By night, a jungle; by day?
“Students, friends and family,” says Pieter van Exter, tenor sax player of Jungle by Night, an emerging, fantastical Afro-funk band from the Netherlands. “We’re in between 16 and 23 years-old. Most of us study (high school, conservatorium or something completely different), and some just finished so have a little break before college. It can be hard to combine study and music sometimes, but we manage since it’s so much fun (music is..).”
Described as “Afro-beat, Ethio-jazz, funk, dub and rock,” Jungle by Night is a collective of idiosyncratic, spontaneous, passionate instrumentalists, who’ve rocked the stage with John Legend, The Roots, and Mayer Hawthorne, yet haven’t even made their way to the States. Two years in development, their passion is Africa; their music and heroes comprised of its inspirational roots; and they function like an extended family, varying personalities included. Along with van Exter, the group includes Ko Zandvliet (trombone), Bo Floor (trumpet), Pyke Pasman (keys), Younes van Tool (bass), Sonny Groeneveld (drums), Tienson Smeets (djembe), and Gino Groeneveld (congas).
“For us, African music is so much more vibrant than (most) western music,” van Exter explains. “The different traditional rhythms enrich jazz and funk. Especially music from Ghana (highlife), Nigeria (Afro-beat) and Ethiopia (Ethio-jazz), which all took our interest. Also, music from bands like Poly Rythmo de Cotonou (Benin), Franco (Congo) and Ali Farka Touré (Mali) rotates on our iPods…We compose our own way with different inspirations in mind, but without sticking to any original rules or standards, such as those established by Fela Kuti, for example. We try to put different ideas in a song and make different songs, slow epic jazz-tracks or more soukous-like dance music.”
Listen to Jungle by Night for only a minute, and it’s obvious the groove runs acutely through their bloodstream. It’s the kind of music you’d hear in a smoky club in Havana, a jazz bar on the African coast, or a beatnik coffee house hidden amongst an alleyway in Paris. Sit, have a drink, dance. The beat is constant, yet the horns are silky smooth and tell a story of their own. Balance between various parts – the ricochet, the extemporization, the banter – gives every song a unique element of spunk and attitude from the sassy “Hot Mama” to the taunting, more spectacular, “Get 5.” Because Africa has been a space inhabited by many travellers and conquistadors, the effect of Latin and Cuban tongue plays a great role in their style, along with tremendous native influences. More abstractly, the band aims to reflect light and darkness, temporal moods, and both sedated and dynamic experiences.
So far, the multi-dimensional experiment has proven a success. One of the hardest feats to accomplish as a musician is to earn the respect of originators and legends, however Jungle by Night has already been praised by members of Fela Kuti’s former entourage, as well as one very special personal idol.
Remembers van Exter, “Mulatu Astatke is one of our heroes. We had the honor to be his supporting act in the Netherlands and it was amazing to meet him. His compositions are of a hypnotic beauty.”
This group of talented newcomers approaches their craft with little pretension or expectation, but exceptional fervor. Last year, they put out their first self-titled EP, and they will record their debut album this February to be released in April. Then, it’s off to tour Europe along with a breakthrough American tour, tentatively planned for August.
“I never expected we would be able to play on major festivals with the music style we play,” claims van Exter, also recalling a most unusual stage experience when “a guy in a wetsuit with roller-skates trying to stage dive.” Fortunately, the bizarre fan/rebel was apprehended by security before causing much destruction. “We’re very pleased to see so many people enjoying our music.”
Even more phenomenal given they haven’t yet made it West.