We were really happy to see an e-mail from Mr Malcolm WeLove land in our inbox a few months ago. An area of dance music that is lacking in Leeds is his particular brand of soulful house, one that is equally at home encompassing disco and boogie elements as it is harder and deeper ones. This is the essence of what makes electronic music so special, and makes us very excited for the first AfroCo event at Wire on 4th May. It won’t be the first party they have ever thrown, though – far from it. We chatted to Malcolm and asked for a little AfroCo history lesson…
When did Afro Co. come into existence? What is the concept behind the night?
In 2010 I hosted the first afro coalition party here in Leeds with DJs Leon Lewis, Dean Creole, Simon Chappelow, Phil Dring, Ian Hylton and myself, the idea being to bring together dancers from house, neo soul, jazz funk and disco scenes under one roof. The party attracted the attention of a promo team from Huddersfield. They wanted to put on Peven Everett in Leeds and asked me to help. We collaborated with a few others to put that event on at The Wardrobe. After that there was a core team of four of us; myself, Euan Mitchell (Speed Queen resident), Dean Creole (resident at many city centre bars) and Sy Legg who had beed playing at soulful house events in Leeds. After the Peven event, which was far more successful than we had imagined, we continued attracting DJs and acts to Leeds as well as partnering up with promoters and venues in Leeds such as Mint, Filth, Distrikt amongst others. Since then we have held parties and collaborated with others with line ups featuring Roy Ayers, Jazzy Jeff, Lil Louis, Grandmaster Flash, Frankie Knuckles, DJ Spen, Karizma, Atjazz, Kerri Chandler, Dennis Ferrer, Jazzie B, Norman Jay, Phil Asher, Groove Assassin, Neil Pierce, Rainer Truby, LayFar plus many more. With a recent change of personnel; myself, Sara Garvey (vocalist with the likes of Nightmares on Wax, Gelka etc.), Jagu (VSP promo team from Huddersfield), Yung Fox (Underground Solution) and Geof Dart (previous DJ for AfroCo). Same motto applies really; more about vibe than genre!
Your KMAH show has a very distinct style, mostly due to the way you present it. Most people opt to speak as little as possible, but it seems to be very important to you. Where did you pick up this style, and why?
Well I actually go through stages of talking a lot. Sometimes I just introduce myself at the beginning and say good bye at the end. If we have a party on I’ll mention that also. As well as my AfroCo Radio Show on KMAH, I also host a weekly on Grant Nelson’s D3EP Radio Network, “WeLove House” That is 100% house and so AfroCo SHOULD now be more of a radio show rather than a podcast. So expect more “pirate radio style” chat! ;-) I first started out as a DJ on pirates like WYBC and Peoples FM and so always had that radio patter I suppose.
Many people will testify to the quality of the street/garden party you throw during carnival. For the uninitiated, could you tell us a little but about the West Indian Carnival, and how you are involved, officially or unofficially?
I am so proud of what we do at Carnival. My late Aunt, Mrs Gertrude Paul was one of the pioneers who put together the carnival committee, alongside Arthur Smith. Making Leeds West Indian Carnival the first in this country. I had attended annually until we discovered Notting Hill Carnival wen I was 18 years old. As I subsequently moved to London and lived there 18 years I had not been to Leeds’ carnival until I moved back. Since the Summer of 2011 we have always run a sound system, playing funk soul disco and house predominantly. This has grown into something quite special as folk have begun to come back to us each year.
Also, could you give us a bit of insight into your heritage – I assume that you have Caribbean roots?
My father is from St.Kitts and my mother is Scottish…interesting question…whats YOUR heritage? I always ask this also ;-)
Do you live around Chapel Town? What was it like growing up in Leeds?
