Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (3rd March 2024).
The Film

"Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande" (2022)

The band Cymande formed in South London in 1971. The members of were all of Caribbean descent and incorporated elements of jazz, funk, soul, calypso, prog rock, reggae, and African rhythms for a truly unique form of music that was unlike many other groups at the time. Bassist Steve Scipio, guitarist Patrick Patterson, singer/percussionist Ray King, saxophonist Derek Gibbs, conga player Pablo Gonsales, singer/percussionist Joey Dee, saxophonist Peter Serreo, drummer Sam Kelly, and flautist/percussionist Mike Rose comprised the original lineup, and though most in the British music industry were unwilling to give them a chance, music producer John Schroeder heard magic in his ears, and gladly produced their self-titled first album, which led to a tour supporting the legendary Al Green and having their album and song "The Message" make a minor impact on the American charts. But on their return to England, the reception to their music was basically non-existent. There wasn't a black music scene that crossed into the British music scene, and their sound didn't fit the mold of the Soul & R&B sounds of the popular black American music scene either. They released two more albums which barely saw release and called it quits in 1974 due to lack of success and financial hardships in keeping the band together.

"Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande" is the story of a band that should have become an immediate major force in the music world, but instead went unnoticed in their home country and was only a minor footnote in America and completely forgotten. But the story of their short run in the 1970s was not the end at all. Even if one has never heard the band's name, they have surely heard their music in some form over the years through popular culture. Their songs like "Bra", "The Message", and "Dove" have been sampled by hip hop and electronic artists over the decades. The break in "Bra" is a textbook example used for looping and beat juggling. Hip hop DJs and producers found intricate ways to restructure and reuse portions of a number of the band's songs for the genre, and have kept the band's sound relative throughout the years. Crate diggers that found their album would share their songs through mixes and pass the knowledge on to others. With the Internet era the band's music continued to find new and younger audiences and the band members would reform to start performing and recording again. But for the fans, the questions were "Who were they?" and "What happened to them?"

In the documentary, a number of musicians that were influenced by Cymande talk about the first time they heard the band's music and how it changed their lives. From My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Stones Throw Records founder Peanut Butter WolfDe La Soul's Maseo, Jurassic 5's/Ozomatli's Cut Chemist, and rappers Masta Ace and MC Solaar are just a few of many artists that share their thoughts on the music, but also question about who the band actually was, as back in the 80s and 90s, there was little to no information on the band as to where they were from and what had happened to them. The members of Cymande all share their life experiences through interviews as well to dispel rumors and set facts straight on their existence. The members and the careers they had after the band's demise, the creation of their sound, and much more are discussed, though the biggest issue comes from the racism faced by the members not only professionally but from their childhood in a country that wasn't quite accepting of black immigrants into their society. They talk about their parents not being able get better employment, the hardships at school, which are interspersed with vintage documentary footage showing racial hardships and even harsh racist rants from white civilians as well as political figures in suppressing the black immigrant population in the country.

Director Tim Mackenzie-Smith was a fan of the band's music since he found their music back in the 1990s as a university student. He met band members Scipio and Patterson in 2017 in the hopes of making a documentary on them and the focus would be on their history, their rediscovery, and their present while also placing historical context. "Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande" has similarities with music documentaries such as "Thunder Soul" (2010), "A Band Called Death" (2012), and "Searching for Sugar Man" (2012), all dealing with musicians receiving newfound fame and limelight many years after their prime, though Cymande's case is unique with the British music scene, as those documentaries deal with American musicians. It's interesting to note that it was extremely rare for black British musicians to hit the UK music charts and there wasn't a particular scene or chart to support black music for the mainstream. There was ska and reggae, though it wouldn't be until the 1980s when black artists would make an impact chartwise. And by that time, Cymande was no longer together.

The film also breaks down a number of Cymande songs and their unique qualities. The funky bassline in "Bra" made it easy for breakdancers to hit their steps and for DJs to extend the loop. "Dove" had a mystical prog-rock sounding echo that would last in the eardrums and a powerful chant at the end. "One More" and its smooth groove is soothing to the ears and the mind. "Zion I" is lyrically poetic and undeniable in its greatness. Even though it has been more that fifty years since these songs were originally recorded and released, they seem fresher than ever in the new millennium, and they are continuing to find fresh faces in audiences as their fanbase continues to grow. Getting It Back" is a well structured documentary to expose their music to more and to answer many of the band's mysteries, and should be essential viewing for all music lovers.

It's unfortunate that congo player Pablo Gonsales passed away on December 2nd, 2020 at the age of 77 and was not able to see the completed film, though his presence in the documentary in the live performances and in his interviews are keeping his spirit alive.

