Meet Shakatak: British crossover jazz, funk, and pop outfit Shakatak are a sophisticated ensemble who have enjoyed a long career. With a sound steeped in contemporary jazz and R&B, they found success with both instrumental albums and pop vocal productions. Formed in London in 1980… The group quickly scored an underground hit with its debut single “Steppin”.
The following year, they cracked the British Top 50 with the singles “Livin’ in the UK” and “Brazilian Dawn”, both of which were included on their debut album, “Drivin’ Hard”…. With their 1982 follow-up “Nightbirds”, Shakatak scored their first Top 20 hit with “Easier Said Than Done”: the disc’s title track rocketed into the Top 10… After a 1985 album, the band returned to studio work on day by day: “City Rhythm”, which included the title track single featuring Al Jarreau… A series of largely instrumental albums were issued exclusively in japan, where Shakatak enjoyed immense popularity….
After 1992’s “Open Your Eyes” topped Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart, the band supported 1993’s “Street level” with a tour of South Africa….Along with a busy live concert schedule, Shakatak stayed busy over the next decade… In 2010, they celebrated their 30th anniversary…Source: (Excerpt from) About Shakatak, Spotify.
Music of My Life, with Shakatak.
I MUST BE DREAMING, But NOTHIN’ CAN STOP ME NOW.
To have the opportunity to write this Spotlight, is a bit of a dream. For those who already know Shakatak, it’s unlikely I will be writing anything new. But it is for all of you who haven’t had the pleasure of knowing their music yet, I am excited to introduce to you a band, that has only recently celebrated their 40th anniversary. Yes, you read that correctly, 40 years of music. They have toured different continents, collaborated with some big names and received several awards. Just. WOW. Let’s Go!
I am talking about a band that has released over 50 CD’s and several DVD’s. A band that is still very alive, actively touring (as soon as COVID is done, they will resume this) and most importantly, enjoying what they are doing! I can literally say, I grew up with their music, since their debut album ‘Drivin’ Hard‘ (released in 1981), was brought into our home, when I was 13 years old. Their Spotify bio is quite elaborate, which is why I only took an excerpt from it, but there you can get an idea of how their debut single ‘Steppin‘, was just the start of a long and mind-blowing career.
In all honesty I cannot say I have been a faithful fan throughout the years. There has been a period of time, when life got me so busy, music took a less important place, though always there, if only maybe more in the background. However, when I started the Spotlight articles, music came back in my life with a vengeance and it so happened that while updating my ‘Feel Better’ playlist, I ‘rediscovered’ Shakatak and started to add one of their songs every week, of which you’ll find several here, starting with this one:
Then slowly but surely the idea of asking them, if they would do me the honor to answer a couple of questions, rose. It was like a New Year’s resolution to me almost, trying to convince myself, I had nothing to lose by asking and at the same time anticipating how absolutely awesome it would be: To not just do another Spotlight, but to do one about a band that, together with a lot of other bands, colored my youth and influenced my taste in music for the rest of my life. Would they go for a random request from someone they didn’t know?
I already found them on Facebook and tried to go through their posts, as I would normally do my ‘investigation’ 😉 Shakatak is very active on social media (including Twitter), so that was a very interesting journey. I will limit my findings to last year’s posts and share some of the things I felt were interesting highlights, hoping to entice you, to follow them yourself. That said, talking about highlights is a mere relative description, because how to choose, when there’s so much material to go by? It’s basically impossible.
If by now, you have clicked on some of the pics here and actually listened to a couple of their songs, you will have noticed Shakatak’s distinct style and sound. Their music is jazzy and funky, but also radiates pop and a bit of disco. Further along the way, there’s even some hip-hop, though they don’t compromise their identity anywhere. That piano, those chords, that funky bass, the tight beat, great guitar play, accompanied by great percussion and a wonderful flute now and then, up-tempo, as well as relaxed ballads and beautiful vocals… I would recognize them anywhere.
Having been raised in a Jazz-Rock / Fusion, musical environment, where music was as present every day as my homework, I often wondered how other people felt about our choice of music. I mentioned before, that at that time, this kind of music was not very common in The Netherlands, at least not among the people we knew and certainly not among my friends. It was really nice to see, that Shakatak’s audience got bigger and bigger and their songs were played more and more on the radio. A couple of them are already mentioned above and the next one followed successfully and has been one of my favs ever since, so yeah, added it to the playlist.
Last year was a special year for Shakatak, when they celebrated their 40th anniversary. How to even properly describe such an achievement? They started 2020, with announcing there would be a book release (no formal publication) ‘Flyin’ Through The Years’, 40th Anniversary Book, in a limited edition. It was a personal project done by the band, with personal pictures and memories of their band-and touring, life. It showed how much they’ve always appreciated their long time fans by making the effort to compose something like that.
Shakatak interacts with their fans as if they’re in the same room, among friends. They show a great sense of humor and often make fun of themselves as well. They kept their fans entertained during lockdown, they made several video’s, reliving some good times and at the same time showing their gratitude to their fans, for hanging in there. One of those video’s is ‘All Around the World Tonight’ and I quote: ‘Just a little home grown video taken from some video footage and collective mobile phones! Celebrating 40 Years of Shakatak with a brand new song and home video’.
Shakatak also made a little series called ‘Locked Down But Not Out!‘ starting with, I quote: ‘Shakatak locked down in their living rooms decide to revisit the glory days of Top Of The Pops. No jazz funkers were harmed in the making of this production’. And : ‘We loved doing it, acting childish and insane comes naturally after 40 years together!’ It is absolutely great to see, how well they still work together and how much fun they’re having, not letting the pandemic bringing them down. You can find these on YouTube.
