Blue King Brown
"Music is a life blood,” Blue King Brown’s Natalie Pa’apa’a explains. “We couldn’t live without it. I am always grateful and blessed that I am able to travel with music. It’s such an amazing way to go into other countries and experience other cultures by bringing music and sharing. Connecting with human beings through music is such a positive way to gather a mass amount of people and feel good – it’s a red celebration of life. So we are grateful to travel, whether international or regional Australia, it’s a way of bringing people together in a positive way.”
Blue King Brown fans have been waiting four years in anticipation of the band’s second album, Worldwize, Pt 1 – North & South. Their debut album, Stand Up, was released in 2006 under their own Roots Level Records label (and later in Japan through Village Again/Sideout), with first single Come & Check Your Head making Triple J’s Hottest 100 list in that year, and with that, other hits followed. Since the success of that initial release, BKB have spent a huge chunk of their time on the road performing all over the world; from the USA, to Japan, Fiji, Austria and Canada, and seemingly everywhere in between. A collection of the acts they’ve supported also reads like a murderers row of excellence – Santana, Michael Franti, Damien Marley, Silverchair and Powderfinger to name just a few.
Their fans have understandably been questioning the time it has taken the band to release a second album. But, it seems, the time has allowed Blue King Brown to experience a new international perspective of themselves and their music. It has allowed them, crucially, to evolve and continue to mature their sound.
On Worldwize, Pt 1 – North & South, “we took extra time with new album to really craft the songs and make sure we were 100% happy with it,” explains Pa’apa’a.
“Initially the plan was to release it six months after Stand Up,” she adds, “but it wouldn’t have been exactly what we wanted it to be. We threw away our deadlines, we chucked our release date and just made a really strong decision to not release it until we were 100% happy with it,” she laughs.
While BKB released that debut album back in 2006, the group have a long history together. Carlo Santone, the band’s bass player and manager, met Natalie Pa’apa’a in Byron Bay some 12 years ago. Together they started playing percussion in festivals around Bryon, and then they trekked over to Europe. With that worldly experience, the duo always planned to put together a more traditional band, one that incorporated a larger range of melodic sounds. The decision was made to move to Melbourne and scout the hottest players. They searched the city high and low to find the most talented players on the instruments they wanted to be in the band.
With that came the voicing of the band’s political views. At times, their outlook and lyrics have been viewed as outspoken to say the least, but it’s simply that BKB are not afraid to speak out; they walk their talk. They’re not afraid to sing about what they believe in, not treading lightly with their politics. They’re passionate about educating audiences and fans about worldly issues, believing that music can be an agent for change. Our Word Is Our Weapon, for instance, is inspired by the indigenous Mexicans in South East Mexico who had to take up a struggle for the land and their basic human rights during the Mexican revolution.
As part of that, the group are also open-minded to musical experimentation, which makes it hard to put a label on their style. Their music lends flavours of reggae, hi hop, soul, funk, urban roots, Afro beat and African music. But, listen carefully and you will hear all the flavours in the world.
With that in mind, their music reaches out to a lot of different people, from all walks of life, which makes it easy to understand how BKB’s Australian foundation has been built on festivals. Indeed, they pride themselves on live performances. Their first album was rough and dirty, with a live flavour. Worldwize, Pt 1 – North & South is much more of a studio album, however, with the band spending substantial amounts of time in production, shaping songs and adding program beats. Each song has been approached, crafted and moulded individually, but what’s remarkable is that they all have different flavours dependent on what a particular song was asking for, but everything still sounds ideally like Blue King Brown.
The group also recorded the vocals for Worldwize, Pt 1 – North & South in Jamaica, a country which has had strong influence to the album. They wanted to get a feel of the different artists and music they have been exposed to over the years. Indeed, the group met Jah Mason in Australia during Reggae Town Festival, and whilst in Kingston he was their tour guide. When BKB arrived in Kingston, there was a concert on Western Consciousness some four hours drive away. “It was incredible,” recalls Pa’apa’a. “There was thirty [of your ] all-time favourite Jamaican singers – past and present. They were just jamming for fifteen minutes each, with one backing band.”
From that, BKB also didn’t have plans to work with Sly & Robbie on the new album, they just happened to be recording in the same studio. Sly & Robbie subsequently guested on Say Peace, adding a dirty, unique sound to the track.
Crucial to BKB sound, and one they’ve captured on the new alubm, is their big presence onstage, and as frontwoman, Pa’apa’a would be willing to make it even bigger. She grins about having up to 22 people on stage, plus three-five backing singers, dancers and a DJ. But then, BKB’s music lends itself to that sort of thing. At the moment they travel with between eight and eleven people, even if it is a tiny venue. As Pa’apa’a jokes, “that’s all we can afford right now”.
Though, as you can find out when Blue King Brown hit the Shine On festival this month, when they approach their live shows they focus on “delivery and high energy, something that people can dance to,” Pa’apa’a confirms. That’s the way BKB play – they can connect in some way or another. “The tour is going to be big… we have an extra percussionist on board, it’s going to be a party!” she laughs.
BLUE KING BROWN play the Key Of Sea album launch (which is an album of collaborations between some of Australia’s best known and brightest artists and refugees) with The Cat Empire, The Vasco Era and many more at The Prince Bandroom on November 11 (tickets from princebandroom.com.au or 9536 1168, Polyester Records, Greville Records, and the Prince of Wales). They also play the Shine On Festival in Beaufort on November 26 with Fat Freddy’s Drop and heaps more – tickets and info from shineonfestival.com.au – and the sold out Big Day Out at Melbourne Racecourse on January 30. Worldwize Pt. 1 – North & South is out now.