The Brand New Heavies speak to ZANI

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Starting a band is an electrifying experience for any budding musician.  A collection of like-minded individuals committed to their cause, to make music and for the world to listen.  As the exhilarating voyage unravels, their record collection becomes their mentor and their chosen instrument becomes their lover.  Soon the band embarks on an expedition in the hunt for success and personal fulfilment.

A journey full of joys and pitfalls lies ahead, in which the band’s buoyancy tries to overcome all obstacles. Moreover the pursuit certainly proved fruitful for three clubbers from The Queen of the Suburbs (Ealing) and one Soul Sister from Atlanta. Whose determination, dedication and love for music helped them to become one of the most exciting and funkiest bands ever, The Brand New Heavies; a band known for their grooves, dapper clothes and outstanding musicianship.

Formed in Ealing in 1985, by three friends, Jan Kincaid (drums), Simon Bartholomew (guitar) and Andrew Levy (bass).  There was no master plan in action, other then to produce funky music that paid homage to the likes of James Brown and The Meters. Whilst the boys were learning to “take them to the bridge”, a young beautiful girl, N'Dea Davenport left her hometown of Atlanta, to try her luck in Los Angeles.  Not knowing what the City of Angels had in store for her, all she knew was that her destiny was calling.

the brand new heavies zani 24Their paths would eventually cross in the US in 1991.  A meeting that some might say was destiny, three lads obsessed with the Funk, and a Soul diva. From this meeting the ultimate Trans Atlantic cross over soul and funk band was born.

Within 2 years of the first meeting, The Brand New Heavies became a huge success across the globe. Moreover in 1994 the band produced their critically acclaimed album, Brother and Sister; an album that would establish them as credible artists in the world of music.

However N'Dea Davenport departed in 1995, to pursue her solo career. Andy, Jan and Simon carried on with a selection of new singers, Siedah Garrett, Carleen Anderson, Sy Smith and Nicole Russo.  This kept the flame of The Brand New Heavies burning brightly. Yet in 2006, N'Dea Davenport returned to the fold, and many fans felt that the best line-up of The Brand New Heavies were back.

With their enthusiasm as zealous as ever, The Brand New Heavies close 2008 with a major tour as they start work on a new album in 2009.  

Therefore, for ZANI it is perfect timing to chat to Simon, and N’Dea about the true adventures of The Brand New Heavies.

ZANI - You have recently done a few sell out shows. As seasoned and talented professionals, you know what to expect, but as artists do you still get the same excitement and butterflies like you did in the early days before you do a show?

N'Dea Davenport - I like the word you used seasoned, because when you keep doing the work you have certain anticipations about the show, I get into such a zone like a boxer, I become a prize fighter ready for the big fight.

Simon Bartholomew - There is a certain energy you get before you go on stage. There is no resting on our laurels with The Brand New Heavies, be it a big or a small gig.  We do get into a musical zone. It’s quite spiritual and we get that from the audience, it’s almost like an exchange of emotions. It’s not as if we are Gods on a stage. It’s a party, its fun.
 
ZANI - It’s maybe fair to say that The Brand New Heavies write in a very organic way. Allowing the music to breathe, with no set formula. But what disciplines do you have to complete a song, or are you perfectionists so you are never happy with the end result?

N'Dea Davenport - You just know when it’s done. For instance, when you are in the mixing mood, everybody tends to stand up. For some reason, that seems to be the sign.  

Simon Bartholomew - One way that we write, is that we jam a lot together. So when we get a good groove, we say let’s work on that. Then we tweak and add things to the song.  But the good feeling starts from the beginning of the writing.

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ZANI - One track Sex God came about from N’Dea playing the drums whilst Andy was on the bass, as Jan I understand had a cold.  Are you a good drummer N’Dea?

N'Dea Davenport - Jan didn’t have a cold, he wasn’t in New York when we were recording.  I can play enough to do a little jam, if I applied myself a bit more, and if I was a bit more confident in public.  But I can definitely hold my own on the drums.

Simon Bartholomew - I went to this amazing benefit in Central Park New York, with Al and Tipper Gore and their show Current TV. Andy & me were looking for N’Dea, and we looked up and saw her playing drums with French Fishbone, a crazy funk band.  

N'Dea Davenport - Ha, one of those spontaneous moments in life.   The spirit has to really hit you.

