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Baby Namboos Biography

Last updated: 07/03/2001 04:13:55 AM

I guess the old dictum "It's not what you know, but who you know" couldn't be truer than in the case of the Baby Namboos (Mexican slang for small guns), Britain's latest trip-hop export.

"We were really worried about having him get too involved," says head Namboo Mark Porter." So it was a good thing he voluntarily stepped away from this project."

The guy Porter is casually referring to from his bright Bristol, England apartment, is none other than Tricky. As Porter describes it, his cousin encouraged him to put some ideas together on his handy Q-120 back in 1996 while Tricky was busy in New York becoming the biggest thing on mainstream dancefloors since the Village People.

"He tends to really take over in the studio," says Porter. "So we were relieved when he just wrote a cheque and walked away."

Given Tricky's reputation as a studio wizard on his own, with Massive Attack and his Nearly God indulgences, it's even more surprising he wasn't in there twiddling the knobs. Though he played a part in the production by "investing" and putting down two days worth of vocals, cousin stayed away. The Baby Namboos' debut, Ancoats 2 Zambia, was released on Tricky's label Durban Poison, a subsidiary of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell's new conglomerate called Palm Pictures. It's notable for its familiar simplicity and esoteric approach to beats and samples.

"I've always been into old dub and world music," says Porter. "My dad used to listen to a lot of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, so I think I learned the subtleties of great sounds and the spirit that can live in music if you let it."

Recording Ancoats 2 Zambia was as international as it sounds. Conceived in New York, laid out in Manchester, England, it ended up being recorded in New Orleans at one of Canadian Daniel Lanois' famous State-side retreats. The album neatly touches on some urban music foundations. While paying tribute to British luminaries like African Head Charge and Goldie, Porter and his crew craft a vibe that would be just as comfy in Schooly D's as Adrian Sherwood's studio. Though tapping a sonic well familiar to most, a trippy vibe is expertly weaved throughout in ways that could be called millennarian or, at the risk of being completely out of touch, post-modern. The CD relies heavily on rasta standards frequently dropping into slow dub and post-punk patterns. The vocals of Zoe Bedeax (a.k.a. Aurora Borealis) even hearken back to those post punk dub divas, The Slits.

"I think it's pretty clear where my influences lie," says Porter. "I like a lot of old dub and punk music. There's no question I am a product of a particular period in British music."

The Baby Namboos have also been successful at taking it to the stage. By opening for Tricky on a short European tour they discovered the intoxicating effect their music has on a crowd. The story goes that the eight-piece ensemble played their first live gig to a virgin crowd in Hamburg, Germany and found themselves pulling in a throng that wouldn't let them leave the stage.

"There is something indescribable about playing live that you can never understand holed up in a studio," says Porter. "It's that energy you get as you see people responding to what you are playing. You can't get the same vibe spinning, it's something that comes from the rush of creating something completely fresh and watching what it does to people."

Mark Porter is a veteran music junkie from Bristol, England. So his comments on the State of the Union had to be addressed. Is music going to continue to become more removed from the spontaneity of live performance and inevitably become the product of the technical virtuosity required to stroke any old Pro Tools program on an iMac?

"The pendulum is definitely swinging the other way," says Porter. "I saw a band in Los Angeles that was a 12-piece with mostly horns and drums. There is no way to get anything close to that in a studio, and people know and appreciate the difference. But in Britain today it's easy to lose sight of that. More people are buying decks than instruments now. I know, my 18-year-old son is in a music tech program here in and I see it first-hand."

How does Porter address the similarities the Baby Namboos have to Tricky's sound palate? He answers with a simple explanation.

"We grew up together," Porter says shamelessly. "We're bound to have a similar taste in music."