THE STORY SO FAR – by Leslie Mandoki
In 1975, I managed to flee dictatorship for freedom along with my friend Laszlo Bencker from my time at the Conservatory, and the young animation artist, Gabor Csupo. Gabor went on to Hollywood, establishing one of the major animation studios and creating worldwide successes like The Simpsons, Rugrats, Duckman and Real Monsters. Laszlo and I still play together. We brought with us in our hearts the idealism of our teenage-years – the dreams and visions, the music and art – and we still feel committed to live by that to this day. More than ever, I feel grateful to have found a new homeland in Germany, and to have had the good fortune to live those teenage dreams through music and turn them into reality. The decision to stay in Germany was a purely emotional one – the friendliness of my first encounters meant that I very soon took the country, the culture and the people into my heart.
Of course, as a musician I was not always able to play what my artist’s heart desired. But even my time as a popstar had its good points, bringing with it inspiring encounters, closing some doors and opening others, from which lifelong friendships developed.
I had the great privilege of enjoying the trust of many outstanding artists as a songwriter and producer. I started out writing songs for Amii Stewart and then Jennifer Rush, who I also produced, I created a wonderful album of Americana with Joshua Kadison and had the honour of composing for and producing with Lionel Richie. My work with Chaka Khan and with the Temptations got me into the emotional world of Motown, while the musicians of Toto got me into rock and the Brecker Brothers and Al di Meola into jazz, to name just a few.
Enjoyable as it is to work with established artists, the ultimate challenge is still to create successful debut albums. I’m delighted that we had a few winners in this area, such as No Angels’ 6-times platinum debut album.
A dream for all musicians, where our visions can be realised without technical limits, our studios are creative temples not just for the music industry, but also for the film industry from Bavaria to Hollywood. As well as working on the title song for one of Germany’s most successful TV exports, I am tremendously grateful to have had the opportunity to work as Musical Director for so many exciting and ambitious film productions for Disney from ‘Mulan’ to ‘Atlantis’, as well as working with Phil Collins on the Grammy- and Oscar-winning ‘Tarzan’ and ‘Brother Bear’, and Elton John’s ‘Road to El Dorado’ for Dreamworks.
The creative spirit of the 70s, when artists strived for unlimited individuality and freedom as well as musical virtuosity, kindled a lifelong passion in me for socially and politically relevant music with real artistic ambition. After our adventurous escape, at the asylum seekers reception centre, I was asked what I would like to do here and I answered that I had come to the West to make music with my idols and musical heroes, like Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull and Jack Bruce from Cream. I was able to fulfil my dream with the ‘ManDoki Soulmates’ project. This year, we are celebrating our 20th anniversary. In that time we’ve made over ten albums, with iconic legends of jazz and rock coming together to play our songs, out of which many deep-rooted friendships have grown. From time to time, we gather in the studio at Lake Starnberg, live and eat together and we find new music together, just like a hippy commune. As Jack Bruce rightly commented, ‘when we get together, we become a band’.
We played countless concerts, which attracted such influential artists as Robin Gibb (Bee Gees), Roger Hodgson (Supertramp), Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Chris de Burgh, Mick Hucknall (Simply Red) and Peter Frampton. Building on this, I was able to bring together real Supergroups for the two-part TV show, ‘50 Years of Rock’. It wasn’t just in America and England that we found our ‘Soulmates’ – they were also right here in our homeland, Germany: from Till Brönner, the German star of the international Jazz Trumpeter’s Heaven via crossover-genius David Garrett to the icon of Deutschrock Udo Lindenberg. My relationship with Peter Maffay isn’t just through working together and the fact that we are immediate neighbours, but also through a very deep friendship.
I find building a bridge between music and other areas of our society deeply as deeply fulfilling, where we can emotionalise our actions with our music. As a result I experience in our musical environment nowadays precious and intense encounters with creative artists, opinion-formers and decision-makers, and with personalities from politics, economy, media and arts. Given my personal background, the many intense meetings I had with Michail S. Gorbachov remain especially in my memory.
