Ophir “Kutiman” Kutiel is a 25-year old musician, composer and producer from Tel Aviv. He plays drums, keyboards, guitar and bass, among others and we strongly believe that he will leave his mark in 2007 and beyond.
His music draws influences from afro-beat, psychedelic rock, funk and reggae but in different way than most disciples of Fela and Mr.Brown have done before him. Clever heads may even spot some Special AKA, Chocolate Watchband or the pre-historic drum-machine Sly Stone introduced on “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” on Kutiman’s self-titled first album. But being clever is the last thing Kuti tries to be with his music.
Kuti just plays what he feels and the fact that he is coming from a place far away from New York, LA and London (or wherever the latest musical trend is envolving) is surley one reason why his music shows such a great deal of originality. Believe it or not, it was only five years ago, that Kutiman was introduced to the music of Fela Kuti and James Brown, through his friend and now musical partner DJ Sabbo.
“I am an UFO from Zichron, a small village in the north of Israel”, Kuti jokes about his upbringing. He started playing piano at six and switched to drums and guitar at 14. When he turned 18 he moved to Tel Aviv, to study music at the Rimon College. Around that time music meant jazz to him. “But working in a local Seven-Eleven store I started listening to a college station which opened me to all sorts of music that I had never heard before.” he remembers. “I was shocked and excited to find out there’s so much music around.”
And Kuti was quick to absorb these new influences and started developing his own sound and vision. “The fact that Sabbo introduced me to the amazing world of funk and afrobeat simply changed my life” says Kuti, who today is an integral part of the small but growing groove scene in Tel Aviv. Music-fans may have heard about the local rave scene but most people think about the Middle East conflict and the pain and suffering that it brings to the lifes of all people living in the region, when they think of Israel’s second biggest city. Kutiman’s first single “No Groove Where I Come From” with Elran Dekel on vocals was his comment on being a musician in Tel Aviv. “There are some great and gifted musicians in Tel Aviv, but the scene is so small we could all meet up in my room” he explains.
It was this funked up afrobeat anthem with it’s cinematic finale that caught the attention of Melting Pot Music who released it on a 12″ single last fall. A few weeks after becoming friends on MySpace, Kutiman signed with his already recorded album to the Cologne-based label. The reactions on “No Groove Where I Come From” were simply phenomenal. Tastemakers like Gilles Peterson, Diplo and Roskow (Jazzanova) were instantly hooked, the Parisien afrobeat community welcomed Kutiman with open arms and and “Straight No Chaser” magazine dubbed him “Psychedelic space funk architect”. But once you listen to Kutiman’s whole album, you realise that afrobeat is only one shade of Kuti’s kaleidoscopic sound. From Westindian grooves and easy listening to rock and soul and even pop there are no barriers. “Music Is Ruling My World”, the title of Kuti’s third single where he features local soul and groove diva Karolina sums it up best (“Half disco, half afrobeat and mostly perfect for summer jamming purposes.” was “The Fader”‘s verdict on the single). And while Kutiman recorded the bulk of the album all by himself, playing keys, drums, guitar, percussions and bass he also showcases many of his friends and favourite musicians from the scene in Tel Aviv.
Elran Dekel (lead singer of Funk’n'stein), Karolina (Funset) and Chaka Moon are sharing vocal duties, Dotan “Sangit” Segal and Idan K are playing percussions and the whole Funk’n’stein brass section (Shlomi Alon, Yair Slutzki, Sefi Zisling) is featured too. And it was Kuti’s longtime friend and production partner in various other projects, Ronen Sabbo, who helped mixing the album.
01. Bango Fields
02. No Reason For You feat. Elran Dekel
03. Take A Minute
04. No Groove Where I Come From feat. Elran Dekel
05. Losing It feat. Karolina
07. I Just Wanna Make Love To You feat. Chaka Moon
09. Once You’re Near Me feat. Elran Dekel
10. Escape Route
11. Trumpet Woman feat. Karolina
12. Music Is Ruling My World feat. Karolina
13. And Out
The album Kutiman “Kutiman” (Melting Pot Music) has been released October 26, 2007.
