A soulful French Guitarist January 23, 2008 - U-NAM,
who is behind this pen name? Emmanuel (MANU) Abiteboul,
a 37 years-old talented and vibrant Paris-born guitarist.
The artist's smash hit, "Street Life" (a cover
of the Crusaders' famous track "Street Life",
drawn from his latest album "Back from the 80's")
remained for more than 30 weeks in the US Smooth Jazz Charts
and for more than 2 months at number 3.
from the 80's" is U-NAM's first piece of work released
on Trippin 'N' Rhythm Smooth Jazz record label and his second
overall. This CD brings us back to some great funky and soul
hits from the 80's rearranged with some new compositions.
Behind U-Nam, there is a genuine musical soul that needs to
Nour : Hi Manu, welcome to www.smoothjazznow.com. It
is a great pleasure to have you with us for a chat. Hey,
your album is amazingly classy and has a unique joyful groove.
For me, it is really one of the best Smooth Jazz albums
of this year.
U-NAM : Hi Akbar. Wow! Thank you so much for the compliments.
I truly appreciate it. and I got to say that UK's most famous
"SmoothJazz" DJ Steve Quirk ( Smooth FM ) said
the same thing and that's official I'm his "Best album
of the year"! Wow, what could I say to all this. That's
really such a blessing. Thanks so much for the support,
because it means so much to me.
Akbar : You were born in Paris, picked your first guitar at
age 12, turned professional at age 19 and became a sought-after
studio musician one year later. How did it happen?
U-NAM : Well, while I was studying at the famous
Paris-based jazz music school "CIM" (I was 17
years-old), I started to play in a Top 40 band, touring
in many clubs and bars in the south of France in summertime.
So I met more and more people in Paris' recording studios
and then became familiar with it. Especially, at that
time nobody had a home studio so you had to record in
a professional recording studio, it's not like today where
everybody can do and record some music with any computer
Akbar : In your opinion why is Smooth Jazz not as popular in
France as it is in North America?
U-NAM : let me say first, Smooth Jazz is completely unknown
in France, just a few imports albums that you can find
at Virgin Megastore on the "Champs-Elysées".
I truly think it's a matter of culture, in Paris it's
really more "Straight-Ahead" or "World
Jazz" or even "Avant Garde Jazz", and nothing
to do with a mix of "Soul, Funk, Jazz and Gospel",
etc. That is really such a shame! And like I said earlier,
there's no music scene, honestly, it's simply a matter
of culture, that kind of music, especially "black
music", is not part of the French culture.
Akbar : Let us talk of your latest album "Back from the 80's",
a great body of work blending classic soul/funk tracks with
your own urban-style vibrant compositions. What was the
process that led you to choose such great hits such as the
Crusaders' "Street Life", George Benson's "Turn
your Love Around", Stevie Wonder's "I Can Help
It", Lionel Richie's "Love Will Find A Way"
and Roberta Flack "Where is the Love"?
U-NAM : I wanted to find back that mood and influences of
the music I was listening to when I was a kid. All that
great music, Michael Jackson, George Benson, EWF, Lionel
Richie, Stevie Wonder, The Crusaders, Maze & Franckie
Beverly, all that Quincy Jones productions, etc. So, I
tried a lot of my favorites songs from that period then
I decided to do some, but at two conditions: I wanted
to bring something new and fresh on my version and I also
wanted the melody to shine on my guitar. I hope I have
Akbar : Besides having chosen great tracks, you have also an
amazing casting of stellar musicians such as the keyboardists
Jeff Lorber and Frank Sitbon (who was your composing partner
for three tracks), the percussionist Paulino da Costa,
the drummer Michael White and the singer Maysa Leak. How
did you gather such great musicians?
U-NAM : Well, Jeff Lorber had already played on my first album,
so when I decided to do "Street Life" , I asked
him if he wanted to play the Fender Rhodes on it, he accepted.
