Inspired by Motown

Mamazita is (from left) Bran Hopkins, Karleigh O'Connor, Rapture tu, Josiah Hodson and Pete Naik....
Mamazita is (from left) Bran Hopkins, Karleigh O'Connor, Rapture tu, Josiah Hodson and Pete Naik. Photo: Supplied
At last year's OUSA Battle of the Bands, Fraser Thompson saw a lot of potential, he writes.

Jack Berry Band, which won, immediately captured my attention with their tight musicianship and catchy blend of hip-hop and indie rock. Currently they're touring left, right and centre and are minutes away from releasing their seminal EP, which I'm sure will be explosive.

Mamazita was the other standout but, to be honest, I didn't expect it to do well because jazzy soul music traditionally doesn't do well at Battle of the Bands, so I was pleasantly surprised when it finished second. And as it turns out, so were the band members.

"We'd only kind of formed a couple of weeks before," explains Karleigh O'Connor, lead singer and songwriter. "And it was all pretty random. We literally wrote out three songs in two weeks or something.

"And in that two weeks we were able to write songs together pretty easily. And we were definitely all very sold on what we were doing, there was a lot of synergy I think.

"I knew the drummer who was in my class at uni and then he knew the other boys and the keys player knew the guitar player ... you know, it was all kind of hodge podge.

"And then when we had our first practice we were like yep, OK, this can work, we're all on the same page."

Now Mamazita is on the verge of releasing its first EP, starting with the single Hey Jazz, which came out a few weeks ago and sounds just as good as it did when I first heard it last year at the venue formerly known as Re:Fuel.

O'Connor's vocals are smooth yet gritty, like a frozen margarita, and they dance around the solid groove with ease, complemented by some delicious Rhodes piano and jazz guitar licks.

What impressed me the most, and what really got the crowd moving, was how "locked in" the band sounded rhythmically, even during a tricky time signature change about halfway through.

On a local level, I've never heard anything like it. I asked O'Connor how they came across that sound.

"I suppose for me my love for that kind of music was inspired by a lot of old '70s Motown, not that it is, but that's the inspiration, sort of growing up listening to a lot of soul music.

"And then more recently, bands like Hiatus Kaiyote were doing this sort of progressive more modern take on soul. And just listening to that I was like `Man, this is so cool, this is it'.

"The term we kind of go for is neo-soul, it's kind of like it's got heavy jazz and hip-hop influences, but it's ultimately like a modern take on soul, I guess."

It's a real testament to O'Connor's songwriting ability that her songs are still in my head a year later, and I'm looking forward to hearing them again when the EP comes out in August.

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