Black Dylan is the cutting-edge new duo with a sound conceived in France, delivered in Denmark and set to thrill funk, R&B and hip-hop fans the world over. Watch here.
The group features platinum-selling Danish star Wafande and his longtime collaborator and countryman Nuplex, aka Mikkel Andreas Thomsen. Vocalist-lyricist Wafande and producer-writer Nuplex have been friends for a dozen years, and the singer has been a household name in Denmark with a string of hits since 2011. But nothing they’ve done before sounds like Black Dylan.
Wafande’s track record of three platinum and two gold singles and two top ten solo albums took a while to arrive — but only because he had to take time to choose a music career over the one he could have chosen as an elite basketball player. Now, his first album with Nuplex under the Black Dylan banner is sure to be acclaimed as one of the most sophisticated listens of 2016.
The album may be titled Hey Stranger, but Wafande and Nuplex’s combined wealth of studio, songwriting and stage experience has the warm and familiar ambience of the influences they share, from Marvin Gaye to Sly and the Family Stone to French hip-hop. But that’s all combined with an original, dark and edgy approach that sounds distinctly like the future of streetwise soul.
Many artists and countless fads have come and gone since the duo became friends, when they were thrown together by chance. “We met through music,” remembers Wafande. “I had a session with him, 12 or 13 years ago, because I was featuring on some rapper’s song.
“After me coming up to that studio,” he says drily, “Mikkel [Nuplex] never saw the rapper again and we were in the studio for six years in a row.” Adds the producer: “It was a perfect match from the first day.”
Wafande moved with his family to France when he was eight, with music in his blood. “My father’s a musician, he’s a blues singer,” he says, “and my mum used to work with a lot of choirs. She would travel to Bulgaria to learn how to sing with a Bulgarian choir of 60. Hippy generation,” he laughs.
“I grew up with a lot of Ray Charles, and Billie Holiday, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Big Mama Thornton. My dad used to play everything. He had a record collection that’s now beaten by Mikkel’s collection. I remember I had a lot of fun with that LP player.”
For some years, Wafande’s studies and his basketball skills took the upper hand. “I always played music, but it never came to me that I needed to be a professional musician until very much later,” explains Wafande. “Then I had to make the choice. I could no longer cope with basketball practice five times a week when I was out playing gigs at the weekend.”
Nuplex was also something of a late developer. “I started playing the piano when I was 18,” he says, “and I just loved sitting there making my own music. My parents wanted me to go to piano classes, but it was boring, you know?
“I started dropping out of classes and making my own music, recording different sounds and putting them together on my computer. Later on, we found samplers and microphones and I started DJing. It was soul and funk music, mid-’60s to mid-’70s. Making music, and having my heart in soul, made me end up here.”
The pair met soon after Wafande returned to Copenhagen from France, where he had gleaned much from local culture. “I was a lot into French hip-hop, and Mikkel was a huge fan of it too, but obviously in Denmark there weren’t that many French rappers.” “Except Wafande,” counters his colleague. “I found that out, the first day in the studio. So we started making French hip-hop music, and that was the start of it all.”
Wafande says that the Black Dylan sound is deliberately different from that of his pop chart career, in which he has been a coach on the top-rated TV series Voice Jnr, and performed at Roskilde and other major festivals and shows. “This is a different branch of music, where it’s more detailed somehow. I love doing the Wa’fande stuff, club gigs and such, but it’s another atmosphere. My name in my solo career is so big here in Denmark that we’ve had to be be very clear about separating the two.
“But with Black Dylan, I wanted to go into the depths of music, and really try to create something unique, that stands all on its own. This is a lot deeper and darker, and for me lyrically, it’s much closer to what I used to do in France, it’s more poetic.”
There’s also a cool sparseness to Hey Stranger, on which highlights include the intriguingly-titled ‘She Said I Was A Failure’ and ‘Papa,’ on which Wafande duets with his friend, the soulful, Canadian-born, LA-based singer Honey Larochelle. “We very much appreciate the space for vocals, and for hearing the fingers hitting the keys,” says Wafande. “Those things mean as much as the music.”
A sold out album launch show in Copenhagen and a series of national gigs will lead, they plan, to international performances, where the cosmopolitan sound of Black Dylan will be widely showcased. Early reaction is hugely positive. “It’s another kind of listen, but people have been very excited about it,” says Wafande. “We’re just happy to share this music with people. We’ll see where it takes us. Hopefully it’s our ticket.”