The formation of KT's Universal Love band was both intentional and the result of happenstance. After years on the Milwaukee music scene, countless musical ventures and simply the right place at the right time, band members KT Rusch, Chris Braun, Bocar Ndiaye and Deon Sartin found exactly what they were searching for when they played together for the first time early last year.
Just over a year later, KT's Universal Love Band is getting ready to launch its first album, "Rising Sun," at a CD release party Saturday at Stonefly Brewing Company. The album delivers 14 slices of original world music. The band effectively transferred its inventive live sound to the recording studio and came out with a global collection of sounds ranging from reggae to jazz to folk.
"As far as being creative, we love being around each other and playing. It's not an overly produced CD because we wanted it to sounds like we were really playing live," Sartin explains.
The passion for world music comes from an eclectic intersection of musical backgrounds. Sartin, who originally played guitar funk and blues, gravitated toward punk rock mainstays like the Dead Kennedys and The Clash. Braun has drummed for ska, punk and rock bands while Ndiaye learned to play the Senegalese drums in his home country. Likewise, Rusch has played the bass for over 20 years in an array of bands, non-profit projects and school programs.
"We all come from a lot of different backgrounds and even being from here, we've all picked up a lot of things from all over the world," Braun says. "Whether its reggae rhythms, afro rhythms or punk rock -- all those influences come together on the album. It kind of morphs as we start to play it and you can see all the different influences and I think that's what makes it world music."
Taking notes from Senegalese legend Youssou N'Dour, "Rising Sun" reflects traditional griot storytelling and percussion. Ndiaye, a native of Dakar, Senegal, plays traditional drums and much in the way the West African griot reveals a moral superiority; KT's Universal Love Band broadcasts transformative lyrics of love, peace and patience.
The album imports vocal samples in nearly 12 languages creating a global feel of unity and inclusion.
"When I listen to our CD with friends, they are amazed at all the different languages," says Ndiaye. "I am from Senegal and we naturally speak so many different languages, so just the idea of putting in different languages enriches the lyrics."
The band recorded the initial basic tracks for "Rising Sun" over the course of one weekend. Admittedly as organic in its practice as in its sound, the group recorded tracks in its home rehearsal space and then overlaid and edited additional work in the studio.
"We love recording and every time you go to the studio you have a different experience. The more we worked on the album, the more we saw a definite concept and theme come to light," says Rusch.
Whether or not the disc bends the ear of record labels, KT's Universal Love is happy doing what it does best ... making music.
"There's something to be said for putting a CD together and shopping it around for a label. But for us, certainly to get our music out there and see what happens is great," Braun explains. "I think it's mainly about creative process for all of us. We love doing what we do; recording and spreading that message. KT and Bocar are great songwriters and we have some great song lyrics to share with people."
Even the setup for this weekend's CD release party defies the norm. Choosing to play in the first slot of the evening, Rusch brings Pagee GoGo, a Madison based six-piece Brazilian band to headline during the late hours of the evening.
"I purposely booked them because they've never been here and I wanted to book something to bring new people out and to expose them to Milwaukee," says Rusch. "I really tried to put together a show that's different with a band that hasn't been here to create something new."
Rusch plays both the bass and the gamelon ngoni, a stringed harp carved out of a gourd. The instrument, which is rarely seen in the Wisconsin music scene, is very similar to the bass in technique and style.
The instrument, made in Madison, is one of few in the area. Rusch developed an individual playing style and sound; insisting the technique is subjective yet the sound consistently beautiful.
"I love the sound and the tone, it's very relaxing. I think it's a very human instrument. I walk around my yard playing it and I play it for kids all over the city through Express Yourself Milwaukee. All the kids want to touch it," Rusch says.
Express Yourself Milwaukee is one of Rusch's many socially based projects. The program works to provide inner city youth with access to arts and music; often bringing music and support to children in the Milwaukee Juvenile Corrections System.
KT's Universal Love band works to give back to the community, as well. Donating a song to the "Human Rights Torch Songs to Save the World" CD, the band adds its sound to a compilation of artists from the United States, Europe and Asia.
"If we can sell a few CDs and donate some money to an organization, that's what our bands about. It's about doing stuff like this. Mainly through KT, we get involved in a lot of activist stuff with groups like the Wisconsin peace action and Growing Power. We want to stay involved in that," Braun explains.
The CD release party takes place this Saturday, Sept. 27 at Stonefly Brewing Company.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.
After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined OnMilwaukee.com as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.
Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.