Incognito: Connecting the World to Music
AAJ: Absolutely. Music is deeply personal and artists have a terrific opportunity if not an obligation to use their status to make a positive impact on a number of causes. Is there a particular country that you feel has openly embraced Incognito?
JM: Italy is really a stronghold because Italy really gets the music, they understand it. On a personal level I feel that as a writer, producer and leader of Incognito, I feel that the Italians get it. I think that part of it is that Italians have like an Island mentality. I come from a small Island and I see that the Italians are not afraid to embrace something. They don't stand waiting to see if someone is going to dance before they can dance. You can see if Italians like something because they will just start dancing and they will let you know that it is affecting them. Therefore, when we come out on stage, they have in a sense prepared the way for us. The gigs are absolutely celebratory. The audience isn't waiting for us to show them what we've got. It is a feeling of a party having started and joining in.
I would say that the most amazing experience I've had has obviously been in AsiaIndonesia and Japan which are strongholds for Incognito. The biggest kick I ever had was in Manila in the Philippines where I saw that people were really holding onto the words. You know when something is significant for someone and you know that these people have had fewer opportunities to see bands than other countries. There are people who have had an inner struggle with their country and there are a lot of different religious and spiritual beliefs that can be divisive. I find that many people find our music and reacted to it as something that unifies people beyond color or creed.
That is my life's work. It began in Mauritius when I was five. I would listen to musicians playing on the beaches of Mauritius and the way that they told stories, they made people laugh by the humor in their performance. They engaged the public, making them join in. There is always a positive message in music. When I was ten years old, I was involved in the Skinhead movement and I spent a lot of time in hospitals nursing my wounds and music showed me the path to overcome the adversity that I went through. I have embraced music and used it. I was educating myself while going to school in that I listened to Stevie Wonder and albums like Marvin Gaye's, What's Going On (Motown, 1971). I didn't really realize what was going on with the war in Vietnam. The war became a real issue for me. It was at that time that I began to pay attention and read books on what was happening in America. I learned so much about what was happening all over the planet just by listening to records.
AAJ: One of the great things about music is that it can teach and influence scores of people. It starts movements and gives a voice to many issues that would be silent otherwise. You tour so much abroad, do you have any plans to tour more frequently in the United States?
JM: I would tour in America all year, if it wasn't for the fact that, in America, musicians pay a twenty-five percent tax on the money made on tour. It is called a withholding tax. When you are a ten-piece band traveling from London, you aren't making music that is selling millions of records. The kind of music we make is deeply personal. It is for people that are drawn to our kind of sound. It is not the mass populace. We don't get radio-play 24/7. We aren't constantly in the public eye. We aren't a band generated by MTV. Therefore, to come to America, even though we sell out shows, I have to prepare for a certain loss. With this record, Tales from the Beach, we are looking for people to be involved in the success of this record, which may just open up the door for us to come back to the United States. It is important because live shows are what it is all about for us.
Every radio or internet interaction that we have, and even the fact that I am speaking to you is going to help us connect to people that have perhaps lost awareness of us. At one point, we were selling four-hundred-thousand records in America, per album. To go from that, to twenty-thousand albums, people know us out there they just don't know that we are still making records. It is a matter of people hearing the record for Incognito to get out there to perform.
AAJ: Absolutely. It has been great to see Maysa pursue her solo projects but then return to Incognito. It is a testament to the relationship that you have all formed over the years.
JM: That is absolutely what Incognito was set up for. The name Incognito was chosen for that reasonin disguise. We've had over fifteen hundred members in this band over the past twenty-nine years. I fell in love with Maysa's voice before I even met herover the phone. I chose to bring her to Britain, based on what I heard in one phone conversation. The tone of her voice is amazing. She is an incredible friend, she is family. It is nice to be a part of the journey for someone so talented. It is a wonderful thing. It is as important to me as being able to work with Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder. Even working with my hero George Benson, I get the same vibe from working with Maysa. There is greatness in her. She doesn't imitate performances that have been done by other artists. She has her own sound. She follows her own path with great dignity and a lot of love.