Kid Creole and the Coconuts are appearing Sunday at Lisner Auditorium. The date was incorrect in yesterday's Weekend. (Published 6/ 2/90)
STEPPING OUT in 1980 from the original Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, Kid Creole and the Coconuts were easily a decade ahead of their time. Concocting a heady mix of tropically punchy pop with a funny, funky R&B base, the Kid and his big band presaged such currently trendy pop buzzwords as world music, vogueing, even the forbidden lambada.
On one of his rare days off from the current Coconuts comeback tour, August Darnell, the Kid's alter ego, muses on the confounding fact that though his boundary-breaking band is big all over the planet, especially in Europe, they've somehow never cracked homeland America outside of the small but devoted Kid Creole cult.
"Strange thing, it's been happening so long that every year I have a different reason for it," says Bronx native Darnell on the phone from his upstate New York lakeside retreat, where he's been readying his speedboat for Memorial Day and waiting for the cable worker to come.
"In the beginning I assumed that it was just that the American market wasn't ready for us, because the music was very eclectic and weird, to say the least, and not exactly commercial and accessible."
"Yeah, a pseudo-intellectual combination of reggae, calypso and soca and funk and just about everything thrown in. A gumbo or boulliabaise, if you will."
Or maybe a frozen blender drink at an urban poolside resort. In hot tropical colors, topped with exotic fruit. Tall and cool. And kinda spicy, too.
"So I imagined the Americans couldn't get next to that because it was a bit heavy to swallow. But now as time has gone on, it seems the times have caught up to us in America; they have embraced eclectic music here now. But we still are getting the harsh treatment at MTV and some radio stations. It could have something to do with the structure of the band -- it is regarded as an ethnic band -- because of course, I'm an ethnic person up front. But the band is a mixed band, and we have the juxtaposition of the gigolo who happens to be a colored man, and the Caucasian Coconuts. I know it sounds weird, but even to this day, it's difficult for middle America to grasp that."
The Kid and his Coconuts seem to have their best shot at the American Dream with their summery seventh album, "Private Waters in the Great Divide," though Darnell feels he's had to compromise himself artistically for chart success. Darnell says he was pressured by A&R at his new label, Columbia Records, to do an English-language cover of the Portuguese hit "Lambada," which appears on the soundtrack of the movie "The Forbidden Dance." Produced by the Miami Sound Machine's production team known as the Jerks, the song replaced Darnell's own favorite track on the album, "Ode to a Colored Man," an autobiographical "modern-day protest song." The latter was recently restored to subsequent pressings of the album.
The saucily titled first single, "The Sex of It," was written for the Kid by Prince. "That I would never had done 10 years ago," Darnell says. "I was too proud, too cocksure of my own material to allow an outsider to write a single."
Since then he's had to reassess his efforts. "How many times can you hit your head against the wall before you realize you have to move the wall or change your head?"
But even though the instrumental track for "The Sex of It" was created by Prince and his Paisley Park posse, including Eric Leeds and Sheila E., it still sounds distinctively Coconutty.
"Well, it was designed with me in mind," Darnell says. "Prince saw some of my concerts in the south of France when he was filming 'Under the Cherry Moon.' We still have never met; it was strictly a hands-off, techno-pop collaboration, sending computer disks back and forth through the mail. But that's the way the world is going."
No matter how impersonally put together, the single still has that sensual Kid Creole touch. But longtime Kid fans will notice a marked change in the frontman's persona on the album. Once the Kid Creole image was all about the macho male paramour, the antihero made hero, the playboy, the Don Juan. But it's 1990, and today the Kid is now singing "(No More) Casual Sex."
"Now I think just to be a responsible human being I have to alter that old image and explain myself," Darnell says. "We're doing this in a different time; we're no longer afforded the opportunity of glamorizing the playboy. That's an irresponsible move, in my opinion. I had to go out and deliberately take a stand against casual sex."
However times have changed, the Kid and Co. still put on an overtly sexy stage show, of course, "still the same three-ring circus, still financial suicide." There are four tongue-in-chic costume changes and 14 people on stage, including three exotic, erotic, all-dancing, all-singing campy Coconuts, including Darnell's ex-wife Adriana, who choreographs the moves.
The "Private Waters" album brings Darnell full circle, as it finds him professionally reunited with his older brother Stony Browder, who led Dr. Buzzard. Browder collaborated with Darnell on a couple of songs on the new album and is also co-producing Darnell's upcoming duet album with chanteuse Cory Daye. Another Original Savannah Band stalwart, Daye sings the 1976 hit "Cherchez le Femme" and others on this tour.
"I owe a lot to Stony," Darnell says, "because he's the one who first taught me how to play a musical instrument -- bass -- when I was 11 years old. It was a selfish reason -- he was playing guitar and he needed accompaniment, he said 'Okay, little brother, you're gonna learn how to play bass.' "