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

Almost a decade after their last studio album, the Mandoki Soulmates now released their new double-concept-album „Living In The Gap + Hungarian Pictures“. With their socio-political relevant Songs the Soulmates take a stand against the concerning developments and challenges of our times. The new ProgRock Suite „Hungarian Pictures“ based on compositions of Béla Bartók is a kind of re-invention of progressive JazzRock with the sound of today allowing for extensive, virtuous improvisations. It is the realization of a mutual vision of Leslie Mandoki and Greg Lake which they started working on years ago. As Leslie stated: „We have always been extremely ambitious and this concept album will not only be our most ambitious but, as we think, also become our best one yet.“ This band is pure sophisticated JazzRock, or as Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) put it: “One of the best bands you will ever hear!” Also be sure to check out Mandoki Soulmates and Ian Anderson’s special tribute to the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic - hospital workers, grocery store clerks, food delivery drivers, and others - on the digital EP We Say Thank You! Proceeds from the EP will be donated to The United Nations Foundation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in support of the WHO (World Health Organization) and The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.

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

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.

What were the reasons that Europe was/is the center of Art / Progressive / Jazz Rock researches and experiments?

In Europe, we have a great cultural diversity and a mutual understanding, that only a colorful Europe can create the big pictures of humanity. Yes, we have a lot of things in common from Portugal to Greece, from South Italy to Sweden, from Budapest to London. But while culture takes place locally and lives of diversity, music is the greatest unifier. Actually this leads me directly to the next question.

What characterizes Living In The Gap + Hungarian Pictures sound? What touched (emotionally) you from Béla Bartók?

With Living In The Gap + Hungarian Pictures, a single-topic, double-concept album, we want to take on the artist’s responsibility of being a thorn in the flesh of society. It is a piece of musical work that was made to express the ideal of the old rebels coming together with the young upstarts to fight for unity and against division in our society. To live up to this idea we have to look back to our first revolution, the time when we were still free to dream our dreams of freedom and peace which are not a matter of course. The idea for Hungarian Pictures first came up in a conversation with Greg Lake and Jon Lord about Bela Bartok’s musical understanding, about his strive to build bridges between different musical genres and thus, between cultures. This idea of unification inspired Greg, Jon, and me.

Are there any memories from Living In The Gap + Hungarian Pictures sessions which you’d like to share with us?

It was a wonderful time, when all our Soulmates were gathering in my studios and my house at the lake, sharing the music, the stories and daily life for a couple of days and weeks, sharing the fun and hard work of making music in the studio and cooking dinner together in the kitchen at my place.

"In Europe, we have a great cultural diversity and a mutual understanding, that only a colorful Europe can create the big pictures of humanity." (Photo: Leslie Mandoki)

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

The moment I escaped communism. Being asked for my motives to escape at the refugee camp, I told that I fled into the West to play together with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Jack Bruce of Cream, and Al Di Meola.

29 years ago we started with exactly this lineup. I played together with Ian, Jack and Al for the first time, a truly magic moment when you see an audacious dream come true. But this was just the beginning of a wonderful musical journey which took us from Munich to Moscow, from Paris to Beijing, from Detroit to New York, Miami, London, Hamburg and Berlin, celebrating standing ovations, sold out venues and a No.1 at Amazon Classic Rock Charts. And this journey is still continuing.

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."

What is the hardest part and what do you love most working with 'the top of the cream' musicians over the years?

The hardest part is taking care of the business issues within an imploding music industry all over the world. What I love most is the artistic heights you can reach when playing music with such masters of their arts like the Soulmates, and the direct communication with our audience, because their love of music propels our performances. It is an honor and privilege to share these moments with our audience and I´m very thankful that they are letting us into their hearts and souls as well as we let them into ours.

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.

"The key to a life well lived is having created something substantial with a deeper meaning, kind of an intellectual legacy for my own kids and the new generation. It´s not the album itself as a commercial product, it´s all about the content, musically as well as intellectually." (Photo: Leslie Mandoki)

How important is activism in your life? What do you think the major changes will be in near or far future of the world?

Activism was important to me when I was sixteen and it is important to the kids and younger generation now. For my generation and me, it is much more important now to pass the torch on to the next generation and to hold on to the idea, that music can change the world to become a better place.

What do you think is key to a life well lived? Do you have a dream project you'd most like to accomplish?

Beside the countless Golden and Platinum Records in my studios, it is this new double-album we have just released, that I really wanted to accomplish. This album is the best musical work I have ever done.

The key to a life well lived is having created something substantial with a deeper meaning, kind of an intellectual legacy for my own kids and the new generation. It´s not the album itself as a commercial product, it´s all about the content, musically as well as intellectually.

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!

Mandoki Soulmates - Home

(Photo: Leslie Mandoki)

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