In Search of the Mysterious Mandingo

In the early 70’s Mandingo’s Primeval Rhythm of life was one of those albums that everyone had to have in their record collection. At the time we had no idea who Mandingo was, nor did we care. We just loved the primitive energy that pounded out of the speakers – all four of them if you had the quadraphonic version. I had never heard the term Jazz/Funk fusion or anything similar. The natural assumption was that Mandingo was some kind of ‘African’ band similar to Osibisa who were also pretty popular in the 70’s. The naked black woman astride the big bongo drum on the cover would support that assumption. The name Mandingo probably refers to the tribal peoples from Sierra Leone who, as it turns out, are well known for their percussive ritual music. Confirmed African then?

Imagine my delight when recently I found the Mandingo III album in the middle of a box of classical and show tunes LPs. But now I am curious to know who Mandingo actually was.

There are at least four projects called Mandigo. From the surprisingly little information available, it seems that the one I am interested in was the brain child of a British band leader called Geoff Love. Love was a trombone player, arranger and orchestrator. Having played in Jazz ensembles and Easy Listening bands such as the poetically named Manuel and the Music of the Mountains, at the ripe old age of 55 he decided to go in a totally different direction.  With the help of similarly aged producer Norman Newell, he gathered session musicians around him, got hold of talented song writers and unleashed a highly explosive mixture of exotic drums, gigantic brass layers and electronic devices. Together they mixed African rhythms and percussion with progressive rock, funk and jazz. One reviewer described the music as, “an orgy of furious drums, horns, and enormous guitar licks; damn intense stuff!” Not the sort of thing one would expect from two middle aged British producers.

Geoff Love’s name does not appear anywhere on the liner notes and the Mandingo project is not mentioned in any bios or even on his Wikipedia entry. Yet surely The Primeval Rhythm of Life must have been his biggest selling album, over and above his series of easy listening albums: Big Western Movie Themes (1969), Big War Movie Themes (1971), Big Suspense Movie Themes (1972), Your Top TV Themes (1972), Big Terror Movie Themes (1976) and Big Bond Movie Themes (1975).

Mandingo made four studio albums in total:  The Primeval Rhythm of Life (1972); Sacrifice (1973); III (1974); and Savage Rite (1977). The Primeval Rhythm of Life is the most common of the four around today and for lovers of jazz/funk fusion type stuff it is as relevant now as it was in 1973. Twenty dollars is a fair price to pay for it. The others are a bit harder to come by and may command up to $30 or more.

If you like this article you will love my new book, Tait’s Modern Guide to Record Collecting (Melbourne Books, 2016). Available from me or direct from the publisher.