Papa Shango are unlike any band you have witnessed before, they perform live rock music whilst combining circus entertainment…

by Chelsea Ness

Papa Shango are certainly a band that sticks out from the rest with their live performances include combining rock music with circus acts. I caught up with the band to find out more their incredibly unique act, playing a slot at Glastonbury and their music writing process. Have a read below now…

  1. How did the band form and where does the name come from? 

The band were formed by Papa Steve, Papa Ryan and Papa Rob (no other people were involved) in a tiny impoverished rural village in the United Kingdom called Harlow, at the start of the 21st Century. The only thing to do back then in the Village was steal apples, play music or wrestle professionally at the local village hall. The three of us met accidently in 2004 when a circus came to the Village green and we realised we all loved the same thing, big tops and loud guitars. We adopted the name of our favourite Wrestler ‘Macho Man Randy Savage’ in tribute and then never looked back. For the record Papa Rob didn’t actually live in Harlow Town but just liked to visit. 

2. Papa Shango are certainly a band like no other … you guys perform live music whilst combining circus entertainment, tell us more about how this came about? 

Papa Rob actually has a circus background. He was an orphan that was raised by his foster mother who was a performer for a travelling Circus. He was mocked by the other performers for his big ears. However encouraged by a group of crows he used these ears to fly around the Tent during one performance and became a short lived novelty media sensation. 

3. You have previously played at Glastonbury festival… How was that experience for you and what was the reaction like from the crowd? 

A lot of people used to come up to us at the end of gigs and used to say “You should play at Glastonbury”. We’d never actually thought of that before and had heard rumours about the festival. That very evening we phoned up Glastonbury, Emily answered the phone (she was quite young at the time) we asked her if Dad was at home, she called up the stairs but he was having a bath at the time. She took our number and said he would call us back after dinner. We couldn’t believe how simple the whole process was. 

We ended up having a fantastic day when we played. We took the Queen at Live Aid approach and did a short sharp shock of a set that encompassed our best songs and our top Circus tricks. It was so fast paced that it if you blinked you might have missed it…

4. Let’s talk about the music… who were your musician influences growing up? 

We don’t like to talk about the music. In fact we make it a rule never to talk about the music and we have even had to move band members on for talking about the music too much. Our only genuine influence is Megadeth.

5. Do you have a particular place you go to write music? Is there a particular process you follow or is it something that flows naturally?

Papa Dale will usually write ideas on his top bunk after Saturday morning lessons, under the sheets, hiding from those two bullies from Wren House (he is still at Boarding School). 

Papa Ryan will write bass lines at the end of his Garden, Papa Steve writes guitar parts in his collection of various film costumes depending on the feel of the song. 

Once the songs are formed we ship the manuscripts on train to the North of England Nikki our flautist will sit for hours in her local tearoom composing her parts to add to the songs. From what I understand she spends three days deciphering the notes and then three days writing the parts. Once she starts playing in the tea rooms, rumour has it she is quite a local sensation and the men buy her tea cakes. Actually they are called Bakewell scones. What makes them different is the ground almond they use. 

6. How do you decide which circus trick fits into a particular track? 

We’ll usually spend time working on a song during the rehearsal process and then try it out at a showcase at a smaller venue. The audience are our greatest barometer and their feedback usually steers us towards which trick we are going to use at a bigger venue or festival. The song needs to inform the trick not the other way round or it becomes a ridiculous or ‘silly’ gimmick and we don’t want to go down that path with our performances. Sometimes it’s all in the lyrics or even the title. For example our new song ‘The Flying Trapeze’ has a section where Pappette Claire swings from the top rope while Papa Sam tries to catch her in a comedy clown car with bits falling off. It’s great fun to watch. 

7. What’s been the craziest thing that’s happened to you on stage? 

At a gig in Norwich in the UK the band surprised Papa Ryan with a birthday cake during the set. Papa Rob brought it on stage and the crowd sang happy birthday. Papa Rob then threw the cake down and demanded the crowd “eat it off the floor like dogs”……… What he wasn’t counting on was that they actually did……..

8. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in the industry? 

Make sure you have a solid foundation in your underpinning knowledge. Know a little bit of everything including maths, basic engineering principles and core science knowledge – either physics or chemistry. More importantly employers are looking for people who have good people skills and can turn up for work on time and have the ability to adapt. Without these you will struggle working in Industry. Hard work, resilience and dedication would be a bonus too. 

9. What are your hopes and ambitions for the band in the future? 

Our next release will be our new album Risk Assessment. We are all very proud of it and genuinely think it’s the best thing that we’ve ever done. Hopefully then a return to touring and some bigger and better shows later in the year. We have all been working hard on our Circus skills during Lockdown and have some lovely cake we’d like to share with new audiences as soon as we can.

Can I say to you reading this …thank you for the questions and what’s more we would love you even more if you could like our page…. https://www.facebook.com/papashangomusic/

Listen to Papa Shango’s music below…

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