Tribe leader: ZepherinSaint Zepherin Saint,enigmatic producer, DJ, talent scout and co-founder of Tribe records, sitsopposite composed and alert. Unabashed he smoothes over my interrogation withan effervescent charm, that softens my line of questioning. Mastery acquiredvia two decades of flexing vinyl in the eighties London warehouse scene, andlighting up the dance floor for the likes of Michael Jackson et al. This tribechief treads a tight rope between elusive party chameleon and all-around-nice-guy,nom de guerre ‘dream big brother’. His prominence as venerate artist is a farleap from the thirteen year old Cinderfella, who would enthusiastically packrigging into the back of van for parties he was too young to attend. That was 1983,when folk transformed their homes into clubs, with a subsequent door tax - tocover breakages. Musical education was a diet administered daily; from funkbands (Parliament, Slave) to UK jazz funk, with soul, lovers rock and country(thanks mum and dad) melted into the pot. 1987 came to fruition with the debutrelease of Give me back your love feat. Carol Leeming, under the pseudonym Boyzin Shock on Jack Trax, regarded as one of the first British garage tracks. Inthe years which have elapsed Saint has toured extensively, discovering aninfinite appreciation of his music and the genre in general, in the mostunexpected of places; Beirut, Syria, Egypt. Feeding into an obsessive love ofsoul music, Saint has devoted himself to discovering and nurturing new strainsfrom around the globe. Producing a unique blend of afro house, referencingprimary roots into a myriad of hypnotic layers, the sound is deep andintoxicating. Saint has attained the optimum position to convey Tribe’s messageof One Sound, One People to the masses. Herewith we discuss the man behind thatmessage.
Martina Randles: When didyou get your first break? ZepherinSaint: I finished school and joined a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) and itjust so happened that the telephone company apprenticeship was based next to arecord label and recording studio that I was devoted to, I followed all theirreleases, Jack Trax, it was like, the first house UK label. During my lunchbreaks I used to go there and hang out. The scene was taking off at the time inLondon, it was 1987, eventually I gave them a demo and they signed my track, Iwas 17. We got our dj'ing break at Spectrum in Leicester; I was shocked to findthat the house scene had been going strong for a couple of years. It was like ayouth centre and they were (jacking) throwing each other high in the air, it waswhen those sayings 'how high can you jack' actually meant something. Themidlands of England captured the essence of House music before London and thatwas a real eye opener.
Martina Randles: You worked at Blackmarket Records for 8years; would you refer this time as a rite of passage? Zepherin Saint:Blackmarket records started in 1988 as a pioneering shop for house music. I was19 working behind the counter, meeting everyone that came through the door -Frankie Knuckles, Tony Humphries, David Morales. I didn’t go to university;this was my schooling, being able to choose records for all the big DJs aroundthe world. Watching what they felt in a record, the records they picked - whatthey wanted, what they didn't want. It’s interesting the people that workedbehind the counter during that period are like a who's who within the UKindustry.
Martina Randles: How longhave you been producing music?
Zepherin Saint: Over 20 years; although I actually stoppedmaking music for five years, I was more focused on developing and managingtalent through my company Xosa music, then a techno DJ – Jeff Mills put out acompilation of all time choice cuts and he put my very first record on there(Boyz in Shock feat Carol Leeming Give me back your love - Jack Trax), and Iwas like bloody hell, that’s kinda major, he's a huge DJ globally. Everythingsuddenly came flooding back to me; why I started music in the first place. Iremembered myself at my mum's piano writing that song, I just felt I had to getback in the studio which I already had in the basement of my house just sittingthere, dormant. I connected everything back up and thought what I am going todo, let’s just try something…; that was back in 2007.
Martina Randles: Howimportant is construction and authenticity in your music? Zepherin Saint: I listen to a lot ofworld music; I make it as well, music with different tempos, different timesignatures using more traditional instruments. I use a mixture of syntheticsounds set to traditional rhythms, and live samples performed by musicians fromaround the world and myself of course. I have a soft spot for Middle Easternand Afro Cuban percussion. It's exciting to go to another part of the world andexperience a new instrument - a Middle Eastern Bozuk, a West African Kora.There is a wonderful sounding Sim Simear, from Saudi Arabia, its primitive lookingwith four strings; the amount of chords I get from it is unbelievable. MartinaRandles: Where has your music taken you; that you might not have otherwisegone? Zepherin Saint: I go to Beirut quite a bit to record musicand there is a military presence everywhere, it’s a bit surreal, yet very warmand welcoming. Syria was a place I never thought I would go, and I foundamazing talent there in musicians and singers.
Martina Randles: As wellas being involved in the House music scene youve also rubbed shoulders with the likes ofMichael Jackson and worked with R Kelly. What do you remember most about theseexperiences? Zepherin Saint:R Kelly was very nocturnal, we couldn't go into the studio until after midnightbecause that’s when he starts his day, he's very talented; it was great workingwith him. Meeting MJ was bizarre indeed, I was booked for a private party inBahrain - the special guest was kept a secret. I saw a familiar silhouette butcould not place it. He came right up to the booth and stood there for most ofthe night, dancing with his hand on the speaker. It was a very special momentfor me, playing, Don’t stop until you get enough, whilst he danced was probablythe highlight of my career.
Martina Randles: Tell meabout the birth of Tribe records? Zepherin Saint: Tribe started in March 2009. At the time I feltlabels were focused on quantity and little to do with quality - this was linkedto the change from vinyl to digital I expect and labels used this as anopportunity to release more material. There was a gap in the market, and mypartner Matt Langrish-Smith and I set about building Tribe together. The firstrelease was a track I had produced for Nathan Adams called Circles. It set thetone and standard for the label and gave us the right step to get noticed. It’sactually gone beyond my expectations, it never started with a huge plan, wejust wanted to get good music out from around the world; the people haveembraced us. We are currently on our 20th release of singles and have alsoreleased 2 albums with many more to come.
Martina Randles: Spawnedfrom the Tribe label the eponymous parties have become an internationalsuccess, was this natural progression in the development of the brand? Zepherin Saint: As a label you got tohave more than one avenue as a company and doing events goes hand in hand withwhat we are all about. Our international presence is continually growing we’realready in London, Paris, Toronto, Miami and Amsterdam. 'Tribe Live' has beenreally well received and we are definitely planning to do more live events inthe near future. The Tribe 2nd anniversary at WMC for me was simply magical.The event has become a reunion for us where we meet old and new friends fromaround the globe. The expression of all these different energies in one placeis a highlight and opening for our year.
Martina Randles: What’sin store for 2011? Zepherin Saint:I have two albums for completion - Nathan Adams, a world music album both dueout this year and there are also plans for Tribe compilations. I recentlyplayed in Sydney and Melbourne - the love for deep house music in Australia isincredibly strong so we are making efforts to feed this part of the world morewith our style. Our mission is to get to pockets of the world that does not getenough of our music in its club scene and continue to spread the Tribe vibe…..One Sound, One People.
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