Hallucinogens, owl noises and spirit ceremonies: the Happy Mondays go large in the Amazon

Shaun Ryder, Bez, Rowetta and the lads embarked on a quest to write new music with the Embera tribe for reality show Singing In The Rainforest. But they took away more than they expected…

You though your commute was bad

Rowetta I thought we were going to die. The bus we took from Panama had holes in the floor. Then 90 minutes canoeing up a river that looked like it had crocodiles.

Shaun Ryder If you didn’t know the waters you’d be smashed up in minutes. It was like Apocalypse Now. I had to twist a few arms in the band to get them to do it. Our drummer Gaz was originally going to arrive in the dark, but he’d have shit himself.

R Yeah, me too!

S No, I’m serious. He would have shit himself.

The Amazon is a long way from Salford...

S The Embera only came out about 20 years ago. I don’t mean came out, they’re not all gay. Came out to the western world, I mean.

Bez There were cultural differences. They walked around with no clothes on, we walked around with clothes on. There’s no police. If you’re out of order they throw you in the stocks in the village square.

S They tell the time by monkey calls. There’s no internet or television.

B I saw a TV when I was walking through the village one night.

S Are you sure you weren’t hallucinating?

Capitalism is a double-edged sword

B Capitalism is gonna smash their beliefs to pieces. You can see it already.

S Some of the girls wear 21st-century fashion, cos they paddle into Panama and see it on the internet. You can look at it two ways, though: there’s a proper school system now.

B They did all have good haircuts, didn’t they? Didn’t see a bad haircut.

Shaun Ryder.
Shaun Ryder. Photograph: Argemary Bernal/Other

You get the cultural ambassadors you don’t deserve...

S I came with about 14 green shirts and 15 minutes later the chief’s wandering around in ’em.

R You gave them cigarettes, Bez. And coffee. They’ve got some nice little caffeine and nicotine addictions now.

B They weren’t my cigarettes! I don’t smoke.

S I taught one of them how to vape.

R I showed the girls singing techniques – some of them have contacted me since. They’ve seen our life and are wondering how things are on the outside. They want to be in a band. That’s a bit scary.

Wait till you hear the Oakenfold remix...

S We hadn’t written anything new since 1992. But it was easy.

R It was difficult. The Embera are percussionists, but don’t keep time to drumbeats; they make noises when they feel it. I liked that. It all came together one night: Shaun’s singing, the girls doing owl noises. One guy had never seen a guitar but straight away picked it up, started playing. He was one of those. And Bez found a Mini-Me to dance with.

Bez will obviously be Bez...

B I took some jungle juice they use for initiation ceremonies and saw every spirit in that place. A 12ft-tall African woman with a baby. Little ’uns that wouldn’t let me pick them up. I didn’t think it was gonna stop. I went to the khazi to wait it out. They let me have a shit in peace.

R It didn’t work first time, so they gave him a strong dose. He spent an hour trying to put his T-shirt on.

Parting is such sweet sorrow, unless you’re Shaun Ryder...

R I’m going to go see them again. If I’m in the area.

S Like fuck you’ll see them again. God, I’m horrible now I’m 53.

R We couldn’t have done this when we were young. We’d be off looking for a club.

S A club you could beat someone to death with.

R Yeah, alcohol used to be a problem for us. But we couldn’t get it anyway!

B Depends where you go in the village… I know a man.

Bez. In the rainforest.
Bez. In the rainforest. Photograph: Argemary Bernal/Other

Singing In The Rainforest is on Monday 21 September, 9pm, Watch


Rhik Samadder

The GuardianTramp

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