Q&A with Hungarian-German musician Leslie Mandoki - raises Jazz-Rock back to socio-political relevance

"Racism is one of the most dangerous things in our society. Germany´s history as we all have seen, was breaking basic rules of civilization. We also see how racists are working anywhere I the world today. I would say that everybody is a brother of mine, the only difference is that this brother is born by another mother."

Leslie Mándoki: The Philosophy of Music

As the world continues to be consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson sings and plays flute with Mandoki Soulmates leader Leslie Mandoki. Mandoki has found inspiration and a new spark of hope amidst the chaos. He has penned a powerful new song in appreciation for the heroes who have emerged in this global crisis, the nurses, doctors, and other health care providers as well as the grocery store clerks and food delivery personnel who have stepped up to serve their communities. The new song, entitled “#WeSayThankYou,” expresses so clearly the feelings of gratitude many of us have felt in these troubled times. The duet released as an EP on May 7, through the Purple Pyramid imprint (Cleopatra Records). and is Mandoki Soulmate’s first release in the recently inked partnership with the L.A.-based label. Leslie will be donating the royalties of “#WeSayThankYou” to a To-Be-Announced Charity. “#WeSayThankYou” was written in the context of Leslie’s own isolation in Germany, where his doctor wife, Eva, is a first contact physician. Additional Mandoki releases are set to follow later this year. In 1991, Ian Anderson, Jack Bruce, and Al Di Meola became founding members of Leslie Mandoki’s band project ManDoki Soulmates, and for almost three decades, Leslie Mandoki has continued to unite a “who is who” of the icons of Anglo-American and European rock and jazz- rock in the Mandoki Soulmates band.

The remarkable lineups in the band’s recordings and performances over the years has included singers and players including Ian Anderson, Jack Bruce, David Clayton-Thomas, Chaka Khan, Chris Thompson, Bobby Kimball and Steve Lukather, Nick van Eede, Eric Burdon, Nik Kershaw, Greg Lake, Al di Meola, Randy and Michael Brecker, Cory Henry, Bill Evans, John Helliwell, Till Brönner, Klaus Doldinger, Mike Stern, Richard Bona, Anthony Jackson, Victor Bailey, Pino Palladino, Tony Carey, Mark Hart, Paul Carrack, Peter Frampton, and Jon Lord. The Soulmates concerts are marked by the musical synergy of all these musical icons united in one supergroup of Grammy award winning legends, where everyone’s egos come second. Original Soulmates compositions and collective improvisations on highest levels are just as much part of the concerts as world-renowned hits of the individual Soulmates members. “One stage – one band!” With his Soulmates Leslie Mandoki raises Jazz-Rock back to socio-political relevance, to quote him in his own words: “Even in times of Twitter, social media and short news on the smartphone, when mental laziness often blocks the perception, music for us is still like a love letter to our audience – handwritten with ink on paper.” This band is pure sophisticated JazzRock, or as Greg Lake put it: “One of the best bands you will ever hear!”

Interview by Michael Limnios 

Special Thanks: Henning Ehmcke (Red-Rock Production) & Billy James (Glass Onyon)

How has the Jazz and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Jazz-Rock and Prog-Rock has always been the soundtrack of the more intellectual wing of the rebellion. I was born and raised behind the Iron Curtain and we grew up with the British Prog-Rock like Jethro Tull on the one hand side, but also with American Jazz-Rock like Weather Report or Return To Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Brecker Brothers and very obviously the West Coast the great late Frank Zappa. As Michail Sergejewitsch Gorbatschow was visiting me, we were talking about this phenomenon, that in Dictatorships all around the world, Prog-Rock and Jazz-Rock always was in the focus of censorship because that was the musical language of the opposition student movements. So, this had a great influence on me at a very early stage of my own life.

How do you describe your sound, songbook and music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

Songwriter like us, we all know, that the best songs are written by life and we just give harmony and lyrics to it and we just make them sound. The balance of form and content always was an important carrier of messages for me, but the craftsmanship part of this and the dedication to perfection always was an elementary part of it. From todays perspective I would say, our music is like a handwritten love letter to our audience instead of a short message.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Getting up earlier, going to bed later and working harder than anyone else. Life of a Rock musician is hard work, much harder than anyone could image, who´s not into the Rock and Music business.

