Stream of the week: Saâda Bonaire's Bedouin funk archive

German pop-art project Saâda Bonaire's oriental disco-funk tunes unearthed for a new moment

Music First Look
Saâda Bonaire
Cover image Image courtesy of Saâda Bonaire

As far as back-stories go, Saâda Bonaire’s is a pretty interesting one. A 1980’s German pop-art project that sought to fuse Eastern and Western musical traits that got signed to EMI, cut an icy but funk-ridden single 'You Could Be More As You Are' and almost immediately got canned by said label because of the huge success of Tina Turner’s ‘Private Dancer’ taking up all of the label’s resources combined with hapless, excessive A&R spending. In doing so, a truly innovative and idiosyncratic pop-outfit were ostracised and destined to fade into the ether of obscurity.

Their tapes then sat rotting for almost 30 years until luckily, somehow, the tapes were heard by one of the most interesting indie labels in the states: Captured Tracks, who are releasing the record next week. The record is a bold and flavourful amalgamation of not only musical heritages and cultures, but also of tones, tempos and experimentations. Combining the occasionally stony, stark minimalism of European electronics with the groove-laden funk of Turkish and Kurdish folk. Everything about the record shouldn’t have worked, and it almost was never even given the opportunity to fail but finally, in 2013, Saâda Bonaire’s unique brand of pop-art is available for all to revel in, with no fear of Tina Turner wading in and stealing the show.

Saâda Bonaire comprise of DJ Ralph “von” Richtoven, along with singers Stephanie Lange and Claudia Hossfeld, the former two re-tell their distinctive tale, you can also listen to the resulting album below.

Dazed Digital: Could you please breakdown this project for us? What is the back-story of Saâda Bonaire?

Stephanie Lange: Claudia and I wrote all the songs. We did a few cover versions, too (James Brown, J.J. Cale).

Ralph “von” Richtoven: It was around 1982. I was deejaying in the Bremen club Röher. Steffi (my girlfriend at the time) and her friend Claudia were two bright young girls hanging out. I thought these two have the perfect attitude and look for a duo (although they couldn't really sing). The band? Well there was no real band. It was a lot of friends from the music scene. I also gathered some traditional Kurdish folk musicians from the local Turkish communist party to play some more Eastern instruments on the tracks. I didn't really want a band – Saâda Bonaire was a pop-art project. We only wanted to release twelve-inch singles.

We could hear the influence that Caribbean and Indian immigrants had on British music in the 80s. In France, they had the Rai music from the Maghreb and a lot of musicians from West Africa. In Germany, we only had Turkish immigrants

DD: Can you tell us a little about the Eastern/Western combination/dichotomy in the music?  

Ralph “von” Richtoven: We saw the strong influence that Afro-Cuban sounds had on American music. We could hear the influence that Caribbean and Indian immigrants had on British music in the 80s. In France, they had the Rai music from the Maghreb and a lot of musicians from West Africa. In Germany, we only had Turkish immigrants... millions of them. In the 1970s I studied social work. By the 1980s, I was working for the German government's immigration department. I was responsible for many immigrant social clubs in Bremen. I was also collecting music tapes from Turkey and Egypt since 1975. In theory it was obvious what we had to do: fusion. In reality it was very difficult and almost impossible.

DD: How did producer Dennis Bovell (Matumbi, The Slits, The Pop Group, Fela Kuti) become involved?

Ralph “von” Richtoven: EMI wanted Conny Plank to produce. But we insisted on getting Dennis Bovell. I was a huge fan of Linton Kwesi Johnson, whom Dennis had produced. Dennis is a magician. Listen to his productions and you can hear that. You cannot really write about these things.

Stephanie Lange: Dennis could squeeze music out of any physical object.

DD: Was the single 'You Could Be More As You Are' intentionally produced in Kraftwerk's studio? - What can you recall of your time here?

Stephanie Lange: Charlie Mariano (he played in Gong) came in and laid down some amazing sax. He never even heard the tune before. We loved his style and he loved our voices. It was a wonderful time.

Ralph “von” Richtoven: We started production and mixing in another studio near Bremen, actually, but Dennis had to leave Germany to play some live gigs. Studio N was actually the only available studio that matched his schedule (lucky us). I remember they had an amazing SSL digital desk there (there were only two digital mixers in all of Germany at that time). Also Kraftwerk's people were still figuring out how to use it. There was definitely a lot of tension between them and us there. One week there was like being locked in a submarine. I remember traveling back to Bremen when we were finished. I got the bends resurfacing to reality.

About three years ago a friend told me that the twelve inch for “You Could Be More As You Are” was going for 200 euros or more online. I can't imagine why anyone would pay for that

DD: The A&R character in this story sounds interesting…

Ralph “von” Richtoven: We saw him only once, when we signed the contract. I never talked with him afterwards. All the info I heard about EMI I heard from our label liaison. His name was Michael F. EMI pulled the plug on Saâda Bonaire only to punish the head of A&R for his overspending on Tina Turner's ‘Private Dancer’. He went three times over his budget.

DD: Can you tell us about this album being rediscovered? How has its 2013 release come to fruition?

Ralph “von” Richtoven: c, but who knows. One day last year, I got an email from Andy Grier from Thieves Like Us who lives in Berlin and works for Captured Tracks. He wanted to know where the singers of Saâda Bonaire were? He had the idea to release the four EMI-tracks again. He also asked me for old tapes of Saâda Bonaire. Some years back I had cleaned out my cellar and threw away almost everything from my music past. Luckily, I found a few tapes from the project. They were in awful condition.

DD: Have you felt rejuvenated by the project seeing a release? Any plans to tour?

Ralph “von” Richtoven: Of course I am a little bit proud to see the material re-released after all these years. We had these sound-ideas in our heads in the mid 80s, but our possibilities to realise them were difficult then. We just had too many ideas. If the people of today are able to accept music that includes oriental elements, spoken word, disco-funk-bass, dub-effects and electronic sounds, all at the same time, you can say: the times are changing. But no, none of us are really interested in touring.

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