Bluey - Sharing music, his ethos and STR4TA (Feature Interview)
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, Brit-Funk and Acid Jazz royalty, sat down with Ally to talk about his 'Groove Velocity Radio Show' on Apple Music Hits, his underlying musical ethos and his upcoming STR4TA project with Gilles Peterson - which is set for release in March 2021.
Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick is Brit-Funk and Acid Jazz royalty. Since springing onto the scene in the 1980s with his primary London-based group Incognito, the guitarist, songwriter and producer has been a leading the torch for the Brit-Funk movement, having been one of the founding members of Light of the World, Freeez, as well as forming The Warriors and more recently Citrus Sun.
With over four decades of pioneering experiences under his belt and a pandemic putting a stop to his performances around the globe, his new ‘Groove Velocity Radio’ show on Apple Music Hits is a natural space for him to share his knowledge of the scene he has been immersed in. “This radio show has enabled me to keep on reaching out to people, he tells me. “[This] is the thing that is really important to me, it's always been that in my life, that I can reach out and get music to people because I understand what music is to people. That’s what makes me tick, I understand its power and its purpose”. So, when Apple approached him to front the show, “it was an absolute no brainer”.
Bluey’s deep-rooted understanding of the transformative nature of music comes from his experiences as a young child in Mauritius. “The first pictures that come in my head was around four or five years old”, Bluey tells me, watching people play and revel in music-making whilst in his grandmother’s arms. “Those are the images, those are the sounds, that were forever with me in my journey. I understood from a very early age that music has the power to heal. I saw people that were broken in the sugarcane fields of Mauritius get healed. They would look really miserable coming from work, but when the music started along with a couple of glasses of rum, of course, there was an energy that transformed the scene”.
Such visceral images of music-making on the Mauritian beaches helps explain Bluey’s willingness to share music with others. Under normal circumstances, Bluey would be leading Incognito all around the world to perform scores of gigs, but the continuing COVID pandemic has clearly put a halt to this. So, having a radio show, which is available worldwide, to allow him to connect with his far-reaching fan base is something he relishes. “If you have a drive to connect with people…when something like COVID hits and takes away that connection with people, I know how much they need it. And I know how much I need it myself. So, having this is just an absolute winner for me…For me, whether it's live, or as part of a radio show, it's a connection. It's a story. It's a feeling. It's a feeding of souls. And, you know, that's what music does, it feeds my soul. So, I share it”.
"that's what music does, it feeds my soul. So, I share it”
Bluey’s awareness and understanding of the power of music clearly permeates into all his projects, whether that’s his radio show or his live performances, he takes his role as a musician and bringer of joy very seriously. “I feel that when you put something out into the universe, there are journeys whatever you say,” he tells me. “Which is why we have to watch what we say with our mouths, how politicians speak, how people preach, what they preach, and what they speak, if it's the right messages for our youth to hear, if it's the right messages for people in need to hear, you know? When people speak, out of their own for their own gain, or [for] their own power base, regardless of what's going on with the rest of the world, it's deeply, deeply distressing. So, I take it really seriously. So, every message I get from fans, I answer. It's my life. That's why I do this 24/7, that's my work.”
Considering the combination of Bluey’s upbeat character and the length of time he has been present on the scene, it’s no wonder that he’s picked up friends and collaborators as big as Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan. Added to this list is Leon Ware, who is one of the figures that Bluey admired the most, marvelling his work with Motown, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and even Minnie Ripperton. After touring with each other in Japan and Europe, the two became friends. Reminiscing on his time with Leon, Bluey reveals “he always told me before and after every show, ‘Bluey, you remember, we're here, look how lucky we are. Look at this life we’re living. We’re eating this great food; we're staying at nice hotels. And then we get to play music, which is what we absolutely love to do. I can see the smile on your face, I understand it, because I live that life. And I've lived that life all the time. But one of the things that we've learned to understand and not forget, we're here to humbly serve, let's not forget that we are servants. And that is the joy that we have - we have this best job in the world. But, we must see ourselves and understand, the meaning of our lives, which is to serve. That's what we are’. And it resonated with me”. With messages like that, it’s no wonder why Bluey has such a strong moral compass.
