Composition and arranging techniques from Grand Union Orchestra composer/director Tony Haynes
A couple of weeks before Christmas I was in Lisbon, making arrangements for a Grand Union project there in spring 2013. Regular readers will know that the Grand Union Orchestra’s collaborations with Portuguese and Portuguese African musicians go back nearly 20 years (see Posts 9 & 10), so one of the pleasures of visiting the city is catching up again with old friends and colleagues. Accordingly, I rocked up to one of the African restaurants on the waterfront, and there was Mingo Rangel playing and singing his perennial favourite Mexe Mexe.
It occurred to me there and then that this song was the ideal vehicle for carrying seasonal greetings, and to celebrate the promise of a new year!
Originally from Moçambique, Mingo is quite simply one of the most complete, self-contained musicians I know. He is a remarkable rhythm guitarist, adept at playing bass lines against a subtle range of strumming, a natural improviser and expert accompanist to his own infectious singing – and a charming solo entertainer all round. He has toured often with Grand Union – enchanting audiences equally in our small band tours of Scotland or the epic Doctor Carnvial shows – and of course is a mainstay of all our work in Portugal.
Mexe Mexe is in effect his signature tune: its lyrics can be summed up as ‘wherever you are in the world and whatever language you speak, when the sun comes out everyone gets dancing…’, and as you can hear it has an irresistible dance rhythm of its own. This version was recorded on one of the Grand Union Band tours of the late 1990s and features also Maria João Silveira singing with Mingo; the rhythm section is Keith Morris on bass guitar and Brian Abrahams drums. I’m playing vibes (!) and – together with Louise Elliott (tenor sax) and Shanti Paul Jayasinha (trumpet) – had a small hand in the brass arrangements; otherwise it’s entirely Mingo’s composition.
The chord sequences sit squarely within the African/Latin/Caribbean tradition, but the structure is slightly unusual. The main verse, on which the trumpet solo is also based, has this 16-bar sequence repeated:
A | | |E7 |E7 | | |A |A7 | | |D |D |A |E7 |A ||
Then comes a simple chorus, with the vocal harmonies ‘mexe mexe, que bom’ (‘it’s good to boogie!’) answered by an instrumental fill:
and a short bridge with more chromatic harmonies:
A |C#7 |Bm | |B7 | |E7 | ||
followed by a variation of the ‘mexe mexe’ chorus (E7 | |A | || repeated four times), which in turn forms the harmonic basis of the instrumental melody that follows:
This entire structure is repeated for the trumpet solo, beginning with the harmonic sequence of the verse, with the voices picking up the bridge halfway through, a short coda on the second instrumental theme (Ex 2), and a phrase from the first (Ex 1) to finish.