GET FAMILIAR: SMANDEM.
We are SMANDEM., a collective of friends, musicians and producers. Rafael Devante Sinay (guitar), David Nino van der Grinten (keys), Kick Woudstra (drums), Aäron Bouwman (bass) at the core, but really we represent a larger family of creatives.
Explain the name of your group.
Mandem is a term that originates from Jamaica and found its way to the UK. It basically means group of friends. There’s several different theories about where the S comes from. Some say it’s because we really like Shakira.
How did you guys meet? And how did the idea for this band come up?
We knew each other from school. Like attracts like, so we were pretty quick to find that we had a somewhat different taste in music and other aspects of life (like clothing style, food, sports, girls etc.) than other people at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. The big difference was probably that we were a bit more mainstream than a lot of people there. One thing isn’t better than the other, don’t get us wrong, we just simply don’t come from a jazz background. Obviously that tradition set a strong premise for our story, but to play strictly “traditional” jazz would be dishonest coming from us.
Anyway after meeting each other we started hanging out, jamming and performing in school together and things just kinda developed from there.
Where do you think the current jazz resurgence comes from?
I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily a jazz “resurgence”. That culture has been around for the past century and it keeps developing just like any other culture. I will say that current jazz is strongly influenced by I guess the postmodern time we live in, where the art isn’t strictly bound by one format but rather takes different elements from different cultures from different eras and puts them together in a kind of retrospective way. As a result we have people like Robert Glasper who manage to make jazz mainstream again.
Where do you think popular music is going? Will live instrumentation overtake the charts?
The urge to search for something alternative instead of mainstream/consumer based is definitely a huge trait of this generation.
We have the feeling that people nowadays take pride in their creative abilities, because there is much more audience for it.
Live music has become alternative. But realize that before the invention of recording, live music was the only medium to experience music. On top of that it has been and still is the only medium to experience the real ‘energy vibration and frequencies’ of music. At a certain point recordings made music marketable and profitable. For this emancipating/self-educational generation, it is only natural that live music will overtake the ‘charts’ again.
Do charts matter?
What matters to us, is that we get the opportunity to make great music and that we get to reach as many people as possible with that. Music can be a remedy for the soul. In this way we hope to contribute our tiny part to the world.
What has playing an instrument meant to the individual group members growing up?
David: I’ve been obsessively doing the thing I love to do ever since I was a kid. That shifted from playing soccer to basketball to skateboarding to playing the drums at twelve to playing the piano and making beats at fifteen. I just so happened to be sticking with that right now.
Aäron: Looking back, playing an instrument always has been a way to release the energy that I had. I never thought about why I played the instrument, I just did it because I liked it. Unconsciously it was a great outlet for me, creatively as well as an energy outlet.
Kick: When I started playing drums at the age of six, I immediately said: ‘I want to become the best drummer in the world.’ I quickly realized that in order to achieve that, I’ll have to study real hard, every day. So playing drums gave me a real clear goal in life at a really young age. While my friends were hanging outside, I was studying my rudiments and copying my heroes in my room.
Rafael Devante: I started out playing the keys as a little child. Mimicking the demosongs on a keyboard or trying to play songs I knew or heard in my head was an interesting challenge for me. One night when I was 10, I came home and saw my parents singing and playing the guitar together. Since that night I chose the guitar to be my instrument and it really became the physical ‘gadget’ to explore and connect me and my inner world to this big intangible musical world.
You guys just released a new single "12AM in Bali". What is the story behind this song? Is the title a Drake reference?
First of all super sharp that you noticed. 12 AM in Bali is kind of a love bird from Drakes style, our love for contemporary jazz fusion, and traditional Balinese Gamelan, with which Rafael fell in love on a vacation a few years back. The Drake-esque confident sensitivity is something we felt resonating with this tune.
What has been your best gig so far? What does a perfect SMANDEM. show feel like?
Paradiso SSJ 2019. Everything just seemed to come together at that point. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” show, but that specific one turned out to be a big boost for our goals and morale at the time. We invited a bunch of our good friends on stage for the encore at that gig, which SMANDEM. being a family of creatives - as we mentioned before - has become something we have been wanting to radiate ever since.
Also playing at ESNS meant a lot to us. We’ve played there before, but only in service of other acts. To be a part of that line-up with our own group and getting airtime on national Dutch public tv means that we’re being recognized which is a big honor.
Who is your biggest inspiration as a group and why?
Anything can be inspiring. Music is a reflection of everything one perceives really. All four of us have a pretty lively fantasy so we often draw lines between certain musical passages and say something from a movie or just any kind of imagery. I guess Debussy is someone we took that from if we have to namedrop.
Which stage do you aspire to play on one day?
Coachella, North Sea Jazz, Dekmantel, Tiny Desk. The range of aspired venues is pretty wide. We don’t really constrict ourselves to one category of venues. Whatever works to get our message across.
If you could choose a dream collaboration, who would it be?
Ty Dolla $ign
What do you guys hope people will experience from listening to your music?
Creative freedom. We hope people will feel that the possibilities are endless in music or in any art form for that matter.
There are no boundaries, one just has to search for their own truths. It doesn’t matter whether that’s in an institution, self-taught or passed down through a tradition. All of it is justified through good music. In a time where there is a need to make the people, young people but also particularly people from older generations, aware of all the emancipation that is happening right now in the world, we think it’s important to reflect that in our creative output; emancipation of vibes and frequency.
What is your biggest ambition as a group?
Our biggest ambition as a group is to produce music that is great on the surface, thus communicating with humanity, but at the same time is very rich on the inside thus giving people an as deep as possible experience. Think The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Bach, Travis Scott etc.
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Images: Segraphy, concert photography by Bart Heemskerk