Music is our lives

Kool & The Gang comprise (from left) Ronald Bell, George Brown, Robert Bell and Dennis Thomas.
Kool & The Gang comprise (from left) Ronald Bell, George Brown, Robert Bell and Dennis Thomas.PHOTO: UNUSUAL ENTERTAINMENT

After 52 years and 70 million album sales, Kool & The Gang have much to celebrate at their concert here

8Q

He is best known as the leader of Kool & The Gang, the American band behind perennial party hits such as Celebration, Ladies' Night and Get Down On It.

However, what many may not know about Robert "Kool" Bell, 65, is that he is also a strong advocate of solar energy.

When the bassist and singer is not busy entertaining fans around the world, he is attending to business as the global ambassador of sustainable energy for Reach, an American renewable energy consortium.

"What I want to do is have solar concerts where the whole concert is powered by solar energy instead of the old generator," he says in a telephone interview from New Jersey.

Bell, who introduces himself as "Kool" over the telephone, is in a jovial mood as he speaks to The Straits Times ahead of his performance with his band at the MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands on Feb 27. They last played here in 2010.

  • BOOK IT / KOOL & THE GANG LIVE IN SINGAPORE

  • WHERE: MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue

    WHEN: Feb 27, 8pm

    ADMISSION: $88, $108, $138 and $168 from Marina Bay Sands box offices (call 6688-8826 or go to www.marinabaysands.com/ticketing) and Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

He formed Kool & The Gang - originally called Jazziacs, and later, Kool & The Flames - in 1964 with his brother, composer and saxophonist Ronald Bell (who goes by the name Khalis Bayyan), and five childhood friends from Jersey City.

To date, the band have sold more than 70 million albums worldwide with the help of hit songs across genres such as funk, jazz, pop and R&B.

The past year has seen renewed interest in the band as they received a slew of accolades for their lasting impact on popular music.

They were inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame last October and given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In November, their song, Celebration, released in 1980, was included in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Bell says he is heartened by what he sees as the band's musical influence rubbing off on new bands.

"A lot of groups around the world are going back and playing what we played in the 1970s.

"In Australia and Russia, groups are playing funk. I heard a group in Brazil do our song. It's like coming full circle again."

1 You must have performed Kool & the Gang's big hits from the 1970s and early 1980s thousands of times. Do you ever get tired of playing them?

We try to keep it fresh. We try to add new energy to it. It's worthwhile playing for people around the world because for some cities, it might be two years before we come back and when we play the songs, the energy is there.

2 When you first worked on those hits, did you foresee that fans would still pay to see you sing the songs this year?

Well, I know it's a blessing to have songs that have stood the test of time. Those are anthem songs.

Ladies' Night - we got women all around the world and they are always going to be around. It's always going to be popular.

Celebration, everybody celebrates something in their lives. When it came out, it was right after Ladies' Night and we were celebrating the fact that we were able to turn our career around in the late 1970s.

3 Fifty-two years is a very long time for a band to be together. What keeps Kool & The Gang going strong after all these years?

It's our fan base, the people who like our music. Especially now with social media, the world is small, we get young fans.

We did shows in France a couple of years ago and there were those who were 11 years old, all the way up to 35, in the audience.

We got the millennials because our songs have been in The Muppets and all these movies such as 1994's Pulp Fiction. All that stuff has kept us going.

4 After all the years in show business, is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. As always, coming up, like most groups, you wish you had had better management, better lawyers to cut better deals for you, also understanding what publishing is about, what writing is about.

In the early years, you don't think about those things.

But as you get older, you think: "I should have cut the deal this way. I should have cut that deal that way."

Because now you know. You live and learn and then you learn to live.

5 You are one of the artists involved in the Grammys' Artist Of Tomorrow programme to nurture upcoming talents. What advice would you give budding singers and musicians?

Work hard at what you're doing and try to come up with original music. Especially today, when everything sounds alike.

For most of the record companies, business has dropped over the years and they want to hear what's selling and what's popular.

Try to create your own sound and learn about the business because with social media, you have outlets you didn't have before to get your music out.

6 Kool & The Gang are working on a new album, the band's 24th. What will the music be like?

We have a working title for the first single, it's called Kool With You. We'll probably call this album Legacy because we've been around for so many years.

It's all new material and we hope to have a couple of guest artists. I'd love to get Bruno Mars because he's a Kool & The Gang fan. You can hear it in his music.

It's going to be traditional Kool & The Gang. It's going to be funky. We're going to have some ballads, some jazzy stuff. A typical Kool & The Gang record with today's sound.

7 How long more do you see yourself and Kool & The Gang playing live all over the world and making music?

When I look at at Mick Jagger, when I look at Elton John, all these guys are my age or older and they're still out there doing their thing.

Music is music. Music is our lives. Music is the world. To answer that question, I don't know.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

Someone who dealt with music from all levels, from jazz and pop to R&B and reggae, and who also promoted in music love and understanding.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2016, with the headline 'Music is our lives'. Print Edition | Subscribe