|Kid Creole and his Coconuts|
My short musical sojourn outside of the US returns back to where I started, Brooklyn. Its this New York that we all know off, the great multi-cultural polyglot city where I continue some kind of theme I’ve been thinking about this month, unique grooves (unjustly forgotten or downright ignored). My track of the day, the unique post-disco post-dance sound of Kid Creole and the Coconuts’ “Annie (I’m Not Your Daddy)” from the damn timeless Tropical Gangsters, presents a sound from an artist who thoroughly recognized the value of leaving your mind open to any musical style.
Kid Creole, real name August Darnell, was born in the wrong side of the Bronx. From a young age he would hustle trying to stay out of trouble and for him music was his outlet outside to a grander world he could only dream of discovering. His Bronx then, was full of immigrant families, from Puerto Rico, Italy, Ireland, and Eastern European countries. From his familiar love of funk music, he would branch out listening to salsa, Chanson, Krautrock, swing, pop, reggae and countless other genres. He was blessed with having parents who stressed the importance of discovering other cultures and educating yourself to get ahead in life. His first love though was actually theater and drama. Theater is what he wanted to study in school and what he added to the stagecraft of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, his first true music band.
|Kid Creole (far right), in Dr. Buzzard’s Savanna Band|
Jointly, led by his brother Stony, this band was their outlet to make the kind of music they wanted to create. A sound that was as far from the imposed music mass culture wanted them to make. Rather than play straight funk and R&B, to keep up with the times, they created this big band group which would use as it base the sound of Duke Ellington, or Ella Fitzgerald as the foundation to explore dance music. Disco never sounded as elegant or timeless as you’d hear it in tracks like 1976’s “Cherchez La Femme” or “Sunshower“, the former which combines cabaret, big band swing, with funk and the latter which combines doo-wop, Afro-pop, reggae, with Hawaiian(!) disco. A string of just intriguing releases from the Dr. Savannah band sometime in the late ’70s spurned August to try his luck on his own. He was at first laughed off by his brother since he wasn’t confident August actually had the chops to carry a band. However a little sibling rivalry was all August needed to push forward.
Inspired by the sound and imagery of Cab Calloway, August Darnell rechristened himself Kid Creole, and rounded up a multi-racial musical group Coati Mundi led by one of his original Savannah cohorts Andy Hernandez, the Kid himself being backed up by an entirely white all-female vocal group he’d dub the Coconuts. This group would be signed by the Ze Record label, a label based in New York hoping to start a new dance music, genres like mutant disco, no-wave and post-punk were being created at will there. This simpatico label allowed Kid Creole the freedom he needed to project something unique.
Using stage costumes influenced equally by the Zoot Suit, safari clothing, and marina uniforms this huge band would combine all those early influences the Kid had. They initially released two brilliant, yet unsuccessful, records Off the Coast of Me and Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places which had great singles that were played tons in clubs but their albums sold less than 5,000 units. By the time of 1983’s Tropical Gangsters August Darnell was thoroughly disappointed in the lack of popularity his music had, so much so that he had started to work separately by himself on Wise Guy. This album was transformed into a full fledged Kid Creole album as the pressure from his record label surmounted his resolve to keep it solo.
|Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy – Single|
Somehow though, August found a perfect way to foil what could have been a watered down version of his vision. His vision was to create a concept album of sorts detailing a band forced to play music in a tropical island in some imagined land. This concept would allow him to tackle issues of race and authenticity. “Annie (I’m Not Your Daddy” is one crystalline example of his mutant music, or as he called it lovingly mongrel music. The track details a woman turning the main character down on a date for being too black. Rather than accept this bigotry nicely, he finds witty ways to answer back “If I was in your blood/you wouldn’t be so ugly”…the music itself is some kind of post-Exotica hybrid. Darnell obviously respects all the styles he touches on, but he never imitates or falls back on pastiche. For example, emulating and mutating all the wonderful parts of Calypso, bop Jazz, Rumba, samba, and injecting those styles with some really out there electronic dance punk or modern R&B touches shouldn’t work…but on this track the groove is so unique you can’t help but get down.
Surprisingly, for a few months in 1983 Kid Creole was a genuine success overseas and was starting to gain steam in the US. However, by the end of the year for some reason the path set to stardom was lost.Three of his singles charted in the UK and was on the cover of countless magazines, but in America he sold pittance amounts of records and was lost in the label shuffle. Maybe, just maybe, the public at large wasn’t wise enough to realize how special this sound was. Although you can see in other artists like the Talking Heads, Prince, Janelle Monae, Miguel and other neo-soul artists the huge influence of the Kid. It points to us seeing now that Kid Creole was doing the right thing, proving that no matter where you come from, nothing in life can dictate what you should like and what you can do with it…
bonus track time, the wonderful mutant disco of “I’m a Wonderful Thing”…
and finally, the space Afro-salsa hip-hop (sorry this stuff is so different!) of “Que Pasa/Me No Pop I”…