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Jason Hann details “Manga” from The Lab!

Listen to “Manga”

“Manga” (pronounced Mahn-gah) comes from a couple of different influences. Above all, it’s the last name of an incredible bass player/producer from Cameroon (West Africa) that I played a bunch with, named Andre Manga.

When I first moved to Los Angeles in the mid 90s, I was in his band, Dumazz, which played music that mixed African grooves with jazz and had a ridiculous group of musicians to interpret it. Andre had been musical director for Manu Dibango (Soul Makossa) and played on Paul Simon’s Rhythm of the Saints album.

Andre would take a traditional groove, give it an odd time signature, put it in a modern instrument setting, and then arrange it in a way that felt like you were doing something that hadn’t been done before. His band and those shows had a crazy amount of energy and high level of talent on display.

Within his arrangements were popular West African grooves such as Bikutsi, Mbalax, Makossa, Assiko, and Soukous (this one from Congo pronounced “Sue-koos”). I loved that feeling when we would start working on a new song of his, you could feel we getting ready to jump off a cliff to the unknown. Equal parts sophisticated rhythms, melodies, and arrangements.

As a producer, he put me on all sorts of recording and live shows with African legendary musicians such as Soukous Stars, Prince Eyango, and Andre Marie Tala. Thank you Andre Manga!!

The opening groove on “Manga” is a little twist that disguises the odd time. Then, as it gets to the acoustic guitar breakdown, the music goes to Soukous (a style of music from the Congo). Back to the twist for Billy and Kang solo, and back to Soukous for Kyle’s solo, and to the end of the song.

The Soukous influence of the song comes mostly from a band I was part of in San Diego in the early 90s called Bitoto (pronounced kind of like EOTO). We were a bunch of American kids trying to figure out music from the Congo (called Zaire at the time) with 2 singers from the Congo, one singer from Kenya, and one singer from Rwanda. We ended up playing tons of clubs and cultural festivals on the west coast – as well as for events like Afro Pop Worldwide.

We spent so much time writing and arranging in that style of music, but it had been, since 1996, that I sat down to work on a new song with that specific groove in mind.

Parts of the actual recording of the song had wonderful unexpected surprises. One of them involved Billy. At first there wasn’t going to be an acoustic guitar solo on the song. The texture and part that Billy was already covering, was more than enough to convey the groove and style of the song – and the song was plenty long already. As Billy was warming up, Dros (our awesome engineer and SCI front of house) started getting Billy’s acoustic guitar mic’d up and was having him play against the track as a reference. While we were hearing it with the music, the solo section came up. Billy kept playing and I asked Dros to just let him keep going in record mode. We held our breath till the end, and when Billy finished, we all noted “that was the take, we’re keeping that solo!!”. Boom!- Jason


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