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Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band

The Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band is an instrumental German deep funk recording collective who are often called the "world's greatest cover band." Their spacy, infectiously danceable sound signature revolves around the Trinidadian and Tobagonian steel pan drum. Used alongside conventional instrumentation, the steel pan creates a nearly vocal character alongside its rhythmic identity. Largely anonymous, their 2007 debut single on Mocambo Records offered two Meters' covers, "Look-A-Py-Py" and "Ease Back," that drew global notice, as did their 2008 cover of 50 Cent's "P.I.M.P." infused with a dubwise groove and Afro-Latin horns. Bacao didn't record for six years but returned in 2014 on Plain Jane with the "Bacao Suave" (their first original), backed by an instrumental version of Hi-Tek's "Round & Round." The mysterious outfit released their debut album 55 in 2016 on Big Crown. In addition to originals, it contained unique, innovative covers of Dennis Coffey's "Scorpio." 2018's long-player The Serpent's Mouth included a stellar read of Jan Hammer's "Crockett's Theme" and a host of other covers. A handful of singles followed in 2019 and 2020. The band's third long-player, Expansions, arrived in July 2021. Begun in 2006 as an anonymous side project of the horn-driven German instrumental group the Mighty Mocambos, Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band was founded by the band's multi-instrumentalist Björn Wagner. He spent time living in Trinidad & Tobago and became obsessed with the traditional steel pan drums. His intrigue was fed by local players, who taught him the instrument. After becoming proficient, he commissioned his own custom instrument from a 55-gallon oil drum by legendary pan drummer/maker Louis C. Smith. After returning to Germany, he set out to use his instrument inside the Mighty Mocambos' meld of funk, soul, and hip-hop, but decided to form a side project instead. His name is the only constant on their recordings; the rest of its membership remains shrouded in mystery. As evidenced by their debut single, the double A-side comprising covers of the Meters "Look-A-Py-Py" and "Ease Back" offered an exotic, deeply funky yet tropical take on the funksters' classic tracks using the steel pan drums as the primary melodic instrument. In addition to its tinny, lyrical quality, it provided color, texture, tonal and timbral balance to keyboards, a trap kit, electric basses, guitars, winds, and horns. Released on Mocambo Records with no advance notice or fanfare, the single resonated with DJs around the world; some actually mistook it for a bootleg reissue of a lost 1970s funk single. Bacao followed in 2008 with another single, this one a cover of 50 Cent's "P.I.M.P." Though Wagner copied the steel drum vamp at the heart of the original, the band added layers of dubwise effects and Afro-Latin horns transformed the jam into something else. After receiving rave reviews and becoming a dancefloor staple, Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band vanished. There were no recordings for six long years. In 2014, they re-emerged (again without advance fanfare) on Plain Jane with the single "Bacao Suave" -- their first original tune -- backed with an instrumental read of Hi-Tek's "Round & Round." They signed to Big Crown Records and in 2016 released their debut album, 55. The long-player contained their second and third singles alongside a slew of originals and innovative covers of Dennis Coffey's "Scorpio," Faith Evans' "Love Like This," Cat Stevens' "Dog Was a Doughnut,” and John Holt's "Police in Helicopter." The set drew positive critical -- and DJ -- notice across Europe, the U.S., and Asia. In 2018, Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band returned with their sophomore album, The Serpent's Mouth. Almost equally divided between originals and covers, the set was propelled by its first single, another double A-side offering provocative yet canny covers of Dr. Dre's "XPlosive" and Mobb Deep's "Burn." The band also paid homage to Belgian-based soul/funk outfit Chakachas with a remake of their "Jungle Fever," as well as covering Jan Hammer's "Crockett's Theme" from the Miami Vice score and soundtrack; they also delivered a deep tropical dubwise read of Lennie Hibbert's 1969 Coxsone Dodd-produced reggae hit "Real Hot." The record sold far better than its predecessor, prompting many questions about their origins and the identity of their personnel that all went unanswered. The band drew one more single from the release in 2019, a double A-side featuring their covers of the Jackson 5's "Great to Be Here," b/w Gang Starr's "All for tha' Cash." In 2020, Bacao kept the music coming. In 2020 they released a double A-side cover single of Grace Jones' "My Jamaican Dub" and Erykah Badu and Madlib's "The Healer. In May 2021, they issued a cover of Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," b/w Sylvester's "I Need Somebody to Love Tonight." In July, Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band released Expansions, their third long-player. Containing 12 tracks and co-produced by Björn Wagner and Brooklyn-based Steffen Wagner (no relation), its sound added the influence of Italian soundtracks from the 1970s and psychedelia in an altogether more funk-forward affair.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo
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