Sitting alongside Bluey’s long list of collaborators is his deep-rooted relationship with the broadcaster, DJ and label owner Gilles Peterson. The pair first united in Gilles’ back garden when Gilles was just 17 and Bluey had not long started Incognito - almost four decades ago. The pair’s interview sticks in their minds, as it was both a first for them. We have “this symbiotic and long-lasting relationship, one that is nurtured” Bluey acknowledges. Recalling their long relationship, Bluey tells me that “we've met at various points in our long journey and being of absolute purpose to each other. Musically, just as friends as human beings, as fathers, as brothers, you know? We even live locally, he lives around the corner from me, so we go, get a coffee and walk through the park during a pandemic and it's just wonderful. I have a conversation with Gilles and come away feeling that I need to write a track, I need to listen to this, I need to get into that, you know? There are no 5-10 minutes with Gilles when you don't get some musical information, some energy, just his joy of life and some laughter. Because that's what friendship should be”.
Nearly 40 years on from their first encounter, the pair are releasing music collaboratively for the first time with their new project STR4TA. Yet, the pair’s record label relationship reaches back to the early 1990s with one of Gilles’ early labels, Talkin’ Loud. “I did not know how he would feel when I turned up with some music for Talkin’ Loud,” Bluey reveals, “I just knew that it started and being my friend, he allowed me in, but I always felt that Gilles likes to speak the truth. Gilles isn't always going to say to me, ‘I love that’, you know, or ‘I really like what you're doing’. Sometimes, he won't even be playing what I'm associated with and I'm not going to turn around to him and say, ‘Gilles, why didn’t you play my tunes?’, because we understand that we're both on different journeys, and different things are going to come into our lives. But there is this meeting of meeting ground. There's also this meeting of minds. And whenever we decide to do something together, he would have something really great to offer that I did not have in my catalogue. And he, likewise, knew that I was going to bring commerciality to Talkin’ Loud that the other bands couldn't bring. And [Incognito] would have enough soulfulness and all the important notes that he needed to have to be able to work with me together on this project.”
STR4TA’s upcoming record Aspects, which will be released through Brownswood Records, channels the raw, vibrant energy of the early 1980s Brit-Funk scene which first united Gilles and Bluey. But what brought the pair together to revisit this scene? “The pandemic did that!” laughs Bluey. “It was after a walk in Clissold Park in North London. We've been talking about it for a long time…it's not just something in our past, it's something that lives with us, the reason why we love it so much. It's something that we still understand. We understand what makes something work is when you understand the innocence of it and not just the sophistication of it because when you do something, it suddenly grows into something else, and it adds, you keep adding something to it and it becomes something else. So, when I started with Incognito, I couldn't be that artist that started back then and still not allow my band to progress into whatever it progressed into. And part of that progression is regression and progression both… [But] here we were, two people who loved the beginnings of where we were, and saying, ‘could we tap into that, that feeling again, without trying too hard to, to stay away from what we've become? Can we tap into the beauty of it, what made it work?’”
Although revisiting the sound, vibe and feel of a scene may seem difficult to do, for Bluey, it came naturally. When you grow up and make a name for yourself on this scene “you speak that language”, Bluey tells me. “And for me with [STR4TA], it was just tapping in more within a period where Gilles first interviewed me where we first came together in his garden and we knew why we were there. So, for me, this was just tapping into a window with Gilles, where we both belonged, where we came from, and making sure that we were representing that time, which we both live through, and which we both felt really energised by. So, it's not just a retro thing. It lives today because it's part of us. And it’s two guys that have arrived at a certain part of their journey. You know, if it was a book, it was us writing about that chapter. But it's a piece of music. So, it's us playing the sound of that chapter… the music really represents the era and journeys that we both made”.
You can keep up-to-date with Bluey via his websites and socials here: