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Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick: The ‘Massive Buzz’ Kicks In on Stage

Forty years ago, a big idea was implemented, when Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick founded Incognito. Since, the band has delivered truckloads of the most brilliant Soul and Jazz-Funk sounds. The good news is that ‘Yesterday’s Dream’ has become ‘Tomorrow’s New Dream’.

In 2005, an old tour bus with 16 bunks and British number plates cruised down the German Autobahn at night. The vehicle was unmarked. It should have had a livery saying ‘Life, Stranger than Fiction’ because that is what it became when the bus broke down. The tour manager was sort of unconscious, the highway police wanted to know what was going on, and the next gig was 16 hours (and 300 kilometers) away.

All About the Sun

The author of these lines was on the bus, as one of Incognito’s bookers. Back then, the band was close to its 25th anniversary and introduced the album ‘Eleven’ during a European tour. It was a very soulful piece of work. Like the other 17 studio albums Incognito has recorded, it had its own concept and ‘feel’. By the way: The band did make it to the next ‘Eleven Tour’ gig in Darmstadt after the bus was repaired quickly.

‘Yesterday’s Dream’ was a bonus track on the Japanese version of their album ‘No Time Like the Future’. ‘Tomorrow’s New Dream’ is the new album they will release in November of 2019. In between, there were hundreds of killer tunes. Many of those had the Sun in their titles. ‘Morning Sun’, ‘When the Sun Comes Down’, ‘I See the Sun’, ‘Sunburn’, ‘Solar Fire’ and ‘She Rises in the East’. In ‘Jeopardy’, the answer to the latter would be “What is the Sun?”.

The Sun also seems to be part of the spiritual concept of Incognito’s founder and bandleader Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, a Londoner born in Mauritius who had this intuition while attending an Earth, Wind & Fire gig in 1975 in a ‘Santana’ t-shirt. The idea was to put together a Jazz-Funk and Soul group which would spread uplifting quality music all over the place. Forty years ago, in 1979, he implemented the plan.

The Trademark Blend of Sounds

Incognito literally explodes when the 11- to 13-piece group hits the stage. And they do so all the time. South Korea, Japan, Chile, the United States, their British home turf: These guys go everywhere to deliver the Soul, the Funk and the Jazz. Not just once they met themselves at Heathrow Airport. And they have played with everyone in the ‘Real Music’ world, including George Benson and Chaka Khan.

This unique band appeals to Jazz-Funk and rare groove people with its horn arrangements and sophisticated Seventies Funk sounds, but also to clubbers, because of their dance tunes some of which got several remixes and re-remixes. But it is all made of Incognito’s trademark blend of sounds and Jean-Paul Maunick’s never-ending ideas.

While the new album is waiting to be released, the next tours in America and within Europe are only a few weeks away. In the meantime, Imanuel Marcus caught up with Jean-Paul Maunick, 18 years after the first interview he did with him at the ‘9:30’ club in Washington D.C..

Incognito has had hundreds of members. Some stay for two years, others for decades. Photo: Incognito

The Berlin Spectator: Forty years ago, you implemented an idea which you had developed while attending an Earth, Wind & Fire concert in 1975. It turned out to become your life project. Did you think it would be, at that moment?

Jean-Paul Maunick: Though confident that music would be the mainstay of my life, in those days I was living in hope that I could get my own band together that could inspire someone out there in the way that Earth, Wind & Fire had done to me. I did not sit and wait for things to happen. I was always involved in projects, bands and jam sessions. I instigated things in lieu of serendipitous moments.

‘Bluey’ Maunick is the driving force behind Incognito. Photo: Incognito (background changed)

The Berlin Spectator: We seem to be wearing grey beards today. What about your audiences? Do they look like the two of us?

Jean-Paul Maunick: With the passing of time come changes to all things organic. We change, the music changes and the audiences with us. But the music outlasts us all for it is like a photograph that does not biodegrade. Because of that we have an audience that has grown old with us. But our music old and new has brought us new generations of music lovers. In Korea, if you look at our audience, you could be mistaken in believing that we were a Pop band. The average age is 18.

The Berlin Spectator: Not counting live and remix albums, the new one, entitled ‘Tomorrow’s New Dream’, is the 18th one. If I had fallen into a coma after ‘Tribes, Vibes & Scribes’ and woken up today, would I have recognized Incognito on the new album?

Jean-Paul Maunick: There is always going to be some aspect of our music that reflects our love of Jazz Funk and Soul. But I believe that all our records sound different. Not only because of the changes in personnel but the songwriting, production values, location, tools and financial limitations, and how changing times is reflected on our creativity.

The Berlin Spectator: I heard the album will include a million collaborators, including Phil Perry whom I remember from tours with Lee Ritenour in the 1990s. What kind of experience was that cooperation?

Jean-Paul Maunick: ‘For The Love Of You’ features two of the most amazing singers in soul music history, Phil Perry and Maysa. As a keen fan, I have been telling the world about The Montclairs ever since I heard them back in 1975. I was three years late in discovering their 1972 album ‘Dreaming Out of Season’, but to this day I feel that Phil’s vocal performance on ‘Prelude to a Heartbreak’ is one of the best I have ever heard.