ZANI - Staying with song writing , this comes from an interview from citysites.com  Andy states that between the albums  Brother Sister and Shelter (1997) –“We definitely matured, We have  learned a lot about arrangements, melodies and structures.”

Of course in any career, maturity is good, but don’t you think that some times the best music comes from naivety and learning your way round an instrument, a raw passion I suppose. However I suppose it is impossible to maintain the arrogance and impulse of youth, as you grow not only in age but also in skill set.  But do you miss the days, when you hit a high note or play some beefy riff for the first time, and think the hell did that come about?

N'Dea Davenport - Good point. We are always pushing and challenging yourselves, even though hitting that high note or chord for the first time when you are younger is exciting. But  even to this day , we are always rediscovering and reinventing yourselves. That is what keeps things fresh in The Brand New Heavies.

Simon Bartholomew - We haven’t got really good and really brilliant. It is still a funky and chucky thing that we tuck into. We are not starting to over play or anything like that.

ZANI - Like all bands now, you have taken to use of PCs, and I presume that a few of you live in different parts of the world. So do you trade ideas and tracks over the net with MP3s, which is brilliant as it saves time and money. But I bet you guys, love the vibe of being in a dark studio together, cut off from the outside world, making and listening to music.

Simon Bartholomew - We only ever done that later on. Usually we get together and record some jams. We only done it in one instance.

N'Dea Davenport - What Simon is saying, we put the bases on the track down, and if we are missing a guitar part or missing vocals, then we send some MP3s.

ZANI - So it’s just add-ons then.

N'Dea Davenport - Yea, we don’t do the creative process separately.  
 
ZANI - I read that Simon said that The Brand New Heavies like studios with no windows, as opposed to the massive studios is that a true statement ?

Simon Bartholomew - I don’t remember saying that. But what I might have been talking about is when there is no daylight in the studio, time goes out of the window. So you can play music for a long time, but it is quite nice to have a bit of daylight.  

ZANI - Staying on the subject of recording have there been or are there any studios you would like to record in perhaps Detroit, as homage to Motown or Memphis home to Elvis and of course Stax, or I am being a little too romantic here?

N'Dea Davenport - There are plenty, I won’t say something like Memphis or some place like that. I think it would be beautiful to go the Barbados, like Compass Point where you can record outside by the sea.  Or maybe record in Ibiza, a beautiful place.

Simon Bartholomew - I like to record at Electric Lady Studios in New York the one that Jimi Hendrix built, never been there, or Abbey Road as well.

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ZANI - You haven’t recorded at Abbey Road. But you have worked with George Martin

N'Dea Davenport - Yea we did for a live benefit for Sir George Martin.

ZANI - What can the fans expect in your shows for 2009?

N'Dea Davenport - Oh man, they can expect to get those great feelings of the first gigs when they came and a little bit more. Because they will be getting the refined wine version of The Brand New Heavies.

We done our first UK show in Norwich the other night, and it felt that nothing had changed. It’s nice to see the fans too. They are still different from different backgrounds and ages. It’s nice to see the fans from when we first got started, and they’ve also matured.

We provided an outlet for them to get out and enjoy a concert. It’s a slot that has not omitted them from the world of Pop music for 19 and 20 year olds. I think it is important time, not to omit this group. We and they are a funky group of people, because a lot of us are closer to the post punk and post Hip Hop era. We are the 1st generation of what you would call the pop culture generation.

ZANI - Is true that of your early gigs in New York at the S.O.B club nearly ended in a riot when Q Tip from A Tribe Called Quest and MC Search joined you on stage, or is that just media hype?

N'Dea Davenport - No that was for real, that was unbelievable.  New York at the time was really banging.  There was still a lot of creative freedom. Many Hip Hop artists at the time were out of New York.  P Funk came down and jammed with us, it was really a  good time

ZANI - You’ve recorded and worked very closely with Lancôme; Magnifique - which you recorded the Carl Porter Song C’est Magnifigue, made famous by Eartha Kitt.  This seems a project that you really threw yourself into. This venture, and your version are brilliant.

It was better then just selling a song to them, as you had a very hands on approach, was that the deal you wanted from Lancôme?