The film premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2022. It first played in the UK at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2022 and then received a general theatrical release in February of 2024 alongside this Blu-ray release from the BFI shortly after.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray


The BFI presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4. The documentary runs at 25fps and is encoded in 50Hz. The film is a mixture of modern interviews shot digitally and vintage clips, with some of the older footage being framed in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio without cropping. For the interview footage and other modern shots it looks as sharp as can be with strong colors, detail, and depth throughout, with a consistent tone. As for the vintage footage it does vary, with damage marks in film footage and tape errors in video footage, though they are particularly disruptive to viewing. The footage was taken from the best available sources and look fairly good throughout the duration. The 25fps framerate seems to be the "correct" speed, as the music tracks are pitched at the correct speed without any speed-up or slow-down. A great job with the transfer here by the BFI.

The film's runtime is 89:43. There is also a 19 second unskippable text warning before the film which states that the documentary contains footage of racist behavior and language.


English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English LPCM 2.0 stereo
English Audio Descriptive Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

There are three audio tracks available, with a lossless 5.1 track, an uncompressed stereo track and an audio descriptive track. The 5.1 track is an excellent one which uses the surrounding speakers well for the various Cymande music cues with left and right separation plus rear channels for echo and effects. Dialogue from the interview portions are almost always centered and is well balanced against the music tracks. The stereo track is a folddown of the 5.1 track and still sounds good but pales in comparison to the 5.1 track.

There are optional English HoH subtitles in a white font, which are well timed, easy to read and free of errors.


Steve Scipio and Patrick Patterson Q&A (34:22)
The two Cymande members are interviewed by journalist Jason Solomons in this exclusive new audience-free Q&A. Scipio and Patterson discuss about their childhood in moving to England as kids and growing up in South London, as well as the band's sound, the music scene of the 1970s, the issues the band faced at the time, their reaction to sampling of their music, the new generation of fans, and much more.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

Extended Clips and Deleted Scenes (with Play All) (14:21)
- The genesis of Bra (2:27)
- Cut Chemist listens to Cymande (2:53)
- DJ Hollywood Bra rap (1:15)
- Jazzy Jay Cymande Mix (0:46)
- Ruthless Rap Assassins (extended feature) (5:18)
- Cymande school days (1:39)

Presented here are some scenes that were ultimately removed from the final film, including the band discussing and performing "Bra", more from Cut Chemist and his breakdowns of the band's material, DJ Hollywood freestyle rapping over Cymande's "Bra" break, Jazzy Jay showing off his mixing skills, RRA and their thoughts on the band's sound, plus the members of Cymande talking about their troubles as students. The clips are interesting to hear though they do not add too much depth to what is in the final film.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

"Black Music Parrty" footage of Cymande in the 1970s (6:37)
The band perform “Our Love” and “Friend” in this rare video footage from the 1970s for Intervision, which taped band performances to be played in nightclubs with video playback capabilities. The lip syncing is a bit noticeable as it was the norm for music programs of the era. The footage comes from a videotape source which has some tape errors in the middle and the bottom of the frame, though it still looks fairly good with detail all things considered. Audio is fair though a little flat sounding.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 2.0 without subtitles

UK Theatrical Trailer (1:50)
The effective original UK trailer is presented here. The trailer has been embedded below, courtesy of BFI.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 / English LPCM 2.0 stereo without subtitles

The first pressing includes a 36 page booklet. First is the essay "Getting It Back" by journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre on the band and their influence. Next is "The Treatment" by the director on the development of the film. This is followed by "The Roots of Cymande" by Patterson and Scipio with the history and current state of their band. Next is "Return to Promised Heights" by DJ and producer Greg Wilson on the history Black music in Britain and Cymande's placement and their influence. There are also full film credits, special features information, and acknowledgements.

Curiously there isn't a director's interview included on the disc itself though he has some short notes in the booklet itself. (He does appear in the Q&A embedded below with the band though). Also there must have been more deleted scenes as the ones included on the disc feel like just a taste of other material that was shot. But since the scenes were chosen by the director himself, it's possible that additional footage was just repeated conversations and questions. It's still a fine selection included here.

Other notable clips:

Cymande performing "Bra" Live on KCRW in 2016

Cymande and the director in a post-screening Q&A

De La Soul's "Change in Speak" (which samples "Bra")

MC Solaar's "Bouge de là" (which samples "The Message")

Ruthless Rap Assassins' "And It Wasn't a Dream" (which samples "The Message")

The Fugees' "The Score" (which samples "Dove")

Official music video for "Do It (This Time With Feeling)" from their 2015 album "A Simple Act of Faith"


"Getting It Back: The Story of Cymande" is one of the satisfying music documentaries in recent memory, giving the long unknown band a strong light to shine under with their unique blend that influenced countless musicians in various genres over the decades, sometimes unknowingly. The BFI's Blu-ray is excellent with its video and audio, and the extras are good as well. Highly recommended.

Amazon UK link

BFI Shop link

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B Overall: A-


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