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Mandoki Soulmates


As a 20-year-old, Leslie Mandoki (known as the producer of No Angels, Lionel Richie, Phil Collins, Jennifer Rush, Disney’s Tarzan & Mulan) played with his band “JAM” in Budapest's BemRakpart rock club. This was the real underground of the Hungarian capital’s early 1970s, the cradle of intellectual land student opposition to the Soviet-imposed dictatorship of censorship, spying, and travel prohibitions. Musically, Mandoki was influenced by the great British prog-rock bands of the time such as Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Yes, and Supertramp—bands with intellectual, poetic, and socio-politically relevant lyrics; with compositionally great works having sophisticated harmonic structures and innovative production techniques; and with individual players whose personalities shone through on their instruments. While these enlightening, enervating, and extravagant prog-rock stars brought Mandoki to new heights of musical awareness, at the same time he became equally enamored of the virtuosity and solo brilliance of New York jazz-rock fusion scene, “especially with Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” and the constellations of musicians that developed out of it, such as Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and a bit later, the Brecker Brothers,” Mandoki explains. “Even back then with JAM, I tried to fuse the two, merging the aesthetics of British prog-rock and American jazz-rock. That was my vision.”


During this period of fertile musical experimentation in Budapest, Mandoki and his band simultaneously endured painful experiences with censorship and performance bans. Furthermore, as one of the most visible musical mouthpieces of student opposition in communist Hungary, Mandokiwas told that he would never receive a passport. Thus, in 1975 he made the decision to leave his homeland to realize his artistic vision in freedom. In an adventurous escape, on foot with two friends through the nearly five-mile-long Karawanken railway tunnel between then-communist Slovenia and Austria, he and his compatriots cut through the Iron Curtain, winding up in the central camp for asylum seekers in Zirndorf, Bavaria. When the asylum official asked him about his plans for life in the West, he stated that he was there to make music with his heroes, including Jack Bruce (Cream), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and Al Di Meola. At the time, these musicians were at the peak of their careers, selling millions of records and playing to packed stadiums and huge concert halls. The official looked at him with an expression equally puzzled and incredulous. They should have taken him more seriously.


“Live your dream and don't dream your life!” His father had given him this advice years before on his deathbed, and Mandoki had stuck to it. It would take a few more years, but in 1992 (now more than three decades ago) the time had finally come: Mandoki brought together for the first time a line-up of jazz and rock greats for a joint album. Dubbed “MANDOKI SOULMATES,” founding members included Ian Anderson, Jack Bruce, Al Di Meola, David Clayton-Thomas (Blood, Sweat & Tears), BobbyKimball (Toto), Mike Stern, Anthony Jackson, Bill Evans, and Randy and Michael Brecker. The band subsequently received the prestigious "Golden Europe" television award for their first published song“Mother Europe.” The band played their first major live concert in Budapest at the Sziget/Eurowoodstock Festival in 1994 in front of 40,000 enthusiastic spectators.

Since then, MANDOKI SOULMATES, who among them count 35 Grammys and over 350 million records sold, have developed into a globally unique band of bandleaders, with twelve joint albums and several live DVDs and Blu-rays as a group. The Soulmates' unbridled joy and virtuosity have also been experienced live in countless concerts from New York to Shanghai, from Sao Paulo to Miami, and in major European cities from London to Paris. A few years ago, the Süddeutsche Zeitung rightly ennobled Leslie Mandoki as “The one who plays with the heroes!”Over the years, many other legendary musicians have joined the Soulmates, such as Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann's Earth Band), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Nick van Eede (Cutting Crew), Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Tony Carey (Rainbow), Richard Bona, Cory Henry, Steve Lukather (Toto) and Chaka Khan, who Mandoki rather cheekily refers to as “the only girl in our Boyband.” Outstanding German musicians such as Peter Maffay, Klaus Doldinger and Till Brönner have also played with the Soulmates’ on albums and at concerts for many years.


Mandoki lets his “heroes” be themselves musically in the studio and on stage, which the Soulmates appreciate accordingly: Jack Bruce even compared him to Duke Ellington because of his ability to know exactly who was going to play what when writing the music. Mike Stern enthuses: “He'sdefinitely the leader. He's got a very clear concept, but at the same time he lets it to be loose because he wants people to put their personality into every tune. So, he's got a big role.” Al Di Meola describes him as a “Hungarian Quincy Jones” and “the leader among giants.” Ian Anderson adds: “He's the master chef in the kitchen, the mastermind. We just turn up for work.”


Cutting Crew founder Nick van Eede enjoys the special atmosphere in Mandoki's band of bandleaders. “There don't seem to be any egos here. Big stars and just everyone sharing the dressing room and the whisky. The stories. That's unusual.” He adds: “He has this ability to bring big names together and they love it. I don't know anyone else in the world who can pull something like that off.” And soul legend Chaka Khan: “Leslie has a kind of magic that happens with him. He is unique. He can bring people together and get the best out of them and get everyone to work together. He's like an alchemist. And I love him very much.” For Randy Brecker, Mandoki “is the one who sees the whole picture. We couldn't do it without him. That's why he really is the bandleader.” Brecker is emotional about the relationships that have developed in the band: “We've become very close friends and we talk on the phone or text or email all the time. So it's a really close and fitting relationship for all of us, really, really soulmates.” The late Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer) summed up the result of all this, describing the Soulmates simply as “one of the best bands you will ever hear.”


Above all this is Leslie Mandoki's vision of bringing progressive jazz-rock back to socio-political relevance with the Soulmates. “The Soulmates are not a bunch of stars phoning in global hits, we are a fresh band full of creative drive,” says Mandoki. For him, music has always been an expression of freedom. His musical vision of freedom is in the unity of form and content, remaining true to his own values, not allowing himself to be bent by genre constraints and zeitgeist trends, and taking a stand on socio-political changes with intellectual, poetic lyrics. It’s Art (with a capital “A”) as a thorn in the side of society.


Leslie Mandoki and his Soulmates never tire of raising their voices, even after more than 30 years. On the contrary, these “Old Rebels” are louder than ever and, amazingly, keep getting better and better, like a good wine. "With the strength of our thirty years together and the energy and verve of our teenage dreams, we fully expect to play many more concerts with our musical hallmarks of much improvisation, virtuosic playing, and celebrating with our audience.


Our new album “A Memory of Our Future” will be released on May 10, 2024. The concept of this new record is to live up to our responsibility as artists who have a direct line to our audience to deliver socio-politically relevant messages. The new album is a completely analogue production from the first note to the finished vinyl disc—a handwritten love letter to our music-loving listeners. These last few months in the studio with the Soulmates have been wonderful times, full of vigor and excitement, both musically and personally.

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