Affectionately known as “The Prince of Soul Bossa,” Khari Cabral is a man with many talents and opportunities. His father is a successful businessman and philanthropist and his mother is one of academia’s most admired leaders. But rather than pursue a safe career in business or academia, Khari chose to let his passion and deep love for music take him down a different path: the career of a musician, composer and producer.
The decision has been a good one for Cabral. He started playing bass at the age of twelve. As a teen, he performed in high school bands in New Jersey and New Orleans. At 18, he was compelled to move to Atlanta after seeing Spike Lee’s film School Daze about a fictitious black university in Atlanta.
It was the movie’s now-classic soundtrack, produced by Stevie Wonder and Lenny White, with songs from Marcus Miller, E.U., the late Phyllis Hyman, Kenny Barron, Pieces of Dream and Terence Blanchard that Khari found so compelling. The fusion of jazz, pop, R&B and “downtown Atlanta soul” was a revelation for him. Atlanta provided Khari yet a new place to call home. He attended historic Morehouse College and earned a BA in Music Composition and Theory.
After graduating, Khari aligned with some of Atlanta’s best musicians and entrepreneurs and formed “The Groovement and Earthseed Music Collective.” Members of Earthseed included India.Arie, Donnie, and Jiva. For two years they put on concerts, children’s workshops and released a successful compilation album that was directly responsible for the national discovery of India.Arie.
Earthseed’s compilation album proved to be a springboard for Khari as well when it caught the attention of New York tastemaker label, Giant Step Records. They signed Cabral to a record deal and released the international hit “Love Chooses Lovers”. Khari’s collaboration with British singer Julie Dexter, Moon Bossa, helped launch the rediscovery of “Soul-Bossa,” a style that Cabral describes as “classic Bossa Nova meets Motown.”
When India.Aire was offered the opening act for Sade’s Lover’s Rock tour, she didn’t hesitate to invite Khari to join her on the road. After the three month tour, Khari was asked to become a full-time member of her band. He also made time to tour with Jiva and Russell Gunn in Europe. When he met his true love, he followed his heart once again and moved to Australia to start a family, teach bass and hone his composing and producing chops.
With his newest album, Clementine Sun, Cabral comes full circle. Recorded in Atlanta and mixed in London by friend and mentor Bluey, Clementine Sun is a fresh fusion of soulful bossa spiked with jazz and retro pop sensibilities and reinforces Khari Cabral as “the prince of soul bossa.”
The all-star lineup on Clementine Sun includes Oteil Burbridge on six string electric bass, Russell Gunn on trumpet and the incomparable Incognito horn section. Vocal contributors include Sabrina Malheiros, Monday Michiru and Chantae Cann. The album’s first single, Stevie Wonder’s “Never in Your Sun,” features multi-Grammy winner India.Aire.
I recently spoke with Khari Cabral about his new cd Clementine Sun.
Daood Obaid: The song “Clementine Sun”: Enthusiasm, sun bursting energy radiates happiness even on a rainy day. Explain the creation of this featured addition and its unique title.
Khari Cabral: Yes. That song was actually written in Melbourne, Australia. I was at my desk working on some other music. I looked out the window and saw one of the beautiful Melbourne sunsets. It immediately inspired the song. Progression and vocal line came at the same time; a pure homage to the bright orange hue of lovely sunsets that happen near water.
Musically, what was the precursor to you playing the bass?
I had an acoustic guitar around my house, as many people do. But really, bass was first for me.
Indie.Arie is featured on “Never in Your Sun.” Is it safe to say, that this musical arrangement has a 70’s appeal?
I think it does have a feel of the early 70’s bossa albums that I know. Antonio Jobim’s Stone Flower album and the album he recorded with Elis Regina would have a similar sound; and late 60’s Sergio Mendes, with those wonderful Herb Alpert brass arrangements; Dave Grusin as well.
Take us down memory lane and tell us about your introduction to Indie.Arie
I met India.Arie 15 years ago. We were both playing at an event called RED CLAY. I started playing bass for her right after that. That was when she was doing very soulful folk music, before her signing. It was a guitarist, percussion, cello and me on bass. I love that era of her music.
Is one of your goals still to become Prince’s bass player? And could share the background story surrounding the artist Prince?
Listen, if Prince ever wanted me to jam on bass with him, I am THERE!!!!!!! LOL!!!! No question. I learned to play bass by playing along with Prince’s albums 1999,Parade, Controversy and Dirty Mind. I listened to concerts and studied his bassists Brownmark and Levi Seacer.
Chantae Cann is featured on “Get Back,” and if you could tell us about her and the development of this upbeat piece that I can never get tired of listening to.
That makes me happy, that you like it so much! That song is dear to me as well. I also wrote this while I was living in Australia. The chorus was there right away, but the verse was taking me a while to write. The first part I had was the Clavinet through the phaser; which, I fell in love with from Steely Dan albums. It at first reminded a lot of people of another song I wrote for the group I was in, Jiva. It was a song called “I Realized,” and was one of my first 3 club hits.
