Manfred Mann (that's not exactly his real name) was philosophical: "You have to realise that you can
only succeed in some markets, not all of them. In the end, you take popularity and success where you can. It's just one of those things."
Hence the delayed release of the new album - 'Somewhere in
Afrika', which has been on the market in Europe for two months. Also the 50 date tour now underway which comprises only two UK dates.
But it's not strictly true. Mr. Mann has a hardcore of UK fans (he's
doing three warm up dates this week which were sold out soon after being announced) and he has a long history of good UK sales. Part of the reason may be the new album, which has put him out of circulation
lately - it's been two years in the making.
"It should be taken on two levels, firstly as a piece of music, and secondly as a political statement. The African content (beat, chant, Homelands, and
perhaps a little anger) is not exactly secondary, but there are definitely two facets."
Manfred Mann knows that there is room for both on a successful album if it is done well enough. But politics?
"In fact politics is diametrically opposed to my approach. The political content occurred naturally, slowly becoming a unifying concept. When you have a lot of material to which you wish to add taped
African rhythms, then when it all falls into place the first time, you know that you are on to something. Call it fate or what you will - you know when it works.
Anyway I think it's the best that the
Earth Band has done for some time - that doesn't mean that it's good enough, but I think it will be the end of the line of semi-serious albums - one gets torn between making hit records and being serious
ultimately you do what you are best at."
Yet the outcome on this album has an obvious political message. "But much of the African theme is because the sounds are good in themselves. Zulu, Sotho,
Bantu. They are resonant - powerful sounds. I am more keen on the chanting than the drumming. As it happened I started with the modern material and grafted a lot of the secretly recorded tapes on to the
tracks I had. 'Redemption Song' was like that - it fitted beautifully.
'Demolition Man' was included because it was a stronger track than a lot of the African stuff. Whether listeners will appreciate the
message behind the music will depend to a large extent of their awareness."
Awareness. Now there's a subject. Does it mean that I have to go to Swaziland to appreciate the album's message?
"No! Not al all. One of the major fallacies is that travel broadens the mind - it's just not necessarily so. It depends on whether the traveller's mind is open in the first place - you see to a large
extent what you want to see. On the streets of Johannesburg or Berlin you see people going about their daily business - it's just some people who feel the oppression, who notice the attitude!"
But isn't that sort of awareness increased with for instance the increased trend towards the African music?
"That's another fallacy. The African music trend doesn't exist. It's just another invention
of journalists who want something more interesting to write about than the real trend - bland disco electro pop!"
"People keep talking about the modern computer age, but in fact we're in an
extremely infant stage. It's like people in the twenties sating how modern and sophisticated crystal radio sets were, when we see them as very primitive. Computers haven't really begun to take off in music
yet. It's all at a very early stage - the machines we have at the moment are simply toys compared to such complex instruments as the ear and the brain. What is interesting is that people still compare
computer synthesises sounds to 'the real thing'. We still have the thought that computers do not produce a 'real' sound like the 'real' instrument. And they don't. We still have a long way to go before
computers can capture the feel of a real sax in digital code. That's not to say that I don't like them - I use them all the time."
"The danger with computer instruments is that everyone's
beginning to sound the same. All the studios I go into up and down the country have the same standard Linn drum machine, MC4 or the like digital equipment and sequencers. No one uses a good old Fuzz box
anymore. Mind you, some people like the straight electronics."
That seems to come back to this thing of awareness and subjectivity.
"Yes. Exactly. Most people would say that Britain is not a
racist country in the same way as South Africa where it is a government policy, but when I see some things in Britain, it makes me very sad. There are many people who would not consider themselves
prejudiced, but some of the things I see make me cringe."
Manfred flicked through Soundmaker. "It's the same with the press. You will not be able to write about me without including some of
yourself, your thoughts, views and prejudices."
He is right. Listen carefully to the lyrics of the album and just as there are two facets, music and message, sop there are two messages, politics and
'Brothers and Sisters of Africa, they cannot control what's in your mind and in your soul. Mothers and Daughters of Africa, it's not for me to say to you what you must do.'