At the end of Book Three of George R.R. Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire series, the impish antihero Tyrion Lannister, after having been wrongly imprisoned for killing his nephew the king, escapes his bonds and seeks out his malevolent father, the land’s de facto ruler.
His first wife, who was a purported whore, haunts Tyrion, but he had just found out that her alleged ill-repute was a ruse perpetrated by his older brother. His father had allowed his wife to be gang raped by a company of soldiers just to teach him a lesson about frequenting brothels, lest he bring ignominy to his proud family.
Now Tyrion has his father at crossbow-point while on the privy seat. He asks his father where his former wife went. His father’s reply?
“Wherever whores go.”
At this, Tyrion shoots his father in the guts.
A certain kind of music fan in Shanghai, puzzled by the extended hiatus taken by the reggae group The Lions of Puxi, might ask a question similar to Tyrion’s:
“Where do super-talented reggae bands go?”
After some research into The Lions of Puxi’s disappearance from the scene and reappearance this Friday as part of the BooshKaBaash Festival, and, at the risk of being shot in the guts by a crossbow arrow, I would have to answer, “I don’t know.”
The Lions of Puxi began around 2008/2009, when guitarist Vladimir Legay and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Gauthier Roubichou were playing a cover of Sting’s “An Englishman in New York” at The House of Blues and Jazz. As Gauthier tells it, he didn’t know the lyrics in English so he improvised in Chinese.
“The crowd liked it so much we decided to record it the following week, asking the best groovy rhythmics [sic] in town to join us: Gilbert, Alain, Jhonny, and Jason.”
The “groovy rhythmics” were: Gilbert Kuppusami, vocals and percussion; Alain Couronne, bass; Jason Peng, keyboards; and Jhonny Joseph, drums. Although horn players later joined them from time to time, this was the band’s main configuration. Many of the members were from Mauritius, an island nation that seems to have a pipeline of terrific musicians running straight to Shanghai.
The group spent a year playing at places like the old Brown Sugar in Xintiandi, LOgO, JZ and Anar (back when there was a really nice stage and sound system in the back room) and recording their first EP. Then they began to blow up, playing bigger venues like JZ Festival, Zhejiang Dream Factory, MAO Livehouse, and Yugong Yishan. They were voted Shanghai City Weekend’s Best Band at least two years running, were on the local lao wai TV station ICS, and made an amusing video for “A Frenchman in Shanghai”. They were at the top of their game, playing lucrative corporate gigs, multiple shows at the World Expo and packing out the largest live houses and weird venues for live music, like Bar Rouge. This uptick in publicity seems to coincide with the arrival of managers Carl Thelin and Nate Mallon, in May 2009, who sought to get the word out about the band and were always looking for a way to make a splash or an RMB.
In the summer of 2010, they set off for a summer of festival appearances in France and elsewhere in Europe. No one has been willing or able to tell me what happened during that trip. Managers Nate and Carl weren’t able to attend, so the band was on its own, arranging travel, visas, sound, etc. It seems like tension built between the rhythm section and the vocalists, with drummer Jhonny and keyboardist Jason basically quitting the band upon their return.
In late 2010, in an attempt to save the band from breaking apart, Nate secured funding to record a new, full-length album, at one of the nicest studios, and with some of the best musicians, in town. These players included Shanghai jazz stalwarts, Theo Croker, Alec Haavik, and Hu Qingwen, as well as Dana Shelmire and others on backing vocals. The album was recorded fully in a few days, and mixed between January and March, 2011. It cost over $10,000 to produce, all sponsored by outside financial backing.
In March of 2011, I got a call from Nate. He invited me over to the Shanghai Broadcast Studios on Hongqiao Lu to check out the digs in which The Lions were recording and producing the album. I had always known the place as “the UFO building across the street from my school” so I was interested to check it out. When we got there, Nate gave us a little tour of the studio they worked in, which was amazing.
It had a 55-track mixer in the booth, risers for choruses and orchestras, and separate rooms for live recording. Then we went into another little room where the album was in production, spearheaded by the band’s friend from Mauritius, Jahlil. We had a chat with Gilbert and Nate while Jahlil toiled away, adjusting levels to get just the right mix, listening back, and adjusting again. They seemed optimistic that the album would be finished soon, and said I should write a piece about the making of the album. That was a year and a half ago.
We are all still waiting for that album. The Lions have played three gigs since that time, and none since May of 2011.
Recently, I was contacted by Nate Mallon again (now one of the promoters of BooshKaBaash) who told me that Friday, November 30th, would be the band’s last show and, since I had a distant connection with the band, he suggested I write something about, “The best band and album that was and never happened.”
If you know Nate, a super funny guy and someone whose influence on the Shanghai music scene over the years has probably been a bit underrated, you also know that he is prone to hyperbole. I know Nate and I should have suspected the situation was probably more complicated, but I forged ahead anyway, emailing the members of the band with a slew of questions about The Lions’ demise.
Initially, I only got one email back, from Gauthier. If you’re reading this, you probably know Gauthier. He’s the tall French guy in front who raps, sings, beat boxes, plays guitar and hand drums, and wears funny socks and backwards hats, among other things. He basically replied that I had my information wrong; it was not The Lions’ last show ever. He told me that the Lions had been on hiatus, that they have a new drummer (who I have heard is Yam Aquino), and that if I wanted to have an interview we should do it as a full-band, in-person Q&A. I replied that I would be interested in doing that and asked them when would be a good time. I didn’t hear anything back for a week, but on November 27th, I received another email from Gauthier, which answered my initial interview questions.
I have not had any contact from any of the other band members.
There comes a part in articles like this when you are supposed to unveil what should be learned from the outcome. The truth is supposed to hit you, like a crossbow to the guts, so you can say, “That’s it! That’s why they broke up! And that says ‘x’ about the music scene.”
The truth is, I don’t know what the truth is.
I don’t know if The Lions of Puxi are still a band or just a band of musical mercenaries who will get together every once in awhile for a payday. They’re certainly talented enough to take time away and come back as if nothing happened.
It seems that their various side projects mean more to them than The Lions right now. It wasn’t always that way, though. Their creative force used to be palpable and potent at live shows. My wife practically wore out their EP playing it in her car. They were one band we could agree upon, which doesn’t happen often. Jason Peng, as quoted by Nate Mallon, said something like, “I was never in a band that good, and I will never be in a band that good again.”
I’m sure there will be Lions of Puxi shows after this one Friday night, but they will never be a band like they were again.