Interview with Kutiman
Interview by Amar Patel / Photo by Amet Israeli
Where does your name Kutiman comes from?
My name is Ophir Kutiel, but ever since I can remember myself my nickname was Kuti (this name was my father’s nickname and obviously he never had any connection to the Afrobeat Leader …). About 5 years ago when I recorded an album on a 16 track I decided to go with the name Kutiman.
Where did your musical education begin and what was the biggest factor during that time in establishing your current sound?
I started picking up on the piano when I was six. When I was 14 Idecided to try and experiment with other instruments such as the drums and guitar and it was very self educated. I grew up in the north of Israel and at 18 I decided it was time to move to Tel Aviv to study music at Rimon college, a local music school. At Rimon, I got into Jazz music, but working in a local Seven-Eleven store I started listening to a local college station which opened me to all sorts of music that I’ve never heard before. I was shocked and excited to findout there’s so much music around.
My current sound however was influenced by a fellow friend and musician, DJ Sabbo, who introduced me for the first time to James Brown and Fela Kuti. You may believe it or not but it was only 5 years ago when I was first introduced to the amazing world of Funk and Afrobeat. This simply changed my life. Sabbo handed me a pile of Cds and I started listening to them over and over.
Describe some of the places that you’d play at in Israel?
The local scene is very small and though I have yet to perform my own solo stuff, I have played with various bands all over the country. One of the main problems (apart from lack of variety) is that most places are usually very poor sound wise and in many cases they are simply industrial workshops turned into clubs.
What did you get up to while in the Caribbean; any lasting impressions of the place and people?
The Caribbean period has been a strong influence and a massive experience on every aspect in my life, not only musically. I came to Jamaica at a very young age and had an utopian vision of this country but found out that life there is simply hardcore. Nevertheless I was blessed meeting and working with some amazing musicians, most of them are totally unknown. You would record your neighbour in a local bus stop, a warehouse or any place you can imagine. Any place in Jamaica where you would put your laptop and a Mic and press record – you can get some music. For me this was the best music school I could have hoped for – not only for its amazing reggae music. I even ended up at The Marley’s mansion selling my riddims to Damian and Stephen!
What’s it like for a musician in Israel trying to make it, generally, and as an artist like you rooted in this spacey afro-funk sound?
Impossible! In spite of the fact that there are some great and gifted musicians the scene is so small we could all meet up in my room. This is one of the reasons I named my song “No Groove Where I Come From”.
Is the otherworldly party sound in Kutiman a means of escaping the history of harsh conflict in your land?
I guess that you may think this way, I simply try to avoid all this terrible conflict and just keep doing my thing
Who were key influences in your life, people who made you want to make it as a musician? Influence of Fela on you as a human being and on your spirit?
My friend DJ Ronen Sabbo who introduced me to so much music and with whom I am still working closely would be my key influence on my whole style and concept. Music wise I would say that key music influence would have to be the obvious mixture of Fela Kuti, James Brown, Sizzla and the list can go on and on. I would say that any dope musician doing his thing is an influence whether he’s a legend or unknown.
I’m hearing Dexter Wansel and cats like that in your music … Any links to that?
No, but thanks for the tip, I’ll check him out … (-;
Do you think of anything, any one or anywhere when playing those synths?
The album was recorded 2 years ago. I returned from my visit to Jamaica and this was me trying to escape to outer space and communicating through music. I feel like I play best when I don’t think …
Run down exactly all the instruments you play?
I try to play a little bit of every instrument (from the saxophone to the Oud) although I wouldn’t call myself a proper player of any of these instruments. On my album I played most of the Drums, Percussions, Guitar, bass and the keyboards.
Any specific goals for the future, in a musical context or otherwise?
My dream is to be able to make a living while keeping on grooving.