N'Dea Davenport - I think it was important that we were hands-on, we are musicians, not advertisers.  But in Television, how are you going to create a great advert without music?   At the same time we are an established band with our own trademark sounds. So it was important for us to combine and collaborate with Lancôme. They wanted a classic Carl Porter rendition for their product, which we done with our own twist on the song.  

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ZANI - From your interview on the Lancôme website, N’dea mentioned being influenced by Punk, Hip-hop, Funk and Rock .

So was it the DIY culture, of learning 3 chords and then going to form a band, I know that Andy, Jan and Simon came from Ealing and N’dea from Atlanta.  But I am talking of kids bored with the opportunities that lay ahead in the suburbs across the world and maybe hearing the likes of The Clash, The Ramones, The Pistols, as well Funk and Soul classics inspires them to form or join a band?

Simon Bartholomew - Soul music, especially in the UK has been a working class thing.  A place to go at the weekend where people go to clubs and dance; It is a kind of release We were just normal kids who liked music, playing in our bedrooms There was no money involved. We didn’t do it to make records, we done it because we liked making music.  

N'Dea Davenport - In parallel to that, even though I come from Atlanta obviously Soul music is important. But also there were alternative pockets and groups, who linked with each other, like Punk and Hip Hop.  I emerged more so from Los Angeles, where there were a huge underground illegal clubs, with a combination of Punk, Skate punk, Hip Hop, Soul and Funk.  All these people merged, but there is more segregation in music these days, which doesn’t allow people to come together as freely and easily as they used to.  This is definitely the case in the US.

Simon Bartholomew - It’s funny what N’Dea was doing in the US, is what we were doing in the UK.  Hanging out in the club scene, meeting new people.

ZANI - It was the DIY Culture that got The Brand New Heavies noticed. You made a tape in your bedroom in the mid eighties, and the tape became a hit in-between James Brown and other Funk classics, at the famous Cat In The Hat Club, London. Was that due to you, Andy and Jan hassling the promoters Barrie K Sharpeye and Lascelles?

Simon Bartholomew - We were regular clubbers there and we hung out with these guys.  Barrie and Lascelles used to come round to Jan’s house to listen to our jams. We gave them a tape, they listened to it, liked it and then played it. 

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ZANI - You make it sound simple, but I suppose it was. When you were creating, what was to become The Brand New Heavies sound, did you experiment with other musical genres?

Simon Bartholomew - I was from a rock background. I was into Hendrix, Zeppelin and Reggae.  Jan and Andy were deeply into Soul and Jazz Funk, so between us we had this sort of thing.  I changed my style to a funky style, then we got into James Brown and Rare Groove at the same time.

ZANI - Did you ever at the early stages of jamming want for Jan and Andy to come over to the rock side of things?

Simon Bartholomew - I put the rock energy into the Brand New Heavies, but I was willing to compromise as you want everyone on the same level, otherwise a band doesn’t work.

N'Dea Davenport - The interesting things about our shows, is that they are almost rock shows with beats and grooves.  We give adrenalin out that you would get at a rock show.  

ZANI - Whilst Andy, Jan and Simon were sowing the seeds for The Brand New Heavies in Ealing, what were your dreams during this period N’Dea? I know you bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles.

N'Dea Davenport - I came from an acting and dancing background.  The biggest thing I wanted at the time, was to be on Fame. That was my whole thing, I was doing my training in Atlanta, and Los Angeles was a place I had never been before.  I went to LA with 300 bucks, I didn’t release these people were serious about their acting and singing. I started meeting different people, and doing different things.  

My reputation as a vocalist and as a performer started growing. During the day I would be singing in a studio, and in the evening I would be in these cool clubs. That was part of my work landscape, because I was a dancer there. I worked with the DJs, which funnily enough led me to my first record deal, and meeting these guys.  The record deal was on Delicious Vinyl who were the DJs at one of the clubs I worked in.  So really The Brand New Heavies came out of club culture.

ZANI - That’s a great way of describing it, from the clubs of West London and Los Angeles, The Brand New Heavies were born. To me, good musicians are artists, and they absorb other creativity outlets. I know Simon is keen on poetry, and you all are highly intelligent individuals. Whilst cutting your teeth, and even now, this could go  on for hours, so I’ll just stick with films. Are there any movies that help you in the creativity process?
 
