Perhaps a bit of initial confusion about this group might be permitted, although by the mid-2000s the ensemble's raison d'être appeared to be coming into clearer focus: Think of One is not a band dedicated to the music of "Think of One" composer Thelonious Monk, but rather would like you to think of one world with all its musical threads coming together in a multicultural celebration of rhythm and song. Formed by Flemish guitarist/vocalist David Bovée, Think of One pose the question "Why can't we all just get along?" in musical terms, and they are willing to travel the globe to prove that, in fact, we can.
On Juggernaut, the band's first CD released jointly by the N.Y.C.-based Knitting Factory and Belgium-based De Beek labels in 1997, practically every musical style on earth was crammed into the disc's grooves, and that was just the start for Think of One. A sometimes exciting and certainly diverting album, Juggernaut was followed by several discs released after the band's first "rhythm study trip" to Marrakech in July of 1998: Marrakech Emballages Ensemble (1999), Marrakech Emballages Ensemble 2 (2000), and Marrakech Emballages Ensemble 3 (2002), which found the core band joining forces with Moroccan singer/percussionists, including a gnawa master. Exuberant call-and-response vocals and diverse North African instrumentation -- including bender, nakkous, sentir, karkabo, oud, and derboukha -- took listeners on polystylistic yet more unified journeys than Juggernaut, as Think of One had seemingly dumped their initial status as a Belgian avant-prog band with tenuous links to a New York City downtown record label in favor of a world music persona and investigations of the sonic spaces and places where Euro-funk and Moroccan gnawa polyrhythms could intersect. This engaging cross-cultural adventure garnered Think of One a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award in the Boundary Crossing category for the Marrakech Emballages Ensemble 3 CD.
Meanwhile, perhaps believing it was time for Think of One to firmly establish a singular identity of its own, the band released two albums, Naft (2000) and Naft 2 (2002), that featured frontman Bovée on guitar and lead vocals (sometimes shouting and sometimes dipping into a baritone croon while maintaining a streetwise rough edge) supported by the group's core Belgian lineup of Tomas DeSmet on double bass, Tobe Wouters on tuba, Eric Morel on saxophones, Bart Maris (ex-XLS) on trumpet, and Roel Poriau on drums, along with various Belgian musicians on additional brass, reeds, and vocals. Naft and Naft 2 mixed up Think of One's musical stew to present more unified statements informed by brass band, rock, funk, calypso, ska, and Middle Eastern/North African rhythms -- not quite the postmodern stylistic jumpcutting of Juggernaut but still not exactly thinking of one style either. The band toured Europe in a van that could be converted into a mobile stage, performing before fun-seeking audiences in such locations as Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Marseilles.
Fast-forward to January 2004 and the release of Think of One's seventh disc, Cuva Em Po, and listeners learned that the intrepid Belgians (minus Maris) had been busy making music in an altogether unexpected location: Brazil. And unlike fellow Belgians Finnegans Wake, who also traveled to Brazil to collaborate with likeminded locals, Bovée and company fully submerged themselves in the world of Brazilian rhythms and vocals, much as they had done with Moroccan percussionists and singers several years before. Finnegans Wake, in contrast, collaborated with Brazilians who shared their affinity for Belgian instrumental chamber progressive rock akin to Univers Zero. Think of One had traveled to Brazil in search of that country's groove and to be part of a livelier musical celebration. In 2006 the band released its second Brazilian collaboration, Tráfico, this time with wider international distribution (including the U.S.) thanks to the Crammed label.
From Belgium to Morocco to Brazil -- perhaps a pattern was emerging: that of rhythm-seeking Belgians looking for collaborators in warmer southern locales. However, the Think of One story was still unfolding, as the band toured Greenland, the Netherlands, and Belgium in yet another collaboration, this time with three Inuit throat singers -- Sarah Surusila, Sylvia Cloutier, and Akinisie Sivuarapik -- from Quebec's far-northern region of Nunavik. And in May 2006, Think of One's "Nunavik Project" was performed at one of North America's leading avant-garde music festivals, the Festival de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (in that portion of Quebec well south of Nunavik). But then it was back to North Africa for the peripatetic ensemble, which recorded its eighth album (and second for Crammed), 2008's Camping Shaâbi, in the by now familiar physical and musical terrain of Morocco.
Clearly, Think of One can show up anywhere, anytime, from the Equator nearly to the Arctic Circle (one wonders if their hot music might be partially responsible for the melting of the Arctic icecap, not to trivialize a world crisis). So apparently that's what the band is all about: thinking of one world whose inhabitants can find commonality in the playing and enjoyment of the music that unites them. Wherever you live, if you hear some infectious rhythms and riffs emanating from a truck parked nearby with a portable stage, there's a reasonable chance you might have stumbled upon a concert by Think of One. Let the fun begin. ~ Dave Lynch