In particular, I’ve been able to bring my creativity to life within the Volkswagen and Audi-Family and I feel honoured to be allowed to animate the art of engineering with music. Among my personal highlights was the Symphony which we created for the ‘100 years of Audi’ anniversary; as well as the concert in the Wolfsburg Volkswagen Arena to celebrate the 25 millionth Golf, a symphonic rock spectacle with 16 world-famous stars and one of the most important of my life.
Another very special project for me was the ‘Music Bible’, the Bible stories set to music on 24 CDs and read by outstanding actors like Suzanne von Borsody, Jan Josef Liefers, Friedrich von Thun, Michael Mendl, Christine Neubauer, Ulrich Tukur and many more. The cooperation with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, which also resulted in the production of the current FCBayern album ‘Stimme des Südens’ , gave me a great deal of pleasure.
For an artist like me, who experienced political persecution under a dictatorship, it is a special honour to be asked to provide the soundtrack for the election campaigns of our chancellor, Dr Angela Merkel.
I was 16 years old when my father lost his fight against cancer. I had promised him, that his grandchildren, whom he was never allowed to meet, would not have to read censored newspapers. And his advice for me was ‘Live your dreams and don’t dream your life!’
That circle was finally closed when, after all those years, I was allowed to give our anniversary concert with my Soulmates in the Palace of Arts in my birth place, Budapest. To stand onstage alongside legendary musicians like Jack Bruce and Al Di Meola – that was the vision I described in the reception centre for asylum seekers shortly after our escape. Then the response was an astonished smirk – now it is long since reality.
When Steve Lukather and Al Di Meola say I was the ‘Hungarian Quincy Jones’, or Jack Bruce compares me with Duke Ellington, and my dear friend Ian Anderson says I was the ‘head chef in the musical kitchen’, I’m deeply touched by these statements from my music colleagues. But it’s not about me and it’s not even about us. It’s about the music. Greg Lake really hit the nail on the head when he said at our anniversary concert ‘What is great about it is the bringing together of a lot of really great musicians who understand each other. We almost don’t need to speak because we speak through the music and I think that is the beauty of it. You hear a lot of different music, you know, music from all spheres: there is jazz, there is rock, there is soul ballads, you know, a whole mixture of music that is played by one of the best bands you will ever hear. That’s why I do it. It is fun to play in this atmosphere, when the musicians just play for the love of music, really. It is a wonderful feeling.’
Yes, this is miracle from my point of view. It is not about the individual, but about the music and about the people, the ones who make it possible for us, who come with open hearts, who invite us into their souls and who want to look into our souls. This is the real privilege that our audience grants us. We try to say thank you for that with our music.
Over the past 20 years we have had the honour and privilege to share the stage and greatest time during our studio sessions with all these blessed musicians.
LESLIE MANDOKI – vocals, drums & percussion
LASZLO BENCKER – keyboards
CHRIS THOMPSON – vocals
BOBBY KIMBALL – vocals
CHAKA KHAN – vocals
IAN ANDERSON – vocals & flute
GREG LAKE – vocals & guitars
PETER MAFFAY – vocals & guitars
JACK BRUCE – vocals & bass
NICK VAN EEDE – vocals & guitars
DAVID CLAYTON-THOMAS – vocals
ERIC BURDON – vocals
NIK KERSHAW – vocals & guitars
PETER FRAMPTON – vocals & guitars
AL DI MEOLA – guitars
STEVE LUKATHER – guitars
MIKE STERN – guitars
STEVE KHAN – guitars
RANDY BRECKER – trumpet & flugelhorn
MICHAEL BRECKER – tenor saxophone
BILL EVANS – tenor & soprano sax
JOHN HELLIWELL – saxophones & clarinet
TILL BRÖNNER – trumpet
VICTOR BAILEY – bass
ANTHONY JACKSON – bass
PINO PALLADINO – bass
JON LORD – hammond
UDO LINDENBERG – vocals
MIDGE URE – vocals & guitars
ROBIN GIBB – vocals
DAVID GARRETT – violin