Lovewhip Interview

Lovewhip – Interview

My first experience with Lovewhip came recently at the House of Blues. Not only was I titillated by the S&M overtones in their name but I was impressed the Cambridge crowd was dancing like South Americans.

The quartet is made up of: Sistah Nancy on alto sax, flute, keyboards, percussion, and vocals; Jim Countryman on Bass and vocals, Erin Harpe on lead vocals and guitar, and Jamil Zaki on drums. When I realized they had three different cowbells on stage, I insisted we meet for beers and conversation. Plus I wanted to know more about the phrase they used to describe their music: Highlife juicy juju.

Juju
I.K. Dairo was credited with being the first modern Juju star. This popular style from Nigeria relies on the traditional Yoruba rhythms, but instead of being played on all precussive instruments as tradition demands the instruments in Juju are more Western in origin. Drum kit, guitars, keyboards, often pedal steel guitar and some times accordian (squeeze box) are used along with the traditional dun-dun (talking drum, or squeeze drum). King Sunny Ade is the most well known of all Juju performers

Bassman Jim Countryman and vocalist/guitarist Erin Harpe have lived in Jaimaca Plain so long they’ve attended town board meetings to monitor policies on live music. When I asked Jim and Erin if they were a rock couple in the tradition of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon they said yes but more in the tradition of Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. It turns out they’re huge fans of the Tom Tom Club. In fact, they stalked the TTC until they were able to open some shows for them and give them a demo. The demo led to them producing a pair of Lovewhip songs during a four day recording session at Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz’s Connecticut farmhouse. Much tom foolery occurred over said period including but not limited to Tom Petty calling and Tina saying to Erin, “You have the nicest ass for any white girl I’ve seen.”

Soukous
is a musical style that grew out of ’50s Cuban rhumba music mixing the kwassa kwassa dance rhythm with zouk and rhumba. Many African artists, originally from the Congo (or Zaire), relocated to Paris, which became a popular expatriate community for them, and where they are mostly still based.

Jim and Erin formed Lovewhip in late 96′ and their first gig was at the Kirkland at 97′. Originally from upstate New York, Jim had played bass for Usalos locally which he described as Caribbean punk music. Erin is the daughter of a Maryland blues musician who inherited her old man’s fingertip guitar style and plays classical flute to boot. A pivotal point in Erin’s musical development came during a five month visit to Kenya where (in addition to acquiring an illegal lizard drum) she became enchanted with the sounds of Highlife, Soukous, and Afrobeat.

Highlife
Dance music from Ghana and Eastern Nigeria, originating from the popular kpanlogo rhythm developed in Ghana in the 60’s.

These are the styles than that drive the Lovewhip engine but they aren’t slaves to them. Nancy, who is trained in classical saxophone and used to play in a jazz quartet, points out that it’s great to be traditional musicians but we are more like a science experiment. So they are not purists and Jim wants you to know that they are not a jam band nor are they Berklee students. What they are is an eclectic group of talented musicians perhaps embodied best by Jamil who is a Peruvian Pakistani from Framingham that grew up on heavy metal but has played with a hip-hop band as well as a trio that featured a cello and a spoken word poet.

Afrobeat
Term used by Fela Anikulapo Kuti to describe his fusion of West African with black American music.

As the beers were drained, I asked Lovewhip for a parting thought.
Erin: We need happiness and joy.
Nancy: African music makes us happy.
Jim: Lovewhip makes us happy.
Jamil: Happiness is like a revolution on its own.

-Eric Holland
All definitions copied without permission from African Music.Org

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