on the charts, beating out Kool and the Gang by a year or so. Over the years, they performed on Don Kirshner’s In Concert and the Rock Concert television series. On numerous occasions they appeared on Soul Train with Don Cornelius and Midnight Special with Wolfman Jack. They were also featured on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television program Soul!.
Neftali says; “I remember playing drums, and it used to make me uncomfortable (with) George Clinton and Maurice White sitting right in back of me taking notes! Then all of a sudden Earth, Wind and Fire gets a horn section, and Funkadelic starts adding horns, percussion and become Parliament, and it’s like hmmm that’s interesting.”
As one of the most sampled groups by this generation, Mandrill’s songs have been sampled by hip-hop acts such as Johnny D, Public Enemy, Shawty Lo, Big L, Kanye West, Jin, Eminem, and 9th Wonder. You can hear their worldly funky sound on Brandy’s single Talk About Our Love, Shawty Lo’s’ Dey Know, KRS One’s For Example, Black Eyed Peas Weekends, Floetry’s Have Faith, Wyclef Jean’s You Say Keep It Gangsta, Tweet and Missy Elliot’s We Don’t Need No Water, Kindred’s If I, Public Enemy’s By the Time I Get to Arizona, and Nas’ U Gotta Love It. As well, some of their songs have been used in the soundtracks of movies: The Greatest (1977), The Warriors (1979), a personal cult favorite of mine, and Civil Brand (2002).
Mandrill is not only an underrated group, they are practically impossible to duplicate and hardly any band has come close. Today, it’s virtually impossible to pick an entire group that embodies what Mandrill embodied in their prime. California’s Breakstra is one group that comes close as well as the wonderful Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings. The Mighty Imperials, actually under the Daptones Record label, is another group who attempt to reach to the amazing levels that Mandrill accomplished. And even then, these aforementioned groups only hit on an extension of their sound. Toubab Krewe must also be mentioned for their fusion of of rock and African rhythmic patterns.
Mandrill is one of those groups who plowed their way through numerous genres, seamlessly flowing through one into another in a single song. Their music has been sampled by numerous musicians yet hardly anyone has come close to fully duplicating their energy and sound. Mandrill was a group who let it all hang out and stood in the forefront as a pioneer in all of music, yet hardly anyone has heard of them. It is my job to spread the word 🙂