It’s A Mad, Mad World
October 05, 2011
When Neil Fraser was a boy and his body no longer than those audio mixing boards that would eventually come to define much of his career, the residents in his hometown of Georgetown, Guyana, would stare at him, scratch their heads and dub him “Mad Professor.”
But they meant him no disrespect by the newfound moniker. Their intentions, in fact, were more along the lines of “Yah, Mon, de bwoy a de crazygood!” rasta-speak referencing Fraser’s incredible aptitude for electronics as a youth rather than his one-time belief that voices coming from his mother’s radio belonged to actual men living inside the music box.
“I built my first radio when I was about 6 years old,” Fraser tells Musical Notes. He then followed up that feat with the construction of a telephone system by the age of 10. “I never went to college; I just read books and taught myself the whole thing.”
And once he coupled his love of electronics with a growing interest in the stateside sounds coming from Motown and Philadelphia International Records, he was hooked. Today, the London resident is “da mon” responsible for bringing the reggae roots of dub into the digital age thanks to his prolific abilities as a producer and engineer while collaborating with reggae musicians such as Lee “Scratch” Perry, Sly and Robbie, and Jah Shaka, as well as other genre artists Sade and Massive Attack.
Maybe more important, he’s made it cool to put an engineer’s abilities directly in the spotlight. His skills, after all, aren’t in playing a musical instrument, but in his mastery of emphasizing the drum and bass portions of the song and combining that with his technical wizardry in the recording studio. Local fans can check out just how mad Fraser’s mixing skills are as a DJ when he appears on stage this Saturday at NextDoor on North Hotel Street. The show gets started at 9.
In looking back on a still burgeoning career that officially began in the late ‘70s after he opened up a then quaint four-track studio in London, Fraser can’t believe where the path of music has led him.
“I couldn’t really sing; I still have the worst voice in the world,” says the Mad Professor when asked whether life in music was ever planned. “So, I really didn’t want to make music into a career.”
And although he spends less time in the studio these days (“I do more live work than studio work because studio work isn’t what it used to be with all the changes in the industry,” he says), Fraser still finds ample time to put dubstep sounds out for mass consumption. In fact, he just released a new album called The Roots of Dubstep, a reminder of how technology works best when added “to good songs with proper constructions.” The latest release places the number of dubstep albums released under Fraser’s Ariwa Sounds label at “260 and counting,” he says. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to build up a strong foundation with some talented artists.”
Musical Notes caught up with the mad dub master and got him to drop some additional knowledge on this week’s performance and, yes, his singing abilities.
MN: You’re no stranger to these islands, right?
MP:Yah, Mon. I’ve played in Hawaii about 10 times. The first time was in 1994 and it’s been off and on since then. I think the last time, though, was in 2007.
MN: What can fans expect to hear Saturday evening?
MP: A little bit of the old stuff. Beyond that, I don’t want to say. I think it’s always good to give the fans a good surprise.
MN: You mentioned earlier that you can’t really sing. But I think you’re just being modest about your ability to hold a tune. Am I way off base here?
MP: (laughing) One thing I learned, contrary to popular belief, is that everyone can sing. But, you have to find the right key and you have to find the right range. Once you find those things, then (the producer) can help you put it all together in a melodious manner. It only becomes rubbish when you don’t have the right range to sing, say, a Minnie Ripperton song, and yet you try. Some people learn this naturally; some people, it comes with time. With me, I sing a little (more laughter). I’m gettin’ there.
MN: Do you care about where you rank among producers, engineers both inside and outside the dub world?
MP: I don’t. I just do my thing; everything else is up to the fans. You know, my work is more a spiritual thing for me, not an egotistical thing.
Joining the Mad Professor at NextDoor nightclub will be Marty Dread, Hawaii’s own reggae ambassador. The Maui boy is putting the finishing touches on a new CD and plans to first release a remake of the Credence Clearwater classic Who’ll Stop The Rain, a track he recorded with the Jamaican reggae group Inner Circle ... The iconic and Grammy-award winning band Earth, Wind & Fire struts into Blaisdell Arena Thursday for an evening of vintage American R&B, funk and jazz fusion music. Heralded for its raucous live shows, heavily sequined outfits and, more importantly, a slew of timeless pop hits that include Shining Star, Sing A Song, September, Boogie Wonderland and Let’s Groove, the group shows no signs of slowing down even though it’s been touring for the better part of four decades.
Founding member and tenor vocalist Maurice White is no longer a part of the act (he retired in 2005 because of health issues), but Philip Bailey and his trademark falsetto and Maurice’s younger brother, Verdine White, who’s high-energy style of bass playing remains quite infectious among EWF fans, are still front and center with the group. The groovin’ starts at 7 ... Finally, the intoxicating rhythms of Latin music come to life as The Son Caribe Band perform at 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday during the annual Hispanic Heritage Festival & Health Fair at Kapiolani Band Stand. Don’t miss the free event.
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