"For the youngsters I hope that they have similar chances to get on with their music as we had in the past, but they won´t I´m afraid. Today´s way of music marketing is taking place via streaming today and this is not giving the young generation space for a wide creativity. I really hope that they find their way to the audience."  (Photo: Leslie Mandoki)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The best advice I ever got was the advice of my father at this dead bed as I was at the age of 16. My father lost his fight against cancer and he said to me: Son, my grandchildren should never read censored papers. I said: But father, there is the iron curtain and he just replied: Son, the Iron Curtain is not for you. You will find your way. Live your dreams and don´t dream your life.

As I was an illegal refugee in Germany, just escaped from the Dictatorship into freedom, I had a lot of great moments of life with Udo Lindenberg and Klaus Doldinger, which have changed my way of thinking forever. Then there was Ian Anderson, who was kind of a game changer in my life and then there were legendary concert-promoter Fritz Rau and BMG founder Monti Lüftner. After them, there were Jack Bruce of Cream and Randy Brecker, who had a great influence on me and of course Michail Sergejewitsch Gorbatschow, who has made the world a better place to live.

Are there any memories from “WeSayThankYou” studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

A really moving moment was, as I was sending my multi-track session to Ian Anderson and he answered pretty fast and sent his track back to me. Opening up the track and hearing his voice and flute playing, this was a very special moment for me. This became a remarkable mutual undertaking.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Sometimes I am missing, what I had in the past. Back then we could just do analogue recordings and this led to the fact, that the creativity took place in the studio right before we were sitting down to rehearse. The songs and lyrics were just blossoming during the rehearsals and then, the magic happened at the recording and not at the post-production, like it is today. For the youngsters I hope that they have similar chances to get on with their music as we had in the past, but they won´t I´m afraid. Today´s way of music marketing is taking place via streaming today and this is not giving the young generation space for a wide creativity. I really hope that they find their way to the audience.                 (Photo: Ian Anderson, Leslie Mandoki, Jack Bruce, and Al Di Meola)

"The best advice I ever got was the advice of my father at this dead bed as I was at the age of 16. My father lost his fight against cancer and he said to me: Son, my grandchildren should never read censored papers. I said: But father, there is the iron curtain and he just replied: Son, the Iron Curtain is not for you. You will find your way. Live your dreams and don´t dream your life."

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would hold on to and I would keep alive the art of creating an album and I´m not talking about creating a playlist, I´m talking about creating a real album. Doesn´t matter if it is a Vinyl, a CD, a Cassette, a Tape or even a DVD or BluRay or digital. It´s just about creating an album as a format, the chronology of the songs and the whole flow. The flow of an album regarding its harmony, its lyrics and its sound including the cover and booklet, this is a piece of art. I wish that this will never get lost, even at a smartphone´s playlist.

What is the impact of music on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Racism is one of the most dangerous things in our society. Germany´s history as we all have seen, was breaking basic rules of civilization. We also see how racists are working anywhere I the world today. I would say that everybody is a brother of mine, the only difference is that this brother is born by another mother. We have to overcome antisemitism and racism and that´s why we support a lot of actions against those movements. We also support the “Give Back To Africa” movement. Each and every concert of us should be and is a statement against racism, because we are all united as one. There are mutual values among our Soulmates.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would not take advantage of a time machine, because I love my life as it is and as I have created it to be. Sometimes a time machine could bring back substantial important personalities of my life like my father, like my brother and also like our late Soulmates Jack Bruce, Greg Lake, Victor Bailey and Jon Lord. I always try to do my utmost best and my life is shaping up in a way as I like it. I am not following my destiny, I´m creating my destiny and that´s also a reason why I became a refugee as I was a young boy. As I have been asked in the refugee camp, what I would like to do here, I said: I would like to play with Jack Bruce of Cream, with Al Di Meola and with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. 29 years ago, they all became the founding members of the first Mandoki band Mandoki Soulmates. So, what more should I say? I just say Thank You!

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