Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande review – the second life of a cruelly ignored UK funk band

<span>A musical education … Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande.</span><span>Photograph: Courtesy of Sarah Lancaster</span>
A musical education … Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande.Photograph: Courtesy of Sarah Lancaster

This documentary is an education and a good-news story about the remarkable 70s British funk band Cymande (the word is a calypso term for “dove”) who should be as big as Earth Wind & Fire, but aren’t. Or at least not yet. Their talent allowed them to transcend the racism and dullness of Britain’s cultural scene in the days of the Edward Heath government, recording three albums and becoming the first British band to headline New York’s Apollo Theatre during a heady US tour. But back in dreary Blighty, no TV programme would put them on the air.

The band broke up and obscurity beckoned, but then in the 80s and 90s, a postmodern miracle happened. Their tracks were sampled by bands like the Fugees (who couldn’t believe they weren’t American); Cymande’s music played an important part in the development of hip-hop and they had an amazing digital afterlife, gaining popularity and admirers, with a new and growing fanbase young enough to be their grandchildren.

The documentary talks to Cymande superfans like Mark Ronson, Deb Grant and Craig Charles and it allows us to reflect on how it was somehow up to America to cherish and nurture these great black British musicians. Perhaps if Cymande had actually pretended to be American, British TV producers and music promoters would have welcomed them.

So … did Cymande’s resurgence get them paid? It’s an open question. Monetising success is a problem for all musicians in the modern era of downloads. Towards the end the film, we see a curious TV clip from the late 70s or early 80s in which the young, earnest theatre director Peter Hall asks for cultural diversity. Admirable sentiments, although people of colour at the time might well have thought of Hall as a pretty entrenched part of precisely that establishment from which they were excluded.

  • Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande is released on 16 February in UK and Irish cinemas.