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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Black Eyed Peas' Taboo on beating cancer, the group reuniting and Fergie's whereabouts

'We wanted to come back with the traditional Black Eyed Peas sound that we all know and love'

Taboo says the latest album by Black Eyed Peas has a strong, socially conscious message. AFP
Taboo says the latest album by Black Eyed Peas has a strong, socially conscious message. AFP

If you’ve ever watched a Black Eyed Peas performance, you know Taboo runs the show.

Where his fellow band member Will.i.am was content with merely dropping their rhymes, 43-year-old Taboo is dynamite on stage with acrobatic break dance moves, passionate call and response refrains to the crowd and adept rapping.

The world is once again getting a taste of his flare with the American band – now back to its original three members, minus Fergie, currently on tour, on the back of their new album, Masters of the Sun Vol.1, their first album release in eight years . The global tour, which is presently snaking its way through Europe, will ­eventually come to the region next year.

Speaking exclusively to The National, Taboo – real name Jaime Gomez – confirms a UAE gig is in the works. “We want to bring our shows to either Abu Dhabi or Dubai. We have a lot of fans there and we love performing there,” he says.

“We will do that as part of our run of shows around Asia. We will do Australia and then Asia for some shows and then head your way.”

A battle with cancer

Taboo is excited. His responses are gleeful and peppered with statements of gratefulness for what he has, and what he has achieