from Folk Roots No. 241 (Vol. 25 No. 1) July 2003, p. 18

Root Salad:  Twelve Shots from the fRoots Rocket Launcher

A dozen leading questions to fire at... Ben Mandelson.

If you were given the funds to organise a concert bill, who would the artists be?
(BM: "Alive or dead?" Ed: "Unlimited money can buy you anything these days").
Eliza Carthy and Gracie Fields; Rod Stradling and Otha Turner; Kadri Gopalnath and Little Walter, Thione Seck and Martin Simpson, all accompanied remarkably by Ian 'Mac' McLagan (Hammond B3 & piano) and Balkan brass band. Sabah Habas Mustapha to be your compère of charm. Meanwhile... Manolis Xiotis, Joaquin Murphey, Franco, Django Reinhardt, Derek Bailey, Yank Rachell and T-Bone Walker argue about which amp to use, whilst Stuff Smith looks on, amused. Mwenda Jean Bosco, being unplugged, waits in the wings for his chance.

Which totally obscure record do you must treasure and would like more people to know about?
Hommage à un Maître du Buzuql/A Tribute To A Master Of The Buzuq by Matar Muhammad, recorded live at Théatre de Beyrouth, 1972 (Inédit W260068, 1996). It has the strongest atmosphere of any live recording I know and the performance is phenomenal.

What was the best live gig you've ever seen?

Several by Aster Aweke — dare not mis-remember which one. Very intense.

And what was the worst?
No, no, no — I'm too sweet to point the finger; and besides which, even the worst shows generally have something to offer, perhaps after the fact (said the smarmy diplomat of world music). Having said that, I have seen some 'collaborations' that were beyond redemption this year.

What was your own best ever gig?
Opening night(s) at the Crazy Loquat Club, Szegerely. The place was shut down so many times — endless opportunities to perfect the coveted 'unique re-opening night' spot. Some nights we opened three or four times. Received an award for the 'best unique single repeat debut performance', made out of marzipan, which we ate when times — and the award itself — became tough.

And what was your worst?
Singing — in a non-ironic, i.e. crap, way — Waltzing Matilda solo at a school concert. This act alone would make Australia deserve independence. Sorry, Australia — I won't do it again. I ran away from that school when I was 14 — could have been a reason.

What's the professional achievement you're most proud of?

I know that I should say 'GlobeStyle Records, WOMEX, the works of Hank Q Mustapha and the ongoing Bragg & Blokes', but sometimes playing a whole tune from the beginning, with a middle and an end makes me extremely proud (and surprised).

What's the most embarrassing thing you ever did in public?
To which I'll admit? Thank goodness I'm losing my memory ("We will never forget the day we lost our memories," Uncle Patrel Mustapha 1985). Possibly/impossibly attempting a floorspot at The Mitre folk club in Liverpool as a teenage dreamer/chancer/twerp.

Which song or piece of music would you most like to have written yourself?
Love's Melody (Django Reinhardt).

Who was the first musician or singer you were inspired to emulate?
The Spinners! (The ones from Liverpool, not Detroit — sorry, soul cred fans.)

Who was the last-but-one musician or singer you lusted after?
Jacqui and/or Bridie, but Lulu is a contender.

If you had a rocket launcher, who or what would be the target, and why?
Arms dealers and their cynical kin... but then, how would I buy that rocket launcher? This is the paradox, and illustrates why life is so complicated and unfair. And I wouldn't use it anyway, as I'm against weapons of mass destruction (I'm for mass destruction of weapons).

Ben Mandelson, Bloke and Mustapha, is the man who invented world music after it invented him. His latest album is still in his head, but we may strike lucky and get a track to escape next month...

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