The Primeval
Rhythm Of Life 





The Primeval Rhythm Of Life is the other debut of the intimidating and tremendously funky Exotica project called Mandingo, released on Capitol Records in 1973, whereas their album Sacrifice of the same year was handed in to the EMI Columbia label. Even though it is valuable to have all four of Mandingo’s original albums, this one is clearly the best for reasons I will synopsize in the final paragraph. In the 70’s, when Exotica slowly deceased, only to be rekindled for a short moment by Nino Nardini’s and Roger Roger’s masterpiece Jungle Obsession in 1971, a short-lived craze about all things Africa took place, as usual Americanized through the eyes of Hollywood, be it the first James Bond flick with Afro-Americans in the spotlight, Live And Let Die of 1973, or the incessant rise of the Funk theme whose tenuous beginnings were already planted in the late 60’s.


One British band leader called Geoff Love (1917–1991) recognized the signs of the time. Having played in Easy Listening bands such as the poetically named Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains before, he decided to go into a totally different direction. With the help of producer Norman Newell (1919–2004), 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. While Geoff Love achieved this on every album, it is The Primeval Rhythm Of Life where this concept is brought to life… and then beyond! It is unbelievable how aggressive, hot-tempered, steamy and full-blooded this release is. Mandingo could be the next of kin to the crazy stage persona of Leon Johnson aka Chaino, but are much more versatile due to their manpower. Read more about the ten original takes below, and why the invoked voodoo spell is as strong and convincing now as it was back in the 70’s.


The first track of the debut bakes the band name into its title: Mandingo is the first of two compositions by musical director Brian Fahey and should be famous for the darkest prologue the Exotica genre has ever witnessed! Muffled drums stomp eerily through the pitch-black nothingness, grow louder and become increasingly clearer with each passing second. A tribal bongo and conga placenta is wired around the 4/4 drum beat. Dawn sets in; aqueous marimba droplets and acidic electric guitars change the soundscape into something Mandingo is known for to this day. Funk and Exotica mesh into an intriguing cocktail. The cinematic scope of the song widens, it now presents a wide steppe with frizzling maracas, brass scents, synthetic clangs and plinking particles, letting the opener end on a savage, highly energetic note. What a blast right at the beginning! The drums are downright intimidating, the whole setting full of bile. Mandingo (the song) might get a tad brighter during its course, but remains in murky territories, as Fahey and the session musicians make no compromises.


The following Black Rite is contributed by Tony Page and launches with a euphoric euphony and a sizzling-hot fever. Hammond B3 organs, orchestra bells and brass stabs conflate with wah-wah guitars, a silky lead saxophone and a temple block-interspersed bongo groove. The electric guitar is allowed to flow much more freely in the middle section, with spy theme-evoking Doppler effect legato trumpets accentuating the cymbal-heavy concoction. This is British Big Beat circa 1973! While film scorer Roger Webb’s quirky staccato anthem Medicine Man launches with screeching synthetic two-note sirens and puts the brass players to the forefront for the first time on this album, Tony Osborne’s Jungle Wedding mocks its title by unleashing a hyperventilating drum thicket in close proximity to paradisiac flutes, hammering electric pianos and wonky electric guitars which gleam in a bedazzling fashion. This is the perfect song for jogging. It feels like a whole group of blood-thirsty savages is behind you. Side A closes with Osborne’s second offering Chant Of The Virgins, and even though it launches with an evening dreaminess of polyphonous flutes, croaking guiros, sunset-lit marimbas and electric guitar riffs of the Balearic kind, the rise of the violins and brass sections as well as a further percussion-related complexity boosts the majesty. After a proper full stop, the tempo changes into a car chase frenzy with bone-crushing drums and deeply droning horns. Absolutely wild!


