Song 146: Cymande, “Bra” (1972)

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As obscure as the band may be, Cymande’s work has had a lasting influence, especially on hip-hop. “Bra” alone has been sampled by De La Soul, Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. “Bra” is one of those amazing songs that seems to have arrived fully formed. It was likely the result of some improvising and meticulous arranging, but when that bassline starts, the guitar slides in, and the horns announce themselves, there seems to be nothing accidental or unplanned about this song. It is the sound of an immediate good time.

“Cymande” is a calypso word for “dove” (which was also the name of another Cymande song). The band’s members hailed from Guyana, Jamaica, and St. Vincent, and their sound melded the sound of African music with funk, rock, reggae, and soul. Their songs probably sounded (to those who actually heard them) more innovative at the time; after Paul Simon, Talking Heads, and other artists who did something similar, this combination doesn’t sound as surprising.

Luckily, Cymande’s songs are impressive even without that surprise. “Bra” experienced a minor resurgence thanks to Spike Lee, who used the song in his films Crooklyn and 25th Hour (the latter featured it prominently, to great effect). I can’t imagine why, with its fun, reassuring sound and that infectious break, it hasn’t been a monster hit all along.

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