Fowokan: Putting the reggae into the rhythm

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Fowokan brings together reggae artist Jimmy Lindsay and former Cymande 
drummer Sam Kelly for a gig at the Chichester Inn.

Sam was an original member of the 1970s ‘Nyah rock’ band Cymande; Jimmy was lead singer on their Promised Heights album. Now they are back together, playing Chichester on Friday, August 22.

“Cymande was around in the early 70s, 71-72, and we went to America around 73-74,” Sam recalls. “We were based in London, but most people thought we were Americans because of all 
the publicity coming out of America.

“The music was difficult to categorise, and it still is difficult to categorise. It was a combination of a lot of jazz and a lot of reggae and also a lot of Caribbean influence. There was no really specific label, but it had a lot of rhythm to it, a lot of 
influences, and we did very well in America.

“The band didn’t so do well over here, though we did have a couple of people that enjoyed it. One was John Peel, who you’d half expect to enjoy it because he liked the minority music, but the other was Tony Blackburn. He made us record of the week. In retrospect it was good for the band, but at the time we were not so sure because he was more into the pop world. But it was good for the band to be recognised by a named DJ.

“The band stayed together for about five years. We did two tours in America, mainly on the east coast, Boston in the north down to South Carolina. We got into the Billboard charts. The record company we had was a subsidiary of Chess Records. They had a subsidiary called Janus, and they wanted to get into world music. They wanted us to be living over there, but to be honest, nobody wanted to spend nine to ten months in America touring. We lived here. We understood it here.

“But the problem was we were not really making any headway with gigs over here. We were a six to seven-piece band. We weren’t making progress.”

And so the band folded: “But I have known Jimmy for more than 60 years. I have known Jimmy since Jamaica. I was born in Jamaica, and so was he.”

Now they are reunited in Fowokan, a name Sam has borrowed from his brother: “It means ‘he who works with his hands’. I think it is Nigerian. My brother is a sculptor, and his working name is Fowokan. I thought it was a fantastic name that trips off the tongue and also connects with Africa.

“My brother was very happy. He is very much into black traditional art. We collaborate a huge amount. He sculpts and paints, and a lot of motifs we use to represent the band, I get from him. It’s good for us, and it’s good for him. It keeps the themes running through.”

As for the band: “The group of musicians has been together for probably ten years, maybe more. We have various options, but we have a core of musicians. The original band was mainly funk and r&b, but I have always been interested in reggae. I just thought we would do another genre without having to change personnel, but just by adding Jimmy. When we work as Fowokan, Jimmy comes in and we do everything in a reggae style. We take a lot of stuff from his album. We also take things like Birthday which is a Pink Floyd track and we reggae-fy it. We take things from Led Zeppelin and reggae-fy them.”