British director Tim Mackenzie-Smith’s inaugural cinematic venture, Getting it Back: The Story of Cymande, unfurls a compelling narrative of Cymande, a 1970s Black British ensemble. This film revisits a crucial chapter in music history, spotlighting the group’s journey—a tale of unsung heroes who, though overlooked in their heyday in the UK, later emerged as pivotal architects reshaping the contours of music and dance culture. It’s a story of delayed recognition and profound influence, capturing the essence of a band whose rhythms eventually danced into the annals of music legacy.
In the annals of music history, Cymande stands as an enigmatic gem, a band whose rhythmic concoction of jazz, funk, soul, and Caribbean grooves carved an indelible niche. Getting it Back: The Story of Cymande documentary is a time capsule that transports us into the heart of a musical odyssey, spun from the threads of cultural convergence and artistic audacity.
Cymande: The Comeback Kings
Cymande might not be a band you’re familiar with, but their music is likely recognisable – their extraordinary story has largely remained untold. In the early 1970s, south London, specifically in Balham and Brixton, a collective of Black musicians who migrated to the UK from the Caribbean as children, part of the Windrush generation, established Cymande. Guided by leaders Patrick Patterson on guitar and Steve Scipio on bass, they merged genres such as jazz, funk, soul, and Caribbean rhythms, forging a novel sound. Their music was not only political and spiritual, reflecting themes of peace and love, symbolised by a dove, but also innovative.
Although they achieved popularity in the USA with their initial three acclaimed albums and hits like ‘Bra’, ‘Dove’, and ‘The Message’, they encountered apathy and systemic discrimination in their home country. This led to disillusionment and the group’s disbandment in 1975.
However, their influence persisted as successive generations of UK and US musicians, spanning genres like Hip Hop, House, Drum and Bass, R&B, and Rare Groove, rediscovered and incorporated their groundbreaking sounds and beats. This resurgence saw their music being sampled and reimagined in tracks by artists such as De La Soul, Wu-Tang Clan, The Fugees, and The KLF, introducing their rhythms to a broader audience.
After 40 years, Cymande reunited, performing to enthusiastic audiences and receiving critical praise.
Cymande’s undeniably seismic influence is articulated through the voices of admirers like Mark Ronson, Jazzie B, Norman Jay, and DJ Maseo of De La Soul. These figures, among others, attest to Cymande’s pioneering sound and enduring impact on various music genres.
In the documentary, the band members of Cymande offer insightful reflections that give depth to their story. These include details about their creative process, challenges faced, and the evolution of their music.
Key moments are highlighted, like their initial US success and reunion after years of disbandment. Their anecdotes and behind-the-scenes insights into performances and recording sessions offer a comprehensive view of their journey, illustrating the band’s resilience, adaptability, and music’s timeless appeal.
In Getting it Back, the film vividly captures the racial dynamics of 1970s Britain, crucial to understanding Cymande’s story. As Caribbean immigrants, their experiences in a society grappling with racial issues deeply influenced their music.
The documentary reveals how this backdrop shaped Cymande’s sound and message, turning their songs into resonant anthems for equality and cultural identity. This exploration is not just historical; it powerfully resonates with today’s audiences, highlighting the band’s enduring relevance in the ongoing dialogue about race and music.
Getting it Back has been praised for its authentic storytelling and the vibrant way it captures Cymande’s journey. Critics have lauded the film for its deep dive into the band’s history and impact, though some noted a certain repetitiveness in the narrative. Rather than being a flaw, this repetition underscores the profound impact of Cymande’s music and legacy—a testament to the band’s significance that merits reiteration to appreciate their influence in the music world fully.
Getting it Back is a tribute to a band whose sounds have traversed time and genre. It’s a must-watch for fans of Cymande and anyone who cherishes the evolving story of music. Cymande will be on tour supporting the film release throughout 2024, including UK dates.
Getting it Back opens in cinemas in the UK & Ireland on 16 February 2024 by BFI Distribution and on an extended run at BFI Southbank. It will be available on BFI Player and released on Blu-ray by the BFI on 26 February.
For more information go to Cymande website