Despite their home base — Boulder, Colo. — and their ability to spin crowds into heavenly frantic dance, The Motet isn’t just another jam band that decided to experiment with a little world music.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear Motet songs performed in five languages.
Then there’s the sextet’s incorporation of distinctly American musical elements, namely funk and jazz, to groove with its Caribbean, African and South American styles. It’s world music — but the funky bass line and the improvisation techniques are far from foreign.
“I started in the group about four years ago, and drums were a big influence on what we do,” says percussionist Dave Watts. “Of course, the most prevalent drumming music out there is African-based music, and that of Cuba, Brazil and West Africa. Those sources are most interesting to us drummers. We try to use their rhythmic ideas and learn all we can about them. We’ve been to Cuba twice; our lead singer [Jans Ingber, also a well-versed percussionist] has studied in West Africa. We’re headed back to Cuba in January.”
Building upon that heavy, global, rhythmic foundation, The Motet has gradually gained fame across various circles. An obvious match for world-music venues and festivals, The Motet has also been adopted by more-adventurous fans of the jam-band culture. In fact, the band has shared stages with many monsters of that genre, including String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic.
Watts enjoys his group’s diverse appeal. “You may hear music being performed in five different languages. Then, some of the rhythms we’re using are complex, not straightforward like [in] funk bands. But the jam-band scene is very open to that. … That’s a positive side of the jam-band audience. People are open to hearing [music from other cultures], and it’s way more acceptable and attainable; because of technology, people are able to hear music from anywhere so much more easily.”
If you’re caught off guard hearing a song sung in a foreign language, the strongest gift the Motet holds is the power to make it not matter. This band taps into a primal well that involuntarily moves you into the thick of an already-frenetic dancing mob.
“The common thread throughout our music is groove,” avows Watts. “Through all of our different influences, we focus on drumming, dancing and singing, and try to maintain that in all of our music. Dancing is a great expression for our audience, and we really enjoy having that as a vibe at our show.”
“This music, that’s built on percussion, is just roots music from a different area of the world. And for us, the great thing about playing roots music is that we get to come together with different groups of people outside of the jam-band scene,” the drummer shares, relating a story about his group’s last visit to Asheville. “For instance, the band that opened for us, Common Ground [a local West African drum-and-dance ensemble, also scheduled to open the upcoming show], and another drumming-and-dancing group from Atlanta, all or mostly women, all came together. At the end of the show, we just moved all of our drums out on the floor and got together and jammed. We saw them in Atlanta later when we played there.
“It’s great to be able to touch those communities in different areas,” he goes on. “We may go to random places like Missoula, Mont. and find some great Afro-Cuban scene, or go to Los Angeles and find some Brazilian scene. You never know who is going to come out of the woodwork.”
The band is currently touring to promote the release of its new CD, simply called Live. On the road, the six-piece steers away from anything approaching formula.
“Our music comes from a lot of different directions,” Watts acknowledges. “Basically, we’re very open-minded to whatever comes our way. … That’s the exciting part — you never know [what will happen]. It’s like a lot of jazz musicians say: When a song is really done, you don’t want to play it any more. It’s the building of the song that keeps you going.”