Chantae I met when we were both in India’s band. One of those great meetings where I knew before hearing her that I was going to love her voice; I knew that I wanted her to sing “Get Back” so I called my buddy Paige Lackey-Martin who writes for India, Incognito and a host of other artists. Since she is a soprano too, I knew she would write perfectly for Chantae.
Explain the story behind your nickname Burt Mendes.
Aaaah! Yep. So …… when it comes to bass, there are some people that are big influences like Prince, Marcus Miller, Mark Egan and Reggie Washington. When it comes to writing and producing, there are 3 people that hold a big influence on me: Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones and Sergio Mendes. Those are my 3!!!!! Around here I have been nicknamed Burt Mendes for that very reason. I love the nickname in all honesty.
“Coolamon Waltz and Ninos feat. Oteil Burbridge & Russell Gunn.” Talk to us about the creation of these two songs
“Coolamon Waltz” is a street I was living on in Byron Bay, Australia. I was living beautifully then, writing music, picking lemons, getting fresh fish from the local fishmonger. That song is about the walks I had on that gorgeous street overlooking the ocean. “Ninos” is a song that I heard originally on an album by the Yellowjackets bassist-Jimmy Haslip. I loved his first solo album, and especially that song. I play with Russell Gunn every month in Atlanta when I am not on tour. I saw Oteil at an India show and we talked there, as he had just finished a tour with the Allman Brothers. Oteil is such a complete musician, with melody and groove being so equally awesome within him. I thought it would be lovely to have him play, and sing, the melody on that song, especially since Jimmy’s original did not have a bass doing the melody, which is rare for a solo bassist record. I respect that a lot actually.
Highlight one or two of the most influential songs that were played by your parents and that are near and dear to your heart?
The songs that are nearest and dearest that my parents played? Easy: “Peg” and “Time Out of Mind” by Steely Dan.
“The Dove” is another spectacular piece but is the piano piece at the beginning taken from the Herbie Hancock song “I Thought It Was You”?
LOL!!!! YES!!!!! Nice catch there!!!! That is one of the quotes on the record for sure. It was the idea of my keyboardist and friend, Julius Speed. There is another quote at the top of “How Can We Go Wrong.” Let me know if you catch that one; great ear on the one at the top of “The Dove.”
Thanks! I didn’t catch the one at the top of “How Can We Go Wrong,” but “I Thought It Was You,” by Herbie Hancock is still one of my favorite songs from his album Sunlight. Are you inclined to create music centered around the bass instrument?
I do love to create music on the bass. For the bass? I am not sure. If I do, it would come from more groove ideas I believe, but who knows. I play a lot of chords on bass when I practice or play by myself. I may do more of that on records soon though. I have one song for the next record that will be doing that. And I love the way Kim Stone does it.
What is your relationship to Monday Michiru and her being featured on “Belle of Byron Bay”?
I am a loooong time fan of Monday Michiru!!!! I could go on and on about how great I believe she is. Such a great songwriter and producer!!!! I was heavily into her solo albums in the 90’s during the Acid Jazz period. And her work with the Japanese band Mondo Grooso. She is the first artist I asked to be featured on this record. Once she said yes, India wanted to be a part as well. The rest came easy too. I got to work with almost every artist I wanted on this record! I was soooo happy and so blessed. I really wanted to work with Inara George too.
Where were you in spirit and body for the inspiration of “How Can We Go Wrong,” featuring Incognito?
“How Can We Go Wrong” is written by a old friend of mine, James White. We were in an Acid Jazz band together called Sirius B. That song is from that era with Sirius B. I always want to have encouraging words and phrases, almost used as mantras on my albums. “How Can We Go Wrong” always was in my heart. Then having India’s background vocals sing it along with Incognito’s horn section…… that just made it for me!!!!!!
How did you meet Sabrina Matheiros who is featured on, “Major Bossa?
I have never met Sabrina in person, but I loved her album Equilibria. Then I heard the remixes done for her by Incognito and Nicola Conte. I love her spirit and voice so! I am looking forward to meeting her one day soon though. I am friends with her producer, Daniel Maunick, who is also Bluey’s son. I am a big fan of her father too, Azymuth bassist Alex Malheiros. I always am taken somewhere else when I hear her sing that song! She is so special.
Articulate the spiritual thread which appears to be the foundation for every composition created?
Hmmmm. I do believe that there is a message of love that I want in the music, even if it is not articulated verbally. I always try to make sure that the album is moving through me as well , and that I am connected to the “source ” of it as much as possible. I am very happy that you identified a spirit within the record. I am all about albums. True albums: Songs that have a tie to one another; Chapters of one book. I conceive songs in albums often. I still just love albums, and miss hearing them. I believe there are a lot of records that are songs collected and put in a sequence. But a true album should take you on a journey, just like a good book. That ideal with a bit of love-intent I guess would be that spiritual thread.
Words of wisdom by which you live?
There are so many…. really. They come up for me at different times. Listening to my spirit and acting from my inner knowledge is important. Trusting in your spirit and knowing. I do my best with that, especially in music.
The official release of Clementine Sun is February 25, 2012 For more information about Khari Cabral, you can visit his website.