For the others musicians it's all about contacts. I did
several trips in Los Angeles, where I met a lot of musicians
and artists, so now I have a lot of friends on the "SmoothJazz"
But working with Paulinho was just amazing, he's a living
legend and being in the studio with him was like a dream
come true. The same with Mike White, he's one of my favorite
drummers, he's the "Groove Maestro"; he has
been Maze and Frankie Beverly's drummer for almost 20
years and he is one of the most sought after session musicians
(George Benson Al Jarreau, etc. ). Wow, and now he's a
real good friend!
Akbar : Furthermore, you have not neglected your Parisian roots,
as you are surrounded by great strings (performed by the
Paris-based Merkevah Orchesra and the M.A's Strings section)
and incredible horns (performed by the Paris Horns). So,
"Paris will be always Paris for you" (laughs!).
U-NAM : I was born and raised in Paris. I spent 37 years in
Paris and my son was born there. I have all my family
and my friends. And so many memories there, so obviously
"Paris will always be Paris for me "
Akbar : The famous guitarist George Benson seems to be one of
your greatest influences. On the album, you perform his
smash hit "Turn Your Love Around", where Benson
sings without performing his instrument and one of your
own compositions called "Mister G.B". Did you
have the opportunity to meet this great artist?
U-NAM : Well, I met him twice but very quickly. I had the chance
that he played three songs with my guitar on a private
party in Paris. I would love to meet him longer and have
a real discussion with him. I will tell him how much he
has influenced me and how much I love his playing, his
voice and his music. He is my favourite artist of all
times. I would like to jam and work with him. Well maybe
Akbar : So far you have always lived in France, but intend to
move to the USA. What are the main reasons behind this
U-NAM : South California weather and palm trees! More seriously,
it's for my career, there's so much going on for me now
in the US; so, it is a logical process and I have a lot
of friends and contacts in Los Angeles now. I would like
to be able to do more and more gigs, perform and collaborate
with as many people as possible. It will also be easier
Akbar : Frank Sitbon, your writing partner on the album, has
studied keyboards in North America, but chose to come
back to France, whereas you studied guitar at the Paris-based
CIM (the first European school for jazz music) and now
seem to move to the USA. Would you have liked to be more
famous in your home country?
U-NAM : No, honestly speaking! I did what I had to do in France,
when I was really into production work. I've worked with
all the artists and musicians I wanted to work with. In
Paris I really got some problems with the people working
in the major labels, they are deaf! They just know how
to sell a product, like a yogurt, they all come from business
schools and do not understand artists, music and creativity.
That's why I stopped there!
Akbar : What are your current and future musical projects for
U-NAM : Well, hopefully, more and more gigs, shows and festivals
in the USA! I just love to perform live! It's always different,
that's what I like, trying things, doing different solos
than on the record and stuff like that. But, what I really
prefer is to share my music and my emotions with the audience!
I could say already there's one gig, I'm really looking
forward to, is the "Dave Koz & Friends"
cruise in 2008.
on the artist line-up and what a line-up, Dave Koz, George
Duke ,Eric Benet, Rick Braun, Jonathan Butler etc
that's gonna be AMAZING ! And I never did a cruise in
my life so ..I'm really excited about it!
I'm already working on my new album! I've got already
everything written and I got lot lot of material! I'm
in the recording procees right now. I will also include
some vocals tracks with some of my favourites Soul singers
and good friends, Rahsaan Patterson, Marva King (from
Prince's New Power Generation), but the smooth jazz fans
will not be disappointed, because I have some great stuffs
for them, some surprises as well, about the line up, it
should the same musicians, Mike White, Alex Al, Franck
Sitbon, Denis Benarosh, the Paris Horns and some special
I will appear soon on a Stevie Wonder's tribute, it's
a project called "G-Fire", it's their third
album, and the concept is really interesting, because
it is all about guitars, there are different guitar players
from various genres (Rock, Jazz, Fusion, etc. ) and I'll
be the one doing the "Smooth Jazz" track and
I'm producing it ! That's going to be a great project,
I'm really glad to be a part of it, especially knowing
that Stevie Wonder is one of my favorite artists and the
track I've chosen is not one of his most famous tunes,
but it is an amazing "Soul Funky" song!
Akbar : Dear Manu, I thank
you so much for your time and I wish you a great 2008!
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