Simon Bartholomew - I like the odd Hollywood movies, but for me it’s films like Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider.

N'Dea Davenport - For me, being a front woman in a male dominated band, I get inspiration from strong women. I like the original version of Nikita, the French one. The one minute she this beautiful girl then she jumps on a motorcycle and changes into her aggressively proactive outfit to do her job.  As I am the only female in the band, I am trying to bring both aspects of someone like Nikita to the band. I don’t know, maybe there is a bit of vanity there.

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ZANI - I like it.  Going back to the club scene, your first record came out in 1988 on the Cool Tempo label, Got To Give, which seemed destined for big success. But as we know that year, was eclipsed by a new club movement, Acid House. As it has been well documented you all finally met up in 1991.

So maybe you needed the hysteria of Acid House to die down so the sound of The Brand New Heavies could be fully appreciated?

Simon Bartholomew – As our first single was coming out, the Rare Groove scene was dying and Acid House was happening.  That is why Acid Jazz was formed. They did smiley face with the Goatee beard and glasses.  It was an alternative for people who liked real music.  I was shocked by Acid House and House music, because there were no guitars and I thought I was out of a job. Of course that changed, but it definitely affected our success for two to three years, because the record companies jumped on the strongest trend, which was Acid House at the time, not Acid Jazz.

ZANI - The Brand New Heavies are seen as the definitive sound of Acid Jazz, and Eddie Pillar one of the  founders , spent his life savings on recording your first album. Was he the man who really believed in you?

Simon Bartholomew - We also spent our live savings on recording the album.  Eddie Pillar stuck his neck out. He signed Jamiroquai and us. Eddie has been a good guy in that way, despite other times he hasn’t been.

N'Dea Davenport - You also have to credit Giles Peterson, on the global level. Eddie and Giles created a backdrop across the globe, for an alternative place for people to go.

ZANI – Wasn’t it Eddie Pillar who took The Brand New Heavies to Delicious Vinyl.

Simon Bartholomew - No it wasn’t. Paul from Delicious contacted Eddie, about working with us. We actually recorded the first album with another singer.

ZANI - That’s right, Jay Ella Ruth. Whatever happened to her?

Simon Bartholomew - She is now actually teaching Jan’s kids.

ZANI - So in a way she is effectively part of The Brand New Heavies.

Simon Bartholomew - I suppose you could say that.
 
ZANI - The Brand New Heavies eventually found success in the US not the UK. Did that feel like sweet revenge after the up and downs you had  with the British music industry?  

Simon Bartholomew - Yes, because a lot of record companies in the UK, turned us down. They just didn’t get it. When a band like Oasis breaks through, the record companies try to sign a million bands like that. Because that is the nature of the A & R men, they want to sign a safe thing.  Until we made it in the US, they weren’t interested in us in the UK.  That’s they way is the music industry. They don’t want to take risks.

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ZANI - You have recently penned a song for the album,  where you have a pop at the whole disillusionment of commercial radio, and how eye candy is more important than the amazing music being played.

Do you think we might see that change over the years, is the world of Pop Idol here to stay or do you think we will return to the DIY Culture like Punk, via the internet?

Simon Bartholomew - There has always an underground scene and there has always been a commercial side to music. I love the quote from Buddy Bolden from New Orleans in the 1920s. He was asked before the music industry became big, if they could record his music. He replied “If you record my music, people will steal my style”.  Now that’s really underground.

N'Dea Davenport - With Pop Idol there are plusses and minuses, I personally have never watched Pop Idol but I understand it, because the Media is so difficult for some people to get through the door now.  Pop Idol US made Jennifer Hudson a superstar. Like in the UK, you had Leona Lewis, but it is quite manufactured if you ask me. But with anything that is too commercial and that is forced down people’s throats, they will soon regurgitate it. Which will force other genres to come out, I am hoping there is going to be a cycle, and that cycle is more functional.  
 
ZANI  - I am going to quote Kenneth Rexroth from the 50s, “Disengagement Of The Art Of The Beat Generation”, in reference to Charlie Parker & Dylan Thomas “Both of them did communicate one central : against the ruin of the world, there is only one defence, The Creative Act”. To me, I think that fits into The Brand New Heavies, you have a jubilant sound that brings joy to people, even though there are bad things going on in the world.

