Nils Landgren Funk Unit of Stockholm swung into the U.S. Northeast with their boisterous funk in June as part of a worldwide tour to promote Funk for Life - a newly released album and project inspired from a humanitarian trip to Africa.
A letter from Nils’ godson Anders triggered the Funk for Life album. Anders, who was working in Africa with Doctors Without Borders at the time, wrote his uncle of the deplorable conditions and also of the lack of meaningful activities available to youth at his station.
Landgren discussed his nephew’s letter with his wife and decided music could potentially be an avenue for the poverty-stricken youth. The band readily agreed to journey to Kibera, Nairobi, one of Africa’s worst slums to find a way to lend a hand musically. The Swedish musicians met the doctors, spent time with patients and children, donated instruments, taught fingerings and rhythm to the youth and performed concerts.
The Nils Landgren Funk Unit of Stockholm swung into the Boston area late in June for a night of boisterous funk at the famed Johnny D’s Uptown Dinner Club in Somerville, Massachusettes.
No Bono or Bob Geldof
While signing the newly released album at Johnny D’s, Landgren shared his thoughts on how the collaboration benefits the people of Kibera, Africa with Aileen McElroy. The Funk for Life project was created by the Funk Unit together with professional photographer and friend, Matthias Klum,
“I’m no Bono or Bob Geldof,” he said. “It’s on a small scale but I wanted to do something for the young people there. Music is the universal language. We brought a lot of instruments down that they can play at their leisure and through music we hope they can have somewhat of a better life. And that’s about what it is.”
In June, the band performed in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C. and Canada and will continue the European and Asian legs of their 2010 tour in July and late fall.
The Saturday night show opened with Landgren, in blue jeans and a black dress shirt, promising the gathered crowd a good time.
“We’re going to get funky on you. Sit back and enjoy it. Here it comes,” said Landgren as the band launched into a resounding “Funk for Life.” Wrapping a bouncy “Finish What you Started,” Landgren introduced the band.
“We’re the Funk Unit all the way from Sweden. Funk is the national music in Sweden that’s what everyone plays,” he joked.
Some of the intimate supper crowd grooved to the Funk Unit’s pulsating beats over pints of Sam Adams or beef chili while others slow-danced to the Swedish musicians’ smooth jams.
Between fresh tracks from “Funk for Life,” Landgren spoke positively of Boston.
“We woke up at 7:30 today, walked around the square and then to the waterfront,” he said. “We just enjoyed the summer day. Walking around, it almost feels a little Swedish. The people seem friendly and the weather is nice.”
The Funk Unit played a robust “Danger Zone,” changing up the wind orchestration from saxophones to flutes before ending with “Kenya Kane.”
"Their music has me feeling it too"
PhD student and classical trombonist Patrick Bradley trekked from Tufts University to catch Landgren and his red horn on Saturday and purchased the Funk for Life album.
“I wanted to put a face to the CDs,” he said. “Nils’ range is very impressive as is his ability to improvise and feel the music.”
Drummer Brian Swann of Boston became a fan of the Nils Landgren Funk Unit after initially hearing the band on stage at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival in South Africa.
“They have a tight rhythm section,” he said. “They do a good job playing funk. They feel it and their music has me feeling it inside, too. I hope that they will also play New Orleans and Berklee sometime too.”
The eight-piece Swedish band is comprised of: Nils Landgren on trombone and vocals; Magnum Coltrane Price on bass and vocals; Magnus Lindgren on woodwinds and background vocals; Jonas Wall on woodwinds and background vocals; Sebastian Studnitzky on keyboards, trumpet and background vocals; Andy Pfeiler on guitar and vocals, Robert Mehmet Ikiz on drums and background vocals; and, Wolfgang Haffner on drums.
By Aileen McElroy
The Nils Landgren Unit will play at home in Sweden this August and October, then later, toward second half of October, in China:
4 Aug 2010 Brantevik (Sweden)
14 Aug 2010 Vänersborg (Sweden)
1 Oct 2010 Uppsala (Sweden)
2 Oct 2010 Karlstad (Sweden)
Take a peek, listen in and find out more, visit www.funkforlife.com
All photography from Africa by Mattias Klum and Samuel Svensäter.