There’s no mistaking the R&B style of Incognito. But this best-selling jazz trio also has roots in island music, thanks to frontman Jean-Paul “Bluey” Maunick, who was born on Mauritius. Here he shares how the trio’s new album, Tales from the Beach, delivers that island vibe.
How did you blend island music with your style?The music of Mauritius, the Sega music that I fell in love with, is slavery music. It’s a folkloric-tale type of music with an R&B groove. It’s African music that found its way all over the world: in sambas, soul, funk, jazz; and you hear it in the music of Incognito. It’s quite joyous. You add in the horn section to that — and the uplifting vocal lines that I write — and you’re always going to get something that feels kind of summery and tropical.
What are your favorite memories of growing up on Mauritius?My uncle was a sailor, and I’d watch his ship vanish on the horizon, and I’d wonder where it went. We used to have one airplane a week that passed over our house; all the kids would run in the street and wave at the airplane and imagine where it was going. It was a very island thing. It was a child’s innocence. I fell in love with this sense of wonder about journey-making. To this day, what sets Incognito apart is that we put that in our music. A song can make you sense the wonder of a place and let you take an imaginary journey to places that are exotic and far away.
I understand that you traveled to Bali for inspiration for your new album. How did it influence your music-making? In a way, beautiful places — places where your mind is free — will inspire you to put what you see into words. It’s not just because it’s stunningly The Joyful Music of the Beach beautiful, but your mind is open to be able to capture that beauty and put it in a song. Bali is the place where I want to go and live because I made a connection with the people there. There is that sense in Bali that they get up in the morning and they’re happy. The landscape is open, the nature of the people is open. Bali helped me be a better songwriter.
What do you do whenever you want to be transported back to one of your favorite islands?To me, whenever I’m on an island, you will always find me at sunset time on the beach. And I cannot think of a better island drink than freshly squeezed cane juice on ice. If I listen to “When the Sun Comes Down” while drinking fresh cane juice on ice, it’ll actually create the beach for me, even if I’m in London in the middle of wintertime.
Looking back, how did the island life on Mauritius help shape your career?My first childhood memories were of music on the beaches of Mauritius. I loved it, and I knew that’s what I wanted to be: a musician who told stories and made people happy. To listen to samples of Incognito’s music, click here.