Mandingo’s debut on EMI records, Sacrifice of 1973, puts the Funk into the Exotica genre – or vice versa, depending on your viewpoint. Each assertion would be correct. Mandingo was the Funk project of British Disco orchestra leader Geoff Love (1917–1991) who recorded each and every of Mandingo’s four albums (plus a Best Of) with so-called session musicians, meaning that Mandingo wasn’t a consistent band. Each composition was transferred into music by chance, depending on the availability of the players and the studio-related schedule. Mandingo’s records were first and foremost created in order to cash in on the rising interest in African music.


Exotica fans will shake their heads, but not in disdain rather than in excitement, for quite a lot of the best Exotica records are those that were created in a hurry in order to not miss the jump on the bandwagon. The same qualitative appeal can be attested to Sacrifice and all other Mandingo records. It is loaded with hectic bongos and shimmering brass sections, probably the most obvious links to the Exotica genre. The boldest denominator, however, would be the funky electric guitars and the occasional use of the electric organs, for both instruments weren’t in use on any of the vintage Exotica records of the late 50’s and early 60’s. And yet the formula is enhanced in an impressive way.


All 12 tracks are foaming over with catchy riffs, memorable hooks, smashing brass melodies and quickly paced rhythms. While the front artwork and its glaring orange colors fit perfectly to the music, there is one golden thread that isn’t mentioned: most of Mandingo’s tracks could be considered sleek spy themes or car chase material. Seriously, there is something cinematic and pompous in the majority of the material that meshes well with these fields of art. In the end, mind you, all of Mandingo’s compositions are as cheerful as they are vibrant, and while there are darker undertones in a lot of songs, the music is always depicting fun times, hazard-free adventures and glinting glamour.


Fever Pitch starts the album with bodacious brass fanfares that grow in volume until they are substituted by spooky high-pitched violin strings all the while funky wah-wah guitars pluck along in the background. Staccato bongos, electric guitars and spy-theme flutes are altogether indicators for a bodacious production value. The strolling rhythm changes into a funky, trumpet-laden Rockabilly groove. If you like the buddy movies of the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s, you know the drill of their typical themes, for Fever Pitch could be one of those tunes that is played during scuffles in the dusky dock area of New York. A pitch-perfect intro track! Kiss Of Death is a curious track, even for Mandingo’s standards: The gentlest tribal bongo beats are merged with mysterious brass sections whose sustain is both purposefully reduced and glaringly foreboding.


The Cheetah is much more joyful. Darkly vibrating piano chords are merged with short brass eruptions and pompously polyphonous trumpet melodies that seem to promulgate something positive and exciting. Also noteworthy is the jumpy electric piano that is introduced after 70 seconds and which is played in sky-high tone regions. This track is the first real killer track of the album, highly melodious, punchy in every way and good-spirited on top of this.


Bird Of Prey focuses on capturing the Exotica feeling of the 60’s instead of a wild animal. Low-keyed bongos and danger-evoking timpani are set against soft sunset trumpets and electronic chirping sounds. The percussion is turned up a notch during the middle of the track with strong bass drums, placid brass sections and wonky funk guitars. This work is similar in style to Tak Shindo’s exotic offerings on albums like Mganga! or Brass And Bamboo, but here his brass parts are spiced with the funk of the 70’s, and the beginning of Bird Of Prey reminds of Shindo’s quieter African songs.


While Chant features the most tribal atmosphere with rumbling bongos, elephant-like gleaming brass screams and frosty wind chimes which are interspersed with quieter passages that are always defeated by the opulent teamwork of the trombonists and trumpeters, Sacrifice Of The Sun starts unexpectedly jazzy with mellifluous piano backing chords, a reposeful alto flute melody and additional electric organ quirkiness, but later transcends the line to brass heaven with respective sections that blow everything away in an action hero way. The last minute is especially funky and exuberantly excessive in its presentation.


Side B is equally successful in its hyperbolical depiction of neo-African music. Bloodsucker, for instance, merges a menacingly bubbling electric guitar monotony that is repeated time and again with an outstandingly trembling trumpet melody that is accompanied by marimba droplets which lead to a Torero-evoking intersection and daunting drum concoctions.


Pagan Procession, on the other hand, shows Geoff Love’s softer side as it consists of a Bolero rhythm and tremendously cool flanger-treated trombones. The setting is majestic and is further enhanced by dark brass punches and energetically clanging timpani. It’s the song to consider for safaris through the wide steppes of African countries. It’s songs like The Snake Pit and Uomo that broaden the style and variety of the album further by presenting a refreshing feeling of urgency. The former is basically music for a wild chase loaded with the soft sounds of sleek trumpet notes and the strident counterparts of shimmering brass sections and hectic percussion; I can definitely picture this song played in an arbitrary chase scene of any 70’s movie – it would always fit in, but is especially applicable in the nocturnal surroundings of colorful megacities. The latter song is set up similarly with equally hectic drums but absolutely awe-inspiring brass sections that are forcefully fervent and extremely euphonious.


Uomo is thus my favorite song of the album that adds nothing new to the chase scenery, but substantiates every aspect of it flawlessly. These aren’t creepy, terrorizing chases, but glitzy, upbeat Hollywood renditions. If you like the various action and buddy movies of the 70’s and 80’s, this is the song to listen to. Manhunt is the pen-ultimate track and offers the last glaring surprise of the album by being based on a groove in six-eight time! The menacing brass bursts and the hammering electric pianos are set against the lovable marimba bits and silky flute melodies. The gloominess wins, to my ears, as the stomping beats and the calamitous brass is rather intimidating. A successful experiment, I think. Goddess Of The Sun, finally, introduces melodramatic female chants that are embedded in the same surroundings we have come to expect from the wild side of Mandingo’s approach in Exotica, namely lucent brass eruptions coupled with quavering flutes. This song has a definite sunset feel to it and is thus even more pompous. A satiating end to a totally exhilarative, but also exhausting album.


Geoff Love’s Mandingo project demands each and every bit of skill from the unknown and ever-changing roster of session musicians. The staccato drums, hectic percussion and hot-blooded brass sections are as eclectic as they are memorable and catchy. This is an Exotica album, but it’s a typical 70’s production. The funky wah-wah guitars may be much more noticeable in the follow-ups The Primeval Rhythm Of Life, Mandingo III and Savage Rite, but every other element that makes this project so great is already found in Sacrifice. Love is also delightfully focused on the melodies and instrumentation and not just fond of a good high-fidelity sound. The music on Sacrifice inherits a cinematic quality by elaborating on chase sequences found in various films, whereas their later albums, Savage Rite for instance, are considered by me as "music for magicians and illusionists," due to their even funkier, catchier drum roll-approach. Mandingo’s music is therefore perfectly suitable for workout playlists.


Exotica listeners who prefer the wild side of the genre rather than the phantasmagoric offerings can relax: all of Mandingo’s albums are a good choice. The rhythms are faux-African, but you won’t probably notice too much, as the strident brass sections are so captivating and clarion that these can be considered the signature elements. If you believe in the funk and don’t mind the overabundance of flittering instruments, give Mandingo a chance. While Sacrifice has a runtime of only 37 minutes, it is rather demanding and wild, so the listener might be jaded after a relatively short time. But this is no good reason to ignore the album, so go listen to it. It’s easily available in various formats and on streaming services.  


Exotica Review 063: Mandingo – Sacrifice (1973). Originally published on Apr. 28, 2012 at