In their ‘trip around the world’, a couple of countries are chosen per video and ‘personally’ thanked for their hospitality and support. It goes without saying, I picked the one where The Netherlands is mentioned and yes, I practically grew up in between those lovely colored fields of tulips. I do miss that sight every spring to be honest.
Of course Shakatak also suffered some setbacks due to the pandemic. They posted about the delay of the release of their 40th Anniversary 4 CD/DVD and the postponing of their planned gigs. Other than that, they kept the spirit alive and kept their fans captivated. I quote: ‘This is a little lockdown experiment we’ve just done to keep us from going stir-crazy! I played about 3 minutes of a kind of “pop/samba” groove which I then sent to Bill. He came up with the tune and then sent the chords to George who added the bass line. Bill then completed the keyboard parts including the solo then both Jill and Bill added the flute parts. Then all the “bits” went back to George and he assembled the video. Just a bit of fun which we hope you’ll enjoy!’
Shakatak streamed a full concert on the 20th of September last year and this was how it was promoted – I quote; ‘Hey you Night Birds, you know how Dark Is The Night, so don’t go Street Walkin’, but really it is Easier Said Than Done if you go Down On The Street and Share our Post below in all you many Facebook Groups for us! Thank you loads!” Haha, you see, I never get if anybody recognizes what I’m doing in all the Spotlights, but I see I’m not the only one using that little trick! Unfortunately, at that time I wasn’t aware this was happening, so…
Yet another fun thing Shakatak came up with, was a voting for the most fav track of their 40th anniversary CD. They uploaded a live version of the winning track to Facebook, where they play together, although separated. I love it when artists are so involved with their fans. The winning song? ‘Bitch to the Boys’. I quote: ‘Thanks to everyone that voted for their fav track from The Shakatak 40th Anniversary Album. Hope you enjoy our home spun lockdown effort!’
While I was thinking about how to put this little article together, it was pretty clear I had to make a lot of choices. One cannot crush 40 years into one page, it just won’t do. If you would like a biography, you can check their awesome Website! My aim is to show how very much alive Shakatak still is and how awesome it would be, if the next generations will keep on discovering their funky, overall happy, music. Whereas normally I write about fairly new, upcoming artists, this was from a whole other level. This is just me showing my appreciation, for a band that made such an impact on me when I was young, it still resonates years later. Losing myself in their music all over again.
I basically let the band / their music, speak for themselves. With such an impressive reputation like theirs, there are not much words left to add. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to start performing live again and go touring as soon as possible, as well as their love for their fans, is saying it all. The only thing I can say to all you people who never heard of Shakatak before, maybe never heard one of their songs: I’m inviting you to give them a listen, I bet you’ll be surprised!
It’s time for the interview, but before I go there I want to humbly say: A Very BIG Thank You Shakatak! I really appreciate that you have taken the time to answer my questions! I wish you all the blessings and hope you will be able to perform as planned this year. I am in awe of everything you have achieved: ‘You’re inspiration. You make my life just the way it should be’.
Let’s start with the obvious: Could you please introduce yourselves and tell us, Who is Shakatak?
‘I am Roger Odell, the drummer with Shakatak, and the band consists of Bill Sharpe (keys), Jill Saward (vocals) & George Anderson (bass)’.
Can tell us who were your biggest examples / influences?
‘We all love and appreciate Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin and also more contemporary artists like Gregory Porter. All of these people inspire us’.
I grew up with Funk, Jazz-Rock and Fusion and always felt those genres were underrated at that time, how was your music initially received?
‘We were very lucky as our music was enjoyed by a small select group at first and then our audience grew in a natural way’.
You recently celebrated your 40th anniversary, congratulations! It is an almost impossible task, but if you could name a couple of your highlights, which ones would that be?
‘I mostly remember sharing the stage with some of our favourites like George Benson and Al Jarreau and also meeting Stevie Wonder and favourite drummers Steve Gadd, Harvey Mason and Peter Erskine’.
You have lived though some big changes: from vinyl and cassette tapes to streaming services. Another thing is social media. How did you experience all this?
‘Changing to CDs was not so noticeable but streaming has reduced our income as it has for many artists. Social Media has had a very positive effect as it allows a personal contact with fans’.
You have a pretty list with gigs planned for this year, which I genuinely hope will take place. It is amazing that you’re still so active and obviously enjoying what you are doing too! How did you manage to stay such a close team over so many years? Were there any significant changes or shifts, regarding for example, your creative process?
‘Apart from George we all knew each other and were friends before Shakatak. The four of us are considered to be the founders and originators of our sound so we appreciate each other for our success. The main change in the creative process is the use of computer technology when recording’.
Your latest album release was last year, for your 40th anniversary. Any dreams left for you to come true in the future? What can we expect next from you?
‘My dream for the future is just to get back to our musical life after covid is defeated! We hope to be performing again later in 2021 and maybe recording in 2022’.
Is there anything else you would like to add / share here with your fans / the readers?
‘I would just like to thank our fans for supporting us and enjoying our music over the last 40 years and hope that may long continue’.
Again, Big Thank You, Shakatak! I join you in hoping you will go on for many years to come! And to all you Funky People, if you haven’t yet already, please go find Shakatak!
Wishing you all the ❤ ❤ ❤ and a very