Maltese born and bred Mario Cordina, frontman for Skambomambo, is spreading the sound of ska from Poland to the UK and beyond. Ever since Skambomambo kicked off on the Polish scene with a single called Taxi Driver, it’s been one whole series of gigs and festivals for frontman Mario Cordina, aka Don Mario. Mario describes how he has always had music in his blood; after he left Malta for Poland, this passion transformed into a more serious endeavour. An endeavour that saw his participation in a variety of bands, all received with an encouraging degree of enthusiasm by his audiences.
Until some four years ago, when Skambomambo happened. Mario frontlines the band, which consists of Maupa Monkey Man on drums, Pablo El Gringo on guitars, Mr. Panic aka Mad Kamil on bass and Pauleta, El Pasha, Aras, La Marta, Porek on the brass section. The band fuses its own original brand of Ska with other genres to create an energetic and eclectic sound.
From their first demo Black Molly, which was released in 2007, it was obvious that this band had “it”. The debut album, Made in Pol-Ska, was released in 2008 to rave reviews and was followed by a second offering, Made To Specification, earlier this year. Since then they have amassed accolades galore, including the title of Ambassadors of Culture for the City of Szczecin. Yep, they think a lot of the band in Poland. The band has toured across Ukraine, Poland, Germany and the UK and has supported names like Primal Scream, The Happy Mondays, The Claxons, Alliance Ethnic, Babylon Circus and The Rotterdam Jazz Ska Foundation amongst others.
Besides Skambomambo, there’s a lot to keep Mario busy. He is currently also involved in a project in Berlin, where he formed Doctors Space Lab with a group of producers and DJs bent on House and Disco music and production.
To date, Mario speaks fondly about growing up in Malta. He mentions being a regular performer at BJ’s, working as a stage hand for the Joe Cocker and Tina Turner concerts, the days with Maltese bands Thin Ice, Goneastray and Grip… I ask him whether Skambomambo would consider a gig in Malta: he promises to think about it. I guess we’ll have to make sure to hold him to his promise.
How do you describe your music?
I have played in different types of bands from rock to heavy metal, funk, house, disco set-ups. I even used to sing in the Amadeus Chamber Choir and am an 80’s child. The music I play now is Ska with a mix of the above. Ska is a music genre which appeared in the 40’s and is the root of most genres that we call reggae, swing, bebop etc. Skambomambo music puts its emphasis on humour, a groovy rhythm and brass hook lines.
Which musicians influence you?
My whole life has been a musical journey and my influences would include a whole list. With regards to Ska the first on my list would be Prince Buster and Laurel Aitken, together with Madness, The Skatellites, Toots and the Maytals, Bad manners. Funk wise I would definitely go for James Brown and Prince. As a vocalist I’d go for Freddy Mercury, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, David Bowie, Frank Sinatra. Other important bands include The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Police. I always used to get tapes and CDs and, before that, vinyl. These, however, were normally given to me by my family and would include bands that my family would approve of – something in the way of family censorship. They included all the 80’s pop hits like U2, Aha, Duran Duran, Culture Club, UB40, Madonna etc.
I remember this guilty feeling while sneaking inside with Helloween’s Keeper of the 7 Keys, which was how speed metal music was introduced to the household. This was my first move towards music liberty.
But I should add that my family loved music. The radio was on 24 hours, my sister played the piano and I played the guitar. My mum had a weakness for the Beatles and all the hit bands of her generation. My father was a banda tal-festa enthusiast. However the introduction of this speed and heavy and even death and thrash metal music phase alienated me from my family for a good, long while. Obviously my library went through a radical change as pop/ rock titles gave way to all these (Metallica, Iron Maiden, Metal Church, Faith No More, Slayer etc) albums from hell!
Your top three albums?
Difficult questions as there are so many… these albums were markers in my life, a discovery that there is more to music. I can trace my musical tastes by going through the evolution of my time. You start with the pop stars on the hit charts, then you start looking deeper.
This is the way it goes: first you start with Madonna, Aha, Depeche Mode, U2 and then move on to Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Faith No More, Pearl Jam, Nirvana… Next starts a search into classic bands like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles.
