When Mike Keat created Miguel Mantovani, the shameless, moustachioed impresario at the core of the Cuban Brothers, he had no idea that the character would become his career. Two decades on, Miguel and his suspect sidekicks are renowned the world over for their party-starting skills, risqué sketches, B-boy moves and funk-fuelled music. From sold-out tours, festival spots and support slots for rock royalty to crazy cabaret club nights, film roles and fashion shows, The Cuban Brothers’ unparalleled act is now ingrained in pop culture. Everywhere from the Far East to South America, from Brisbane to Bahrain, from the Gumball rally to the F1 circuit has fallen for the Hawaiian shirts-sporting crew and their outrageous, X-rated antics. Never more in demand, The Cuban Brothers’ 20THanniversary year began with tours of Australia and New Zealand and a long-planned jaunt though the Scottish Highlands & Islands in a yellow Cadillac, part homage to thegreat Billy Connolly, part romantic return to the country where the Cubans began. As ever, their summer is packed with festival appearances in Britain and abroad. Compilation album La Familia is released next month, featuring one new Cubans track –I Hate Hate –alongside classics by Herbie Hancock, Children Of Zeus and D’Angelo. The Cuban Brothers may be a comedy act, but they’re simultaneously serious musicians who have played with Prince, been on the road with James Brown and supported Fatboy Slim, Chuck Berry and De La Soul. This year you’ll see them with a 12 piece band, half of whom previously played with Amy Winehouse, and a rotating roll-call of special guests on board to help them turn 20, including The Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart and the Jungle Brothers’ Baby Bam.
Mike, how the devil are you?
Very well, thanks. We’ve just been up to Robert Elms Radio London up at BBC House to do a stripped-down live version of ‘I Hate Hate’. The session was really nice, just with acoustic guitar, conga, keys and shaker. We know that The Cuban Brothers have impeccable taste. Your new album La Familia features a host of selections, plus one original The Cuban Brothers track. Tell us a bit about the record The Cubans was something that I started after watching dance music go up its own arsehole a bit in the mid-‘90s. I created this outfit, with the character Miguelito, to try and make something a bit more left field, irreverent, something fun. I come from that era where it was more about a party rather than chin-stroking. We’ve been around 20 years now and this record is a benchmark I guess, something for the anniversary. It’s tunes that I love and music that I’ve grown up with, that has influenced some of the writing processes that I use now.
The one new track on the album is a Razzy Bailey cover, ‘I Hate Hate’. Why was it so important this original track made the cut on this record alongside the other tunes?
I’ve always loved the Razzy Bailey original from 1974. I always loved the sentiment and it’s kind of poignant now because of what’s happened worldwide in politics with the Trump administration getting in, the conservatives and Brexit. Yes, it’s a protest song, but it’s a gentle protest song, the lyrics speak for themselves. To be honest, I was thinking “should I do it?” because I like it so much, but it seemed to strike a chord with people. People who are into funk and soul are aware of it, but a lot of people have never heard it before so I wanted to record it and do it justice. If you’re doing a cover, it has to either be very different and cool or it has to stand up to the original, or there’s no point in doing one.
Your live shows are the stuff of legend, with raucous antics and revelry very much a part of The Cuban Brothers experience. Is this something you attempt to capture when you go into the studio, or is that a time and place to adopt a different mindset?
It’s different. When we’re on stage we’re show-offs, in the studio you just want to get the best sound that you can get on the record. We still obviously have a laugh, but it’s not a very anarchic environment. It has been in the past, it just depends how many drinks have been imbibed. But we’re are not young lads seeing how wankered we can get before we record, we have been those guys, but we’re a little more mature now. We come in, have some fun and get the job done.
Is the album a good indication of what people can expect from your live performances?
Yeah, our live shows are with a 12 piece band. In that band, we have Hamish Stuart of Average White Band, Shawn Lee of Young Gun Silver Fox, Baby Bam from the Jungle Brothers on vocals with me. If you’re playing a festival and you’ve got 40,000 people there you want to hit everybody, give everybody a good time. So when we do live shows half of it is original music and the other half is rearrangements. We have four horns so we do these great arrangements of some of these more, not popular tracks, but populist tracks. I guess we’ve become – the term sounds wanky – but “festival favourites”. There hasn’t been a festival that we’ve done that we haven’t been invited back to.
Bestival, for example. We’ve been involved in it since its inception. Rob Da Bank and me became mates around 2000 when we played the Sunday Best parties at the tea rooms in Clapham. We did all the Sunday Best parties in Ibiza, these amazing parties at a different beach every fortnight. The Chemical Brothers were on, A Man Called Adam, Chris Coco, Tom Findlay of Groove Armada. They became kind of legendary because they were free parties at a time when people were starting to charge €50 to get into a club. These Sunday Best parties were what became Bestival.