Combining the uniqueness of Maysa’s rich soulful tones with Phil’s raw, powerful and limitless vocal range is the stuff of dreams. Between the two of them, they have graced us with their solo albums and collaborations with Lee Ritenour, Michel Colombier, Stevie Wonder, Don and Dave Grusin, Freddie Hubbard, George Duke, Najee, Bill Withers, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Sergio Mendes, Bobby Womack, Chaka Khan, Fourplay, George Benson, and Will Downing and many more. We are talking musical royalty here!

The new Incognito album ‘Tomorrow’s New Dream’ will be out on November 6th, 2019.

I started this song using ‘Garage Band’ on my laptop in a taxi on my way to Maysa’s house for one of her wonderful dinner evenings for the band. I played her the rough and she liked it. So I got with Matt [Cooper] and Francis [Hylton] to flesh it out. Co-writing lyrics and melodies with Phil was a treat and an eye opener to his genius. He is a legendary singer/songwriter in a class all his own.

I was on the road and we co-wrote using Face Time on the computer. Phil is one animated Dude! The crowing glory came when I got to go to Maryland to record Maysa and then Phil at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. Here I was, with my hero in the studio where George Benson recorded ‘Breezin’’ and ‘In Flight’, Miles Davis recorded ‘Tutu’ and Frank Sinatra recorded ‘Come Fly With Me’ when I was one year old. It will be a memory that will be with me forever.

The Berlin Spectator: Talk to me about instrumentals. What can we expect on this end?

Jean-Paul Maunick: There are two instrumentals. The first is ‘Saturday Sirens’. It depicts the sound of urban living in London where crime is on the rise, and Saturday night is the height of madness. The police sirens have now become the soundtrack of all our Saturdays. This track features the genius of Portuguese guitarist Francisco Sales and guest flutist Gareth Lockrane. The ever-present Incognito Horns are on hand to stamp the band’s trademark on it all.

The second one, ‘Say What’s On Your Mind’, is the closing number on the album. It was written by Matthew Cooper, Francis Hylton, Francesco Mendolia, Francisco Sales, Fayyaz Virji and myself.

The Berlin Spectator: In the past 40 years, you have recorded spectacular cover tunes too, including ‘Nights Over Egypt’, ‘Silver Shadow’, ‘That’s the Way of the World’, ‘Lowdown’, ‘Expresso Madueira’, ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’, ‘Tin Man’ and ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’. Which cover will ‘Tomorrow’s New Dream’ feature?

Jean-Paul Maunick: There are no covers on this album. We had too many original songs. If fact there are about 8 to 10 songs that did not make the album. I wanted the 40th anniversary album to feature our own creativity from top to bottom.

The Berlin Spectator: Looking back at the first 17 studio albums, if you had to choose one for a bunch of funky Martians who never had the opportunity to listen to music made on Earth before, which one would it be and why?

Jean-Paul Maunick: That would be the first one, ‘Jazz Funk’. It’s got a very organic sound and a vulnerability that is very human. The other album that reflects our humanity well is ‘No Time Like The Future’.

The Berlin Spectator: You guys still tour like crazy and you still play your asses off. Incognito is a live band. But since you are not 25 anymore: How does all the traveling affect you, and all of this “remain seated until the captain has switched off the ‘fasten your seat belt signs” bullshit?

Jean-Paul Maunick: I am a road animal. I was built for this. Nothing comes close to being on the road. Flying is the hardest part as airports are the most soulless places on planet Earth. The actual flights, carbon footprints aside, are easy. I get time to sleep, write and read.

I live for those moments on stage. I love live music and its power to uplift the spirit and unite people in the most positive way. Playing with these amazing musicians and singers gives me a massive buzz every time!

The Berlin Spectator: Back then, our music was on albums like ‘Borboletta’, ‘Catch Bull at Four’, but also ‘I Am’, ‘Ask Rufus’ or ‘Enigmatic Ocean’. Then you delivered our ‘Real Music’ for generations. How did you manage to keep ‘Real Music’ alive?

Jean-Paul Maunick: Easy. It was live music that first touched my soul. Its power has intensified with every passing year of my life. The joy of communication with an audience is beyond explanation. Music is my chosen language and ‘live’ allows me to have conversations with people from all walks of life, worldwide. My songs and my band bring joy to people. In some cases it helps them to mend body mind and soul. This is my calling and I love my job.

Incognito will be performing in Charlotte, Atlanta, the Washington D.C. area (twice, it’s Alexandria and Annapolis), Chicago, Detroit, New Haven, New York City and Glenside in October. In November, it will be Cabo San Lucas, Zaragoza, Dresden, Leverkusen, Prague, Brno, Zurich, Paris, Hamburg, Hengelo, The Hague and Berlin. On December 4th, 2019, the 40th anniversary gig will take place in London. Incognito’s touring plan can be checked out on their Facebook page.