But to answer your question, Bob Marley’s Legend was an album that changed the world. It is an album that has got soul and I just love the rhythm section. It is what I build my band’s bass and drums on. The Police Ghosts in The Machine is the second one, a must for any band. In a world where we seek all the electronic effects and best studio sound, here we have a raw, three-man band producing hits that have lasted three decades already. Finally, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Do you sing in the shower?
I sing wherever, but never alone!
Any particular song you hate?
Songs that stink of plagiarism and fake images, for example when Britney Spears suddenly dresses up like Kiss and sings I love Rock N’ Roll.
Butterflies before performing?
Hundreds of coffees and cigarettes. Hundreds of concerts and nothing changes.
Any singer you’d like to duet with?
Duets depend on the type of song. Make it a sexy woman like Joss Stone.
What musical instruments do you play?
I originally started out playing the guitar, although it was obvious that I would never resign from frontman once I got the chance to be in a band called Thin Ice, way back in my Lyceum days. It would have been around ’89, I suppose. I have worked in Berlin Studios and have tried my hand at a lot of instruments, especially electronic keyboards and moogs. A jack of all instruments, virtuoso of none. However I do most of the song writing and record the bass and guitars and keyboards and vocals – I’m also on the drum machine. With another band of mine called Ambulanza I played on the keyboards.
Your go-to music when happy? And when sad?
I think that when you’re a musician, music is part and parcel of life. It does not influence your mood, but rather is like the air that you breathe. It is rather the absence of music that makes a musician sad. There is a silence between the notes which is as important as the notes themselves and a period when no music is playing is like a pause before it starts to play again.
Do you listen to the radio?
Yes, when I’m driving. I also use music TV at home.
Which band would you love to see live?
I have seen a lot of bands live, but the one band from my youth that I have never seen live and would like to is probably Depeche Mode. Obviously I would like to see the new, emerging bands live. Also, I missed the Muse last summer although they gigged very close to where I’m staying. My friends said that they were excellent – so I have to go.
What inspires you?
People are my inspiration. It would take a book and not a few words to answer this. Maybe, our fragile human desire to control the staggeringly uncontrollable universe.
What do we find on your MP3 player?
All the bands above, plus loads of ska, the new Selecter Album, bands I’ve gigged with, a lot of oldies, Florence and The Machine, 80’s music, Queen, Snow patrol, Amy Winehouse, The Arctic Monkeys, Gnarls Barkley …..
The music industry destroyed real music: true or false?
The music industry works to keep the music going. The problem is that the old way of doing things is obsolete. As a child I would listen to the charts and know who’s selling most and this was a marker of who was most popular. The availability of music on the internet and the destruction of MTV into a popular TV not at all dedicated to music has destroyed the music industry. Even for someone like me trying to keep up to date with the music scene things have run out of hand. However I think that there never is a formula for artistic expression and success. One does the best one can. The truth is that people still go to concerts and it’s the bands that get thousands at their concerts which are popular. This is not what the media gives us. Radios and t.v. channels and internet portals only give us music because someone paid to have it up there. Pay £25 a month and you’ll get a 1000 hits a week, pay more and you get more. That’s the way media works. In a world of information we find a labyrinth of disinformation.
A life without music would be…
Inhuman. Human beings are about communicating, about sharing about learning. Music is the primeval form of communication.
Did you ever get the “music is not a real career” talk when young?
Actually this was and is the main problem with my parents. The music business does not always pay, it is not a stable source of income. I was a very promising University graduate and according to my parents and family I probably wasted my schooling. The problem is that it is hard to convince them otherwise, because my life has been a hard one. If a real career means a stable income and getting promoted, then they are right. Music is not a real career, but what the heck?
Which of your own compositions is your favourite and why?
I do not like talking about my compositions. That’s up to the people. My compositions start working around my head. Then I record them and when the song’s done and I sit down to give it a listen, I’m rarely satisfied. The compositions I like are the ones which got me some recognition. Fly with Funky Music, with Ambulanza which sent me on my first international tour and Made in Pol-ska and Cool Ska with Skambomambo which landed us on National TV and started our career. However, at the moment I’m working on the latest Skambomambo Album and I’m very happy with most of the tracks.
This interview appeared on The TV Guide (The Times of Malta).