Interview: John Mathews, London Afrobeat Collective

Hertfordshire, UK, 04/08/2013 : Standon Calling Festival. London Afrobeat Collective play the Main Stage. London Afrobeat Collective consist of Alex Farrell, Alex Szyjanowicz, Andy Watts, Edmund Swinburn, Farivar Gorjian, Funke Adeleke, John Mathews, Klibens Michelet, Lee Crisp, Zak Cohen. Picture by Julie Edwards

Pic: Julie Edwards

You’d be forgiven for thinking the bassist in a 10-piece Afrobeat band might be restricted. [Late Afrobeat pioneer] Fela Kuti dictated lines for his bassists to repeat verbatim. Fela wrote incredible bass-lines. You’ve gotta believe in a line to insist that your bassist plays it without alteration or embellishment for 15-plus minutes. His lines stand tall. There are lots of rhythms, lines and a message to accommodate, but you can’t have more fun without getting arrested. London Afrobeat Collective began through mutual love for Fela’s original fusion, but we take inspiration from his innovation, rather than imitate his Afrobeat. We evolved to produce a synergy of our own. I feel free to play anything I like and somehow it works! I try to create propulsion; finding top-spin to take us over the hump and laying back just enough to make the next turn. I duck in and out of the pulse, syncopating in that Bootsy/Jamerson way. I play mostly fingerstyle, back between the pickups. I love to slap, but I went to the Louis Johnson school and I can’t have new 5th and 7th frets every fortnight. I save my slap rations! Until last year, I played a 1988 Warwick Thumb six-string. We gravitate towards F minor, and the low B opened up those Dorian approach tones. I think register is a powerful dynamic tool, often overlooked. I set the scene further up the neck, so when I do finally drop an octave or two, everybody busts. My favourite bass ever to date? When I fell in love with a ’69 Jazz, all my basses found themselves homeless. It’s so rude, I keep the covers on! On our new album, Food Chain, I used Thomastik flats with a chunk of foam under them: a Christmas present from our drummer, Farivar. My bass heroes: Bootsy, Stuart Zender, Jamerson, Bernard Edwards, Fela and Jaco top my tree. When I heard ‘P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)’, my brain rewired itself. The greatest bass player that ever lived… Jaco was utterly unafraid. Fear is like cutting your strings off, and Jaco sounded like he had more strings than anyone. Not only could he see through walls, he could dance through them too.
Basses Fender Jazz
Effects Tom Oakes B-Fuzz Memorizer, Boss OC-2, Line 6 M9, EHX Bass Microsynth, EHX Q-Tron+
Amps Ampeg B15, Genz-Benz Shuttle 9, Barefaced S12T

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