Wanyama improvises on new EP

By John Benson


Wanyama singer-saxophonist Charlie Wilson admits the Cleveland-based band, which over the past few years has expanded its touring circle to include the Midwest, south and northeast, is still trying to find an audience in Youngstown.

“It’s a hard market,” said Wilson, who stressed the group has always had good times at Cedars West End. He added in order for the band to grow its Mahoning Valley audience, the sextet needs to book more gigs. This explains why Wanyama returns for a show tonight at the West Side venue.

“We’re really just trying to expand more east and west and south,” he said. “We’d like to eventually get to a full West Coast tour but right now we’re trying to build up the East Coast cities and start building fan bases. We’ll be going back to New York City in August.”

The outfit is excited about playing new tunes from its upcoming EP release, which marks the follow-up to 2014’s full-length effort “Cleveland Zoo.” Martin said while the album was heavy on funk and hip-hop with hints of psychedelic, the band’s current crop of unreleased tunes features more instrumental tracks.

“It’s just something we all got more into as we’ve gotten more [experienced with] our instruments,” Martin said. “We put a lot more technicality behind our instruments, doing more solos and improvisations. Like we have the new song ‘Ol Wesley,’ which is more of a dance-y, driving hip-hop song. Another would be ‘Missing the Point,’ which is more like a soul-psychedelic sound.”

Martin said the latter track is currently the centerpiece of the group’s set. The jam-friendly tune allows all six members to stretch out with its soulful licks and lyrical flow built around live bass, drums, guitar, horns and synths.

Invariably, this unique amalgamation of styles means Wanyama is alone in its musical woods.

“Yeah, sometimes we have a hard time finding people to play with even though we go with a lot of different types of genres,” Martin said. “I haven’t heard anything yet that sounds like us.

“It’s hard to find specific groups and cliques to play with sometimes. Sometimes we get grouped in reggae. Sometimes we get grouped in jam bands or hip-hop. We’re basically just trying to pave our own way with everything, and play a lot of venues and festivals here and there.”

It’s been quite a musical leap for Wanyama, which started off reggae-centric.

“We were all into it but now our musical tastes have gone different ways,” Wilson said. “What we’ve evolved in listening to hasn’t been reggae as much. We still do little things here and there, but we’re staying away from it.”

That means music fans attending the upcoming Youngstown show shouldn’t expect steel drum solos.

“Yeah, no, there will be no steel drum solos at Cedars,” Wilson said, laughing. “Lots of guitar, bass and saxophone solos, but no steel drums.”