And now we do about 35/40 festivals a year during the summer. It’s fun, I like that environment because you’ve got the chance to engage people. I know some people don’t like their music with a slice of comedy and that’s completely cool, it doesn’t need to be cerebral; they can pay attention and have a laugh if they want to or they can just get down with the music and have a dance. It was always important to me that whatever happened, it was never boring. We’re all entertainers, we’re all dancers, we’re all B-boys.
You mentioned Hamish Stuart, how did that come about?
I’d met this guy in the pub and we had an affinity, I’d had a pint with him. An old Irish friend, a man called Frank, says to me “You know that fella there, is Hamish Stuart from The Average White Band” and I said “pardon?” “That fella there, I was telling you about Hamish who was living down here, that’s him there now” and it clicked. He’s a hero of mine and I’ve always been into The Average White Band’s music. I tried not to be a fanboy because we’d been mates and he hadn’t let on that he was a professional musician or that Average White Band was his band. We sort of bonded over that and then I got him involved with coming out with us. He’s such a cool guy, he’s the coolest customer on stage and in general, very unaffected – the guy’s worked with Chaka Khan, George Benson, Marvin Gaye, Paul McCartney. He doesn’t give it the big one, but he wrote songs for all those artists and toured with them. He’s away with Ringo on tour next week, so he’s best mates with the Beatles and they all hold him in high regard. I feel lucky that he agreed to come and do shows with us and we’ve become good mates. We’re just some Scottish soul boys.
Are those relationships useful to keep the momentum up for The Cuban Brothers?
Yeah, if you’re a music fan and you’re able to call some of your heroes your contemporaries and have a relationship with them, musically and outside of music, then that’s brilliant. Some of them are Pinch Yourself moments. For instance, with Hamish, I never thought I’d be sharing a stage with him singing ‘Work To Do’, one of my favourite tunes of theirs. He takes the first verse, I take the second. I’ve been into this record since I was 15, and now I’m doing it with him and we’ve got a full band. It’s the same with Bam. The Jungle Brothers were the first hip-hop band that I really got into. If you tried to say to my 15-year-old self that I’d have Bam on tour with me, doing our version of his record then I would have said: “fuck off, you’re kidding me!”. It gives you a certain energy.
One time when we were in Australia, I came off stage because we thought we’d do a breakdancing section, and I needed to change my kicks. Public Enemy were about to come on after us, and Chuck D was there and he was pissing himself laughing. He got me by the shoulders and he said “ya’ll brothers is funny, and you know something, you’re always going to work, keeping the music alive. You’re entertaining people. People are always going to want to be entertained”. It was wicked. Sometimes certain outfits or bands can have a shelf, whereas we’ve been guns for hire, doing our own gigs, festivals, private gigs. We’ve got a bit of a celeb fan base, which is unusual, but it keeps us buoyant and working.
So is part of this record about introducing the music to people who maybe haven’t heard of these songs before?
Absolutely, I mean they’re not all vintage some of them are contemporary like Children Of Zeus, R.A. The Rugged Man, but yeah. To be honest it’s really just stuff that I like and the other guys dig it as well. If in any way people are feeling those tracks and they might go away and have a look at the back catalogue of some of these artists then that’s really cool.
On your PledgeMusic pre-order campaign, you’re offering signed double vinyl for your fans. Are you guys still listening to music on wax?
Yeah, I’ve got 3,000/4,000 records. Like a lot of people, I was going to get rid of the records and try and transfer them, but I never did that. We’re all vinyl smiths, we come from that era where you went record shopping and digging for samples. When there were sleeve notes, and you studied a cover.
Was their one particular compilation album that influenced your approach to La Familia?
Sir Norman Jay’s Good Time compilations. Sir Norman has been a very good friend of mine, another champion of The Cubans. He’s done so many Good Times compilations and they’re all so good. Growing up it was him and Giles Peterson that I was looking towards and being influenced by. Going right back, the Street Sounds series were an influencer across the board for what we do: breakdancing, hip-hop, it’s what we’ve been about for the past 20 years.
What can you tell us about the physical formats of La Familia?
The album has got a 16-page gatefold colour book, with different scrapbook style images and stories. From North Korea to New Zealand, from Bradford to Bali, from all over the world. There are some really funny stories in there, from doing the Gumball to being in a car with David Hasselhoff for 6 days, being in Mexico with the Jackass boys to being arrested in New Orleans halfway up Larry Flynt’s longest strippers pole in the world and playing in North Korea. It’s just fucking nuts this kind of stuff. There’s a lot of funny nonsense stories from over the years. I’d written a lot more, and I edited and edited. It’s a beautiful piece, for people who dig the Cubans it’s a nice commemorative thing.