Kutiman Channels the Funk Spirit

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Listening to Kutiman’s self-titled debut, you’d think that funk has been an underlying theme throughout his entire life. Yet the producer discovered the sound just six years ago, when he left his childhood home of Zichron in the north of Israel to live in Tel Aviv. Thanks to newfound friends, his young ears were exposed to the wondrous sounds of James Brown, Sly Stone, and Shuggie Otis. Given the heavy grooves and obvious lean toward ’70s funk and soul on Kutiman, the man also known as Ophir Kutiel has proven himself to be a quick learner.

“Growing up, I didn’t really have the chance to listen to anything but the radio and some flamenco records that my father had,” he says. “In high school I was introduced to classics: Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Nirvana, Pink Floyd.” His song “No Groove Where I Come From,” a Curtis Mayfield-inspired jam complete with lilting flutes and soulful saxophones, is a tribute to those days.

There’s plenty of groove on that track, not to mention every other one on the record. Soon after moving to Tel Aviv, the multi-instrumentalist joined an Afrobeat band called Anikuki–without ever having heard a lick of the style. Someone passed him a Fela Kuti CD, and his life changed once again. “Shortly after this great discovery, I locked myself in the studio and recorded my album,” he says. “I can find things that I love in any genre. If I feel it, I don’t care what it is.”

Kutiman went on a tear, consuming jazz, Afrobeat, and funk to complement his rock background, and it’s most noticeable on heavier, percussion-led jams like “Losing It,” featuring the screeching vocals of singer Karolina. To balance her caterwauls, Kutiman invited Elran Dekel, a more sensual and iconic-sounding soulster, to contribute to three songs. But perhaps the greatest guest spot is singer Chaka Moon’s vocals on “I Just Wanna Make Love to You”–a track that would make Barry White proud.

Given Kutiman’s penchant for wide-eyed musical globetrotting, don’t expect a funk follow-up anytime soon. A recent trip to Jamaica with his good friend and musical collaborator DJ Sabbo yielded important inspiration for new projects. “It not only changed my approach to music, I think it changed my approach to life,” Kutiman offers. “The thing about Jamaica is that music is everywhere. It was the biggest music school that I could ever ask for.” (Selling a few riddims to the Marley family will change a man.)

Besides his forthcoming reggae-heavy record–the result of nine months of recording and producing artists on the island–he’s got a live Kutiman orchestra in the works (perhaps à la Quantic), as well as a new soundsystem for club dancefloors. In the meantime, we have his self-titled stunner to listen to. Recorded in his Tel Aviv apartment with Sabbo, it was chopped, spliced, and edited “purely on Acid.” It’s highly believable that he was lysergically aided on this kaleidoscopic voyage, but he is quick to augment his remark with “…the software.”

One can only wonder.