Side B opens with Tony Page’s Sacrifice, a nod to Mandingo’s eponymous debut on the EMI Columbia label of the same year. It is an entirely new track, though, that launches with a mellower set of percussion instruments: maracas, claves and bongos. The ensuing concrete jungle atmosphere full of metropolitan car horn-like brass eruptions and piano rumblings clashes with cacophonous bassoons and farting tubas. Only the drum thicket and the screeching alto flute in the middle and the very end of this song remind of the savage setting. Brian Fahey’s Tiger In The Night surprises with dreamy strings and nocturnal vibraphone droplets. A certain uneasiness and melodrama can never be fend off… and it doesn’t need to, for a rhythmic change allows a roaring tiger and the eclectic drum patterns to electrify the listener. As great the inclusion of the tiger and the wah-wah guitars are, they do not fit with the distinct string setting which is far too melancholic. A rare dud, but nonetheless greatly arranged.


Whereas Tony Osborne’s Black Fire resurrects that Space-Age feeling with chirping laser sounds, synthetic Moog jawbone modulations, mysterious cueca shakers, double bass-backings and further augmentions of this perception thanks to a heart attack-provoking beats full of cyber birds and elastic sound blebs, Roger Webb’s following Moon Goddess launches in the way Black Fire ended, with a Chinese gong that leads to one of the sleazy Lounge themes Mandingo is otherwise known for as well. The drums are in the foreground, but less multifaceted, as the flutes and dark brass tones are in the limelight here. The mood is one of a kind, though: it is expectedly pompous, but also keeps a solemnity and good-natured peacefulness intact which is unexpected. The arrangement of Moon Goddess lives up to the dreamy title. A very good downbeat piece that does not feel like one. The possibly overly shifting outro Pagan Ritual by Tony Osborne reintroduces lava-like organ rivers for the last time and injects them into Spanish brass flourishes, Space-Age slivers, cacophonous warbled flutes, deep pianos and one too many rhythmic shifts. The lacunar structure is by this point tiresome, the melodies feel like foreshadowing devices of mid-90’s video game compositions, but are not memorable enough to catch up.


The Primeval Rhythm Of Life ends on a lackluster note due to its final two tracks, but even those are detailed and intimidating. And the string of eight compositions before them is even better and wilder. This is Mandingo’s wildest album, the session musicians really do not take any hostages, the impetus of the horns, the wrath and voluminosity of the cracking drums as well as the scents of dreaminess delivered by the marimbas and flutes is superb. In contrast to Mandingo’s other three original albums (the fifth one is a Best Of), The Primeval Rhythm Of Life surprises with deliberately horrifying and almost serious compositions. Sure, there are funky wah-wah guitars on here, and flashes of euphony as well as jocular tone sequences and Space-Age sceneries are on board as well, but the mission is clear: coming up with frantic African drum sections and Jericho horns primarily, everything else is of secondary importance.


The coherence is also remarkable, for despite the many rhythmic changes and shedloads of used instruments, the aura of bloodlust and adventure is ubiquitously in the air. If there is one slight problem regarding this release, it is its no-compromise approach, as stated before. There are not that many gossamer moments of tranquility, each track of every composer serves the purpose of transporting the listener into a bestial faux-world of mayhems, mishaps and megalomania. It is truly hard to pick a favorite, and even the two or three ignis fatuus of this album do not crush its pompousness at all. If you are searching for a funky Exotica album that is so wild and frantic that it elbows everything out of its way (except maybe Chaino's Jungle Echoes of 1959), you have found it. Each tune proves to be exquisitely compatible for running or workout playlists. Heck, clean the house while listening to it and a bumfuzzled hodgepodge ensues.


Is it Mandingo’s best album? From a stylistic viewpoint and taking the novelty as well as the overarching verve or esprit into account, by all means: yes! However, their other albums all provide gemstones and über-strong hits I do not want to miss, be it the aforementioned Sacrifice (1973), Mandingo III (1974) or Savage Rite (1975), although each of them has its peculiar flaws. These may even turn out to be the better choices if the constant rhythm changes and the hazardous energy are a bit too much. The later albums are decidedly funkier and still exotic enough to consider them equipollent entries in the genre. The Primeval Rhythm Of Life is available on iTunes and Amazon in a remastered version which I deem very great. The remastering process that took place in 1995 has not destroyed anything at all. Go get it if you don’t know it yet!


Exotica Review 167: Mandingo – The Primeval Rhythm Of Life (1973). Originally published on Jan. 5, 2012 at