Monday, Sep 04 2006 | 11:48

Strains of film noir-worthy dark jazz, chunky tropical dub, and snake-charming soul permeate “Berlin Serengeti”. Chanelling Mulatu and Coltrane in a dub shack studio a barrage of big horns blast blacksploitation flavors with an Eastern funk twist. Hailing from Berlin, it is Radio Citizen, aka Niko Schabel and a talented collective of Berlin, Germany-based musicians, who are behind this adrenalin-infused and spiritually-charged debut album.

Radio Citizen was brought to Ubiquity’s attention by Quantic. “Have a listen, you might like this”, he said handing over a CD-r to Ubiquity A+R rep Andrew Jervis after a gig in San Francisco. He was right. In summer 2005 Ubiquity released lead-off track “The Hop” on the “Music Is My Art” compilation. The mad DJ-friendly mix of dub and soul turn heads and rocked decks worldwide. A limited edition “EP1” added Afro-beat, jazz and funk to the Radio Citizen (released as Radio City) arsenal in Spring 2006. Selling-out quickly, the EP earned “single of the fortnight” from Blues and Soul magazine in the UK, and nods from DJs worldwide.

“I’m bored with lazy programming and lounge-overkill”, says Schabel who glues the loose collage of textures and samples with live playing and vocals on Berlin Serengeti. “My tracks are done when everything is essential and nothing can be taken away … When it shines, when it’s dark and deep”, he adds.

Bouncing effortlessly between genres “Berlin Serengeti” switches from DJ-friendly “The Hop” to cinematic dub and moody back-room jazz on “Mondlicht”. The pace quickens with the dusty-funk vibe of “Everything” featuring vocalist Bajka and the instrumental jazz journey “Night 1” and it’s more explosive counterpart “Night 2”. The mood swings and vibe changing continues through the twilight torch song-reggae feel of “El Cielo” and the wah wah and horn-driven Ethiopique flavored “Prophets”. Manic jazz prevails on “Blackforest” and “Voices”, where the crashing drum breaks take the instensity level up several notches, making way for the sparse yet intimate tracks like “Dust”, “Love Serenity” and “Roads”.

“I think Radio Citizen encompasses a lot of my influences. There are shades of my love for sixties jazz, funk 45s, soul, dub and reggae, hip hop, afro beat, electronica, trippy stuff, d&b, early eighties avant-garde, surf, the old school, the new school, Arabian music, Latin, boogaloo, rocksteady, whatever!” rolls out Schabel. “But the artist I admire most is John Coltrane.”

In addition to the sampler and mixing desk Radio Citizen maestro Schabel plays alto saxophone, kalimba, percussion, rhodes, clarinet and bass clarinet, flute and synthesiser. Schabel has his own jazz quartet, and plays with the Express Brass Band, the Poets of Rhythm, Jojo Kuo (ex-Fela Kuti), Nik McCarthy (Franz Ferdinand), the Last Poets, and many more. His Radio Citizen tracks are often accompanied by Wolfi on flute and sax, and by the other-worldly Bajka. Bajka’s unique vocal styles incorporates multiple languages as she sings, raps and chats her way through tracks. Born in an Indian temple, she grew up in Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, and on a catamaran in South Africa. Bajka has traveled the world with music commune Embryo, a group that her father performed with, and that Schabel has also played alongside.

Schabel initially chose the name Radio City for the project because he had recently read the Rem Kohlhaas book “Delirious New York” which is in part about Radio City Music Hall and it allowed for a suitably wide range of musical connotations. However the band was pressured to change their name to Radio Citizen. In keeping with the radio theme, music from the album is being used in a German documentary about the famous communication towers in Berlin. Stills from the documentary were used in the creation of the album artwork.

The Radio Citizen live shows can take on two differing formations, depending on venue and budget. Schabel is comfortable DJ’ing with loads of unreleased re-edited versions, dubs etc in the box and armed with mpc and vocals by Bajka. Alternatively, wherever possible Radio Citizen will perform orchestra-style and Schabel describes this as sounding and looking like “Sun Ra vs. James Brown! … this sounds like more fun to me”, he says. “Band members will be multi-instrumentalist to get that full spectrum of sounds. I think at the moment there is a definite need for more live music.”


“Just what I’m into these days. Bajka’s voice fits perfectly with exotic, ethereal and esoteric jazz styles like that.” Gerald Short (Jazzman)

“Brilliant!” Gilles Peterson

“Very cool album!” Michael Rütten

“Album of the year” John Kong, Do Right! Music

“Heavy, heady, and very good.”

“Get these kids in the studio, please! ” Trace Magazine

“Ooooh, how delish is this? 5/5” Blues & Soul Magazine

“Great release, (…) Everything is a real beauty. 5/5” Rainer Trüby

“One of the freshest Ubiquity sets we’ve heard in awhile”

The album Radio CitizenBerlin Serengeti” (Ubiquity) is going to be released September 15, 2006.

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