The Wilson brothers can handle the vocal side of things, too

*Didn’t somebody say mandrills are on the endangered species list? Well, neither poacher nor old age pension has cornered the Mandrill I know.

The thrill of witnessing, live, the rhythmic rituals of world-music group Mandrill perform is an event many would go through great lengths to be in attendance.  That’s how it was in 1972.  Here we were, once again gathered as children of the bush to hear the music that helped shape our “Wonder Bread” years.

If you were in NYC at the B. B. King Blues Club & Grill for Mandrill’s 2011 east coast tour appearance, you had to have experienced one of those 1972 type rushes.  And Mandrill did not disappoint.  The room was saturated with the faithful-followers, the dedicated-disciples and the mandrill-heads (I include myself in the lattermost category).  It was shoulder to shoulder in the shadows, a thousand eyes shining in the dark seeking that 1972 rush.  “Do what we wanna do, be what we wanna be”…even if it was just for one night.  No strangers to the NY scene, the veteran troop(from Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant area) led by the deep-rooted talents of the Wilson Brothers, Lou, Ric “Doc,” Carlos and Wilfredo “Wolf” returned to their territory to reclaim their seat at the top of the musical food chain.

Mandrill enters stage right.  Sounding strong as ever, they opened the performance with a King-Kong-like display of brute strength; the song “Mandrill” set the tone for what was to be an exciting evening.  Songs like “Fencewalk,” “Mango Meat,” Cohelo” and “Hang Loose” brought out the inner mandrill in us all.  The restless congregation tapped on tables, danced in their chairs, whistled and anything else they could to respond to the call of the wild.  “I Refuse To Smile” and “House of Wood” gave a more personal side of how the Wilson Brothers experienced love and family.  By the time the fervor had worked its way up to the funky temperatures of “Git It All” and Ape Is High,” the concert had morphed into a reunion of perfect strangers trading memories of where they were when first hearing these soon-to-be anthems.

The instrumentation was plentiful, but masterfully coordinated to add stock to a potion we craved.  I didn’t count, but reliable sources claim over 40 eclectic instruments from harmonica to violin were utilized on the already crowded stage.  Carlos Wilson alone plays more than five different instruments, in addition to lead vocals and old-school background harmonies with his three other soulful siblings.

This Mandrill is wise.  It knows evolution is inevitable, so it makes an investment in its’ future by deploying one of  its’ talented offspring, Rais Wilson aka The One Sun Lion Ra(Lou’s son), as a new face to be reckoned with in the 21st century. (Yes, this Mandrill can “spit” too!)  Joining the festivities and contributing to the groove were vocalist Tisha Frederick, violinists Patmore Lewis(Metropolitan Opera House) and Sumiko Tajihi(Japanese recording artist).  Flutist David “Pic” Conley of R&B group Surface lent his talents to the stage, also.

Trombonist Leon Rawlings and trumpeter Kieron Irvine (Washington Jazz Arts Institute/Duke Ellington School of the Arts) added wallop to the punchy horn section.  Brooklyn’s own Bobby Bell added pepper to the pot with the stylings of his rhythm guitar.  New member, bassist out of Philly, Derrick Murdock (formerly of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” led by Kevin Eubanks) threw in a heavy dose of thump to the lower registers.  Along with the Wilson Brothers were core support members Marc Rey (guitar), Lamont Sydnor (drums), Keith Barry (viola, baritone sax and harmonica) and Eli Brueggeman (keyboards).

The celebs in the house were no exception to the revelry.  There was some primal screams coming from their direction, also.  They were around in 1972, too!  Seen amongst the masses was songwriter/musician/radio personality James Mtume and  R&B/pop vocalist Tawatha Agee, drummer/composer T.S. Monk, American radio icon DJ Hal Jackson and his lovely wife Debi, radio personality Ken “Spider” Webb, International hairstylist/businessman John Atchison and NY’s own artist-extraordinaire, Shadow.

Host Bob Davis (CEO of introduced the opening act for the evening, Derek McKeith, an up-and-coming and strong fresh face out of L.A. skilled with new school blends of R&B and Rock.  McKeith received a warm reception and an award from Soul-Patrol for his current CD “The Signature” and his smooth deliverance.  Kudos to McKeith for providing a flavor that stood up to the musical taste buds of a seemingly insatiable audience.  The steel-nerved “rocksta” is the son of actress/producer Sheila Frazier-Atchison, (“Superfly”, Three the Hard Way, ” etc.) and former William Morris agent Sam McKeith, (Bruce Springstein, Stevie Wonder and others). Both proud parents were also in attendance that evening.

Co-hosts Eulis Cathey (on-air personality,WBGO-FM and Sirius/XM Satellite Radio) and legendary radio personality Vaughn Harper shared the duties of presenting the main act.  Everyone knew what they were there for; just light the fuse and get out of the way.

The total package stirred the crowd into a number of frenzied responses erupting from the darkness.  The 1972 rush could not be restrained.  Mandrill left no doubt in the minds of all in ear shot that any rumors of their demise are greatly exaggerated.  But as abrupt as they came, they vanished just as quickly back into the night only to mysteriously reappear before other far-off witnesses and disciples of their perpetual existence.

As I exited the club, stunned and in preparation for my own long trip home, I realized that the evening was the making of another legend, the headlines in my mind read: “MANDRILL GOES WILD IN TIMES SQUARE. ”

Mandrill (top) / Derek McKeith (bottom)



Story & photos by:
Leon P. Sealey
[email protected]