Never expecting to set the world on fire, sojourning baroque Toronto ensemble, Broken Social Scene, begot an expansive lineage previously unforeseen north of the border. Out of this garden of earthly delights, guitarist Andrew Whiteman formed Apostle Of Hustle with Julian Brown (upright bass/ percussion) and Dean Stone (drums/ conga/ bongo/ Peruvian caja).
Indubitably, the carefree trio ambitiously merge an honest tapestry of ceremonial Caribbean, and sometimes, Brazilian influences, with tangible acoustic folk and indie pop. A momentous spiritual visitation with his godmother in Havana during 2000 further solidified Whiteman’s love for Cuba’s polyrhythmic euphonies, advancing the compellingly conceptual imagery found on guilelessly efficient ’04 debut, Folkloric Feel (Arts & Crafts).
“I was already infatuated with Cuban son music,” Whiteman concedes. “But when I got there, my godmother’s neighbors bought a ghettoblaster and were blasting Kenny G. They thought he was so smooth. They began calling me vieja hito, ‘old man,’ because I love (multifarious ensemble singer) Beny More. They respect the old stuff but think it’s corny that I’m into him. Their big man is slick-ass (Carib dance band) Los Van Van. That’s the way it is.”
Though most Cubans still live in abject poverty, Whiteman finds the soul of the people thriving. And there’s been some prosperity despite post-Cold War Russian cutbacks.
He affirms, “Cubans are tremendous recyclers. They know how to stretch something out to make it last. Our culture is rank consumer capitalism. Shit’s built, breaks in a year, and we put up with it in our buy and shop culture. They don’t enjoy the privations, but at the same time, there’s persevering Cuban pride. Some can’t stand Castro, but it’s complicated. They do have a phenomenal literacy rate and medical system. When the Berlin Wall crumbled, the Soviet Empire collapsed and aid and subsidies were gone. People went on rubber tires to float into the U.S. It has radically improved since then. Cubans have the ability to create a capitalist society without rampant, destructive proclivities. I hope there’s enough political muscle to resist Uncle Sam.”
Warmer tones, better production, and a higher energy level confirm Apostle Of Hustle’s newfangled ’07 disc, National Anthem To Nowhere, a piquant upgrade from their debut’s drier accoutrements. Idyllic multi-culti ethnic colors still abound, but are now oft-times tidily threaded to gradually increased contemporary Anglo-American elements. Lyrically, many different characters go to their sexual, philosophical, and economic edge, crossing the border to see if they can get back. “Naked And Alone” deals with what happens when a stranger, like Robert Mitchum, who played a deranged priest in A Night Of The Hunter, comes calling.
The cool, calm, collected “Justine, Beckoning” retains an understated Jazz-tinged beauty and heart-rendered melodic solemnity Whiteman endorses as “bossa nova meets the Strokes.” Analogously, the hooky “Chances Are” seems directly swiped from the above-mentioned acclaimed New York underground denizens with its industriously spangled guitar beat and brusquely snipped articulation. Inevitably, methinks Calexico’s border town mariachi-daubed ruminations and Mogwai’s transcendental art-rock suspense furtively shade Apostle Of Hustle’s kaleidoscopic mural, too.
“The first album was assembled and coalesced over a long period of time. The new one’s more uniform. The difference is I wanted louder vocals and percussion. Some said it didn’t sound as Cuban. I do have a certain love for Latin music. I’m a world music geek –a reactionary music junkie.” He corroborates, “I eat Quasimoto West Coast hip-hop, Spoon, and juju. On “Haul Away,” we lifted the beat from a song off a French label’s 20-CD Ethiopiques series. I’m into the axis of Spanish flamenco down to Moroccan vibes and Mali pop. It’s a column of fire. Amazing! (Virtuoso guitarist) Vieux Farka Toure (Ali’s spawn) has a new album that’s sick! He’s like a lightning volt that blows your mind.”
Friendly competition with Broken Social Scene pals helped step up Whiteman’s game. Since the fluctuant collective’s first live event at local Toronto venue, Ted’s Wrecking Yard, brought in a host of enamored fans eager to watch the audacious ensemble give it their all, a sprawling number of ancillary bands have sprung up. Now, native Canadian colleagues such as Feist, Dears, Stars, and Do Make Say Think vie for a modicum of international fame.
Whiteman recollects, “Broken Social Scene got together when multi-instrumentalist Kevin Drew and guitarist Brendan Canning made a bedroom recording, Feel Good Lost. Leslie Feist sang on one song. It was initially just an idea to put on a show. It was January. It was depressing. So we made up a bunch of tunes (along with drummer Justin Peroff) and it was instant chemistry. A year later we made a record and now we’re working our asses off. Lightning finally struck!”
During a three-week Monday night Mercury Lounge residency in June, Apostle Of Hustle conjure disparate styles while Whiteman proves he’s no mere dilettante, keenly reformulating intriguingly exploratory ideas for his ardent audience. For their conclusive Manhattan outing, he lays down smoothly seared guitar lucidity on instrumental opener “Folkloric Feel,” evoking Carlos Santana’s fretwork circa ’78. Spare allegory “Naked & Alone” unwittingly adapts a suave Roxy Music elegance. Brooklyn-based Vancouver native Scott Harding (Prince Paul/ Wu Tang Clan collaborator) adds dub effects, but the sustained echo-drenched reverb accidentally blew out Whiteman’s monitor early on.
Halfway through, the Apostles take intermission, chattily converse, then drape defective pennants across the stage while a flute-bass interlude from a ’67 Sinatra album wafts by. They return to action with surf-riffed Spanish-sung barrio-clipped “Rafaga!,” a swiftly rendered conjunto-reggaeton anthem infringing upon Daddy Yankee’s contagiously danceable “Gasolina.”
“The flags are potential windows for spirits to pass through,” Whiteman divulges. “Our sets are constructed specifically to trick and lure people in. Do some indie rock songs, one with weird percussion, then a few folkie things. We’ll go into a song with beats. The audience is, ‘What the fuck?’ I hope it’s intriguing. Flags go up, we do a little poem and a cover of one of our musical ancestors, like Dylan, or Henry Mancini’s “Charade” made popular by Wayne Newton, or Patti Smith doing a shout-out to New York from St. Mark’s Poetry Project 20 years ago I found on-line. I’ve got beat poets William Burroughs and Ginsberg on the sampler. Like a ouija board talking to the dead, I’m more interested in the past than future – a backward looker with worldly spiritual relationships as well as a material and empirical one.”
Admittedly, Whiteman’s unsure where his eclecticism will inevitably take him.
“I love Burt Bacharach melodies and contrast and chords. But part of me would like to see the abolishment of chords in the music and see where it goes – more of a tripped out Mali thing. That’s today’s thought, maybe not tomorrow’s.”