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3 Mustaphas 3

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Before the term world music was a twinkling in anyone's eye, 3 Mustaphas 3 were doing it, mixing up different cultures into a gleeful grab bag of music and leaving a heritage that has influenced musicians all over the world. Legend -- their own legend -- has it that the Mustaphas were smuggled out of their mysterious Balkan hometown of Szegerely (where they played at the Crazy Loquat Club) in refrigerators, ending up in England. Not only did they play Balkan music, but a crazy quilt of pieces that they'd first heard on the (extremely eclectic) jukebox at the Crazy Loquat. At great story, but utter rubbish, of course. The truth was more prosaic. In 1982, Ben Mandelson (Hijaz Mustapha), a guitarist and musicologist, began playing with bassist Colin Bass (Sabah Habas Mustapha) and a revolving door of people all of whom assumed bizarre Mustapha relative names, including former Damned member Lu Edmonds, who proved himself adept at the saz and various other ethnic stringed instruments. What they ended up stitching together, both on record and live, drew from Latin, African, Indian, filmi, country, Balkan -- if it was out there, it became a Mustaphas influence. They played frequent shows in Britain and throughout Europe, and even toured the U.S. before releasing their debut album, Shopping, on Mendelson's Globestyle label in 1987. With world music gaining a higher market profile thanks to Paul Simon's successful Graceland, there was a more receptive audience for the strangeness the Mustaphas were purveying, and their touring schedule became more frantic. But they did still find time to record, coming out with the magnificent Heart of Uncle in 1989 and then Soup of the Century a year later. They became a cult act, with an audience that ranged from world music snobs to hippies to punks, all attracted by the band's wicked sense of humor; they had an outright refusal to take anything, especially themselves, seriously. Underscoring it was an excellent, if anarchic, musical sensibility, and respect for the cultures from which they drew their music. The question was, how far could they take it? 1991 brought Friends, Fiends & Fronds, a compilation of alternate mixes, singles, and rare tracks, which filled in some time. And the band continued to tour, although not as heavily as before. By 1992 there was still no "new" album, and the group seemed to be giving up the ghost. Certainly a year later, with no album in sight and dates sporadic at best, it seemed as if 3 Mustaphas 3 had gone the way of all flesh. Sabah Habas Mustapha began to focus on his solo career, playing Indonesian dangdut music and writing a massive Asian hit, "Denpasar Moon," in addition to filling the bass slot with aging prog-rockers Camel. Lu Edmonds became a Mekon, touring and recording with them, and Mendelson turned his attention to producing records for Globestyle. However, no one has ever knocked the Mustaphas completely on the head. The band has always maintained that they would reform if the money was right, but no one has yet to come up with a suitable offer. The closest to a reunion has been Mendelson and Edmonds playing together as part of Billy Bragg's backing band, the Blokes, beginning in 1998. Although no gigs were mentioned, Mendelson and Bass did get together in a recording studio in early 2001 to select tracks for a much-belated Mustaphas live album, due to see the light of day in the summer of that year. ~ Chris Nickson

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