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Olio: Who says a rock band, can't play funk music?
By Mark Kirby
(more articles from this author)
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Those immortal words above, asked by Funkadelic and answered by incomparable R&B Rock band Olio, are more than a catchy chorus to an old jam. They ask, "What's up with the racial niche marketing?" What's white music, what's black music? From the great Louis Armstrong and Jimmy Rodgers New Orleans jazz/country cowboy music merger in the '30s, to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, with black Jimi's too-crazy white side kicks, to white hip hop fans and artists, popular American music has been on the forefront of breaking down racial and social barriers, just by being and extending a sonic hand to one's fellow man. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Motown music, Chuck Berry via Elvis Presley, Hendrix, and Prince. If not for them, where would the civil rights movement and social freedoms for all be?

"Gift Of A Smile"

Quicktime Video

Into this breach Olio throws itself. This is not a choice made for controversy. Anchored by Afro-American drummer/ vocalist/ songwriter DeHaven and Arif on voice, guitar and keyboards, Olio follows their artistic intuitions, drawing from a vast well of musical culture in the realm of rock, soul, funk and rhythm 'n' blues to grow their own musical love child, the album "Colour Of Music." By taking the best aspects of old school R&B and rock (not the frauds that pass for these forms today) and make their own thing.

What are your primary influences, and how have you blended these into your music?

Arif The Police, Prince, Sade, Jimi Hendrix, 6 years of classical piano, funk music, rock music... Duke Ellington said "There are just two kinds of music: good and bad." There are too many artists to mention, however, the first four I listened to a lot when I was growing up. I'm sure that has a lot to do with the sound I make today. Writing music is about expressing an idea, comment, question, emotion, etc., that I feel like getting out. I'm able to get it off my chest and put it in a song. As far as what it sounds like, I just go with where I think the song should go musically. I let the theme dictate the music or the music dictate the theme.

RealAudio: "Gift Of A Smile"

Like the best rock and soul of the past, Olio's theme vary. "Through to You" deals with communication, direct and unfettered, telling it like it is, even if others don't want to hear it. Love and remembrance are the themes of "Going Back." It's positive but gritty message of looking to your past to inform the present and future is presented in a personal story of ruminations to inspire and help one to hang on to the energy and optimism. The funky beat with rock 'n' soul style singing by Arif, has feeling and the words, on this song and the rest of the album, recall John Lennon's advice - say what you mean and make it rhyme. The blazing guitar is used tastefully to signify the soaring energy of being younger than today, before you needed help in every way. Like the best of cultural artifacts and art, this song waxes nostalgic for the past to reinvent the present. "Gift of a Smile" is a reminder to smell the flowers. As they sing: "Watching all the children play/ hearing thoughts of yesterday / feeling overwhelmed with stress/ chasing that dream with the best/ Celebrate the glory of to day/ celebrate the joy of life/ celebrate the gift of a smile."

MP3: "Hey Champ"

There are strict racial delineations as to what one listens to and how one dresses. This is pointed out on "Hey Champ." Its bouncy beat and tasty guitar and beat underscore the tense message of pain and idiocy of prejudice. "An incident at Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles turned... into a great song. I'm a white guy at a... black restaurant waiting for an hour, while black patrons are getting in with no wait. The host kept saying Hey champ, are you sure you want to wait?"

You make the mixed racial content of your band a cornerstone of the band's image and music. Why?

Arif For a long time we ignored it. Then it became obvious. I started noticing that there is still a problem for some people with races mixing. Even after the civil rights movement from back in the day. It's funny because most of the people that are against it have it in their family line already. They're just in denial. Eventually we'll realize that we're all Earthlings. It will take an invasion from space to do it, then we'll be a united front ready to take on the universe and spread our imperialism like Darth Vader and his storm troopers. But that's another story...

MP3: "Kickin' It"

Don't think that these guys are all about the heavy and the problems. No, in the best tradition of old soul, and rock, they have their own party jams. "Kickin' It" has the smooth melody and easy harmonies of classic Earth, Wind, and Fire with Prince's rockified dance beat. "Take A Ride" is a story about another day in Erotic City. "Girl I'm just curious, I just want both of us to get out on the floor and slide, put your hands up in the air, shake your booty like you just don't care." They break down to the beat and bass before launching the Hendrixian solo, and into the chorus, proving that the old can be new again (who today in the rock universe does this?). On "Symptoms of You" Olio evokes the breezy psychedelic soul of Rare Earth, not just because DeHaven is an authentic singing drummer, whose voice sounds like that bands drummer/vocalist, but because the soul drum beat swings and opens up on the chorus.

Do you drum and sing simultaneously during live shows?

DeHaven Yes.

Another unique trait for a unique band. In the cookie cutter world of conformity that belies the myth that we're all individuals, it's great to see and hear a great band of real individuals coming together to make real music. Rock and R&B are off the respirator thanks to Olio.

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