N'Dea Davenport - Our music does give people something to hold on, you can’t imagine the letters people have written or said to us “I was going through the worst period of my life, and your music got me through it”.   

Simon Bartholomew - Or they tell us lost their virginity to The Brand New Heavies sound

ZANI - Really people tell you that?

N'Dea Davenport - Oh yea, all kind of things.  

Simon Bartholomew - Whereas punk is talking about urban decay, and Hip Hop are talking about their lives. The Brand New Heavies are providing a bit more sunshine then that. It’s similar place but with a different thing going on.  We are not saying the world is falling down, we are saying come and have a good time.

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ZANI - For sure, bad things will happen, but if you have got a smile on your face. You can get over it

N'Dea Davenport - For sure.   

Simon Bartholomew - That is the origin of Soul music. It came from poverty but people were singing nice things.

N'Dea Davenport - The Blues is all about overcoming hardship.

ZANI - Yea I wish the media would try to use this, instead of going on about the credit crunch, and making people more desperate.

Another great aspect of The Brand New Heavies is your attire, on and off stage. I mean that is some great clobber you chaps wear, and to quote N’Dea, you are “clothes survivalists”, meaning you can look cool and stylish by what you’ve got in your wardrobe, and without spending loads of money. Dressing up smart is a mass creativity process. Where do you guys get your clothes from, or is that a secret?

N'Dea Davenport - If it works with me I’ll wear it.  I don’t go for designer labels. If I am going to go for a designer, I am going for an up and coming one, so it feels fresh and has not been tainted.  But if you mix and match, thrift stores, discount stores and expensive stores, it could be anywhere. Designers are now starting to put their range now in the cheaper stores.

Simon Bartholomew - Now you get nice funky suits, but in the late 80s and early 90s, all the suits were these big baggy things.  So you were forced to go to the Thrift Stores or Charity Shops, to get the clothes you wanted.   I’ve always been into the retro. The way I dress is being a bit rebellion in saying you don’t have to go for the modern stuff; you can be a bit different.  I like people who are a bit different.

When I first wore flares, I had a bit of flare vibe. People used to laugh at me on the train.  But it took a lot of bottle to wear those flares.

N'Dea Davenport - People used to laugh at me, I didn’t wear flares, but they were colourful clothes. But a few years later people have got the same clothes on.

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ZANI - OK, as any biog reads on the Brand New Heavies.  N’Dea left in 1995 to pursue your delayed solo career. You came back briefly in 2000 to record one track with your soul brothers, Finished What You Started, (Ironic title)  When you did originally  leave, did you know you would be back ?

N'Dea Davenport - I would like to correct that. I wasn’t leaving so much to do a solo record. I had left a lot behind in the US and there were some personal things, I wanted to do. Yea, there was a record that I had left dormant, which I wanted to finish.  So it was a combination of those things. But I didn’t have any idea that I was going to come back.

ZANI - When N’Dea departed, you had tried a few singers, which I will come to in  a second. Didn’t you perhaps feel like doing other album like Heavy Experience VOL 1, The Brand New Heavies with a range of guest rappers from 1992?  

Simon Bartholomew - I don’t know how we managed to do that project in the first place. I think it was an idea that spurred from the rap singers getting on stage with us.  In the commercial world, the band makes an album, the record company promotes it and you go on tour. That’s the cycle of the recording industry. It is really hard to promote a record with 10 different artists on it.  We couldn’t get one rapper to do another rapper’s rap.

ZANI - Would you like do another project like again though?

Simon Bartholomew - Yea we are toying with the idea. We are thinking about doing it with involvement from N’Dea. If we have loads of guests on it, we can’t really tour with it. We are a band, so we tend to write and play together.  In saying that it would be great to do other album like Heavy Experience VOL 1.

N'Dea Davenport - You never know what is around the corner.
 
ZANI - Watch this space so to speak. Just out of interest, is it an urban myth that Jay auditioned for The Brand New Heavies?

Simon Bartholomew - That is an urban myth.  We knew him, when he was starting out. You know with the punk thing, when you see your mate in a band, and you want go and form a band. Well Jay saw us, and wanted to form a band.  So there was a movement going on with us, Jay, The Young Disciplines and Galliano.

ZANI - I am not going to ask you to say anything derogatory about Siedah Garrett, Carleen Anderson, Sy Smith or Nicole Russo. That is not the ZANI vibe. But are you still in touch with any of your former singers?

