Tag Archives: Manufactured Recordings

The Rich, Meditative Essence of Brother Ah

Brother Ah

When Brother Ah comes to the door, he extends one hand to shake and carries an autoharp in his other. “C’mon in,” he says, smiling broadly. He is remarkably spry for an octogenarian, eager to explain the ritual he was engaged in. “I was just playing to the plants.”

We’re at his house in Takoma Park, a largely residential neighborhood in the northwest corner of Washington, D.C. There are several potted houseplants in a sunny alcove of his living room; he says he can tell when they respond to the sounds he makes every day. He later tells me he also plays for animals and insects, often during early mornings in the forests of Rock Creek Park a mile to the east. He’s also played for his late dog, or for the robins which took up residence above his front door. Brother Ah plays to connect with, amplify, or complement the naturally-occurring frequencies found in nature, and for his own meditation, circulation and self-healing.

“People feel as though they’re superior, or separate,” he says. “We think we’re the only ones with a higher consciousness. We have to realize that we don’t have the intuitive understanding of many of the other aspects of nature. They’re far ahead of us.”

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After 40 Years, Neftali Santiago Releases His Solo Funk Masterwork

Neftali Santiago, 1976

Neftali Santiago, 1976.

If you’re ever driving through New Jersey’s Burlington County, you might want to leave enough time to cruise past 22 Somerset Drive. Neftali Santiago makes it a point to look at the relatively low-key house at least once a year. It’s there that he carved his own corner of funk music history.

It all began in the late 1960s. After years of travelling from army base to army base with Neftali’s military father, the Santiago family finally bought their first home in the township of Willingboro. It was at this home—22 Somerset Drive—that the young Neftali began his musical journey. And it was here that he developed the drumming skills that would earn him a spot in legendary cosmic funk collective Mandrill.

It was also at 22 Somerset Drive where Santiago began forging his own projects, outside the group. He would give the loose collectives names like The Santiago Band, Santiago & Friends, and Neftali’s Beast. And it was at this house where Santiago laid the foundations for an album’s worth of material, recorded during a hiatus from Mandrill in the mid ‘70s that is only now seeing the light of day. When it came time to choose a title for the record, the only option was the obvious one.

22 Somerset Dr. (1976–1978) collects those lost recordings some four decades after Santiago first laid them down. All funky guitar licks, thick basslines, and JB’s-style horn stabs, this is music with enough bottom to shake any house right to its foundation. There’s also enough bounce to lift a Lowrider right off the pavement. Even in an era when funk was in its prime, the sheer power of Santiago’s arrangements would have blown most of the competition away.

But that never happened. Instead, Santiago rejoined Mandrill in 1978, and his solo songs sat gathering dust. Now, with the music finally out in the world, and despite his ongoing health battles, Santiago is in the midst of planning a new tour and hoping to schedule speaking arrangements to help pass the baton to a new breed of funky architects. Speaking over the phone the morning after a session for yet another new project, Santiago—in a rare interview—opened up about the making of 22 Somerset Dr. (1976 – 1978), and why that old house means so much to him.

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