I actually I’ve on the same street I lived on aged 2-9. It’s part Harehills, Gledhow, Morton and Chapel Allerton. I grew up in and around Chapeltown as my family were quite involved in the community. I grew up in the 70s and most people were broke and so we had the best times ever playing out. Music was always huge in my life, I took piano lessons form the age of 5. My Dad sang in a funk band, my aunt played a ton of dub at our house, my other aunt went out with a member of Leeds Sound system of the time; Maverick International and I always controlled the gramophone at my grans parties when we were kids. This gramophone now sits in my front room.
How have you seen the Leeds music scene change over the years?
Having been away from Leeds for nearly 20 years I am probably not best positioned to answer that. However what I would say overall is that there seems to be less diversity since I was a teenager. When I was a kid there were tons of goths in Leeds who were part of a huge live music scene here. Then there were us B Boys, the Soul Boys, Beer Heads, then Ravers etc…. I think this diversity made for more genres of music being produced and exported form Leeds. I am sure this is the case for many other towns and probably more to do with general “fashion” and trends than Leeds.
Where did your love of soulful house begin?
I’ve always loved music that evolves from soul music, as this was what I heard a lot of growing up. I was always into house from the very beginning, all the Chicago and Detroit stuff. In the early 90s I played a lot of soulful vocal stuff like Ten City, or tracks like Reaching by Phase 2. Throughout the 90s I primarily played the dubs of vocal house tracks but following on from early influences such as Todd Terry. I always loved the NY house sound. Early Smack productions, Masters at Work and then Todd Edwards. This led onto the early UK Garage tracks all of which had strong basslines and catchy vocal samples largely taken from classic soul, funk or disco tracks. I tend to have a few vocal soulful tracks in my sets. Depending on who to and where I’m playing will determine how much of the set is “soulful house”.
What other styles have been influential for you?
As I said, soul, funk, reggae… ska… The Specials etc and even pop music as a kid… from electronic influences like Japan to straight up early pop like Spandau Ballet. I first really got into wanting to make DJ and make music during my B-Boy days. Turns out I just couldn’t scratch well but I always played hip hop and house early days. Then house kinda took over as I loved mixing two tracks together rather than just cutting between two hip hop tracks. I still play all sorts of music from jazz to techno. Big broken beat fan also.
Were you sad to see the Southport Weekender have its final day? I assume you frequented that festival? Also, for any younger readers, could you tell us a bit about it?
Funnily enough I didn’t actually attend SPW until 2 years prior to the last one which we ended up playing at. I had been booked to attend several times for years but never actually got there. I actually went to a house party Alex though then we played at their Camelot event and it went well, so they asked us to play the Inn on the Green at their finale, which was ace! Suncebeat in Croatia is their new thing now and is a wonderful event set in a beautiful part of the world. They have amazing line ups every year out there! What I would say to anyone who never managed to attend an SPW is that once through the gates and inside the village, it really felt as though you had landed in a place where everyone was on the same vibe musically which is why the SPW crowd will always be one of the best!
Could you tell us a bit about the bookings for your first event at Wire?
So May the 4th we have for the second time in Leeds with AfroCo and hot from his Hard Times debut at Church, Groove Assassin AKA Nick Moss. He has had a top 2017 ending at no.9 in the Traxsource Soulful House Chart for 2017. Every release he gets out just seems to hit! We booked him a few years ago to play at Distrikt ad as ever he blew the crowd away with a mix of his clever re-edits and exciting energy behind the decks. A firm favourite on the goal scene, playing in Ibiza, Croatia, Miami etc. For the first time in a very long time Sean McCabe is back and we couldn’t be happier having him on with us. Sean has one of the most respected careers in the UK Soulful House scene, having been the UK remixer for tons of huge US acts including Dennis Ferrer, Evelyn Champagne King, Carolyn Harding, Blaze, and Roland Clark. Sean has also travelled the world, playing as far afield as Asia and South Africa, as well as regular appearances across Europe and the UK. Refreshingly, he seems to have no particular aspirations to play in gargantuan clubs, and admits to preferring gigs in small, intimate venues, where he can make a connection with the crowd. Just perfect for AfroCo.