Simon Bartholomew - Nicole, no.

N'Dea Davenport - We still see Siedah, Carleen and Sy.  

ZANI - Not Nicole ?

Simon Bartholomew (smiling) - We’ll leave it at that.

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ZANI - You played a lot of great countries and venues, as big lovers of soul music. Would you say that playing The Apollo at Harlem was like performing at your Nirvana?  

N'Dea Davenport - You go to the Apollo, you know all these amazing people have played there. There is a tree trunk there, that is meant to give you good luck when you rub it.  When you think of the other people that have rubbed this trunk, that's an amazing feeling.

ZANI - What is the special bond between The Brand New Heavies?

N'Dea Davenport - I guess it is that we do love good music, we sacrificed so much for this, and we’ve done it together. So when you start to depend on each other like family, and realise whose strengths are in different areas. You acknowledge that, and this helps to make a beautiful bond.  

ZANI - Final question, if they were to make a film with actors about the life and times of The Brand New Heavies, who would like to play you, and would you entertain the idea to make a film like The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night?

Simon Bartholomew - Brad Pitt or Philip Seymour Hoffman for me.

ZANI - And the other guys ?

Simon Bartholomew - Andy, hmm Chris Rock.  I would like to make a movie like A Hard Day’s Night.  

N'Dea Davenport - No not Chris Rock. I’ll get back to you, who I would like to play me. But I love the idea of a Brand New Heavies fly on the wall movie.

ZANI  - Jack Dee perhaps for Jan ? Not a question but a message to your fans

N'Dea Davenport - We appreciate you for sticking with us all these years, and appreciating what we have to share with you. It’s pretty simple I guess, I just want to thank you, and the familiar faces are looking good.

Simon Bartholomew – What I would like to say, is about picking up your instruments. The best way to learn is have a few lessons then get together with your mates and play. It doesn’t matter how old you are, 15, 20, or 36 & ½ . Have a go, you will love it, and your kids will enjoy it too. 

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Wise words from a man who has dedicated his life to his craft, as a guitarist. Moreover a big sign of appreciation from a compassionate singer who knows The Brand New Heavies’ fan-base across the world has been instrumental in maintaining their success. An achievement that has spanned over two decades. With a new album on the horizon, a third decade looks highly likely.

It is hard to say whether it was destiny when N’Dea met Simon, Jan and Andy in 1991.  However one thing is for certain, it was the perfect meeting of like-minded individuals from across the Atlantic. Bringing all their experiences, talent and passions into the mix. A combination of Jazz, Soul & Funk with the anger of Punk, the beats of Hip Hop and the power of Rock thrown in for good measure. You could say the perfect foundation for a band.  

From meeting Simon and N’Dea, you certainly get the feeling of a positive vibe within their unit.  It is a strong bond of friendship, love, and professionalism. In addition, like all strong units, there have been difficulties, but that is the nature of life.  However, the problems are hidden or overcome by their sheer enjoyment by playing and recording.  

To be honest I don’t think any interview could unravel The Brand New Heavies’ ardent approach to the music, because without wishing to use a cliché, the band let their music do their talking.  Besides that is what has always been on top on their agenda. When they set off on their journey in the Eighties. Be it waiting for the bus home outside Ealing Boulevard or walking past Johnny's Hideaway in Atlanta at sunset, all Jan, Andy, Simon and N’Dea wanted to do, was create music and the world to listen. Well The Brand New Heavies have certainly fulfilled their dreams, the adventure continues…

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© Words – Matteo Sedazzari/ZANI
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ZANI was conceived in late 2008 and the fan base gradually grew by word of mouth. Key contributors came from those of the music, film and fashion industry and the voice of ZANI grew louder. So, when in 2013 investor, contributor and fan of ZANI Alan McGee* offered his support to help restyle and relaunch the site it was inevitable that traffic would increase dramatically and continues to grow. *Alan McGee co-founder of Creation Records and new label 359 Music..

 

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ZANI is an independent online magazine for readers interested in contemporary culture, covering Music, Film & TV, Sport, Art amongst other cultural topics. Relevant to modern times ZANI is a dynamic website and a flagship for creative movement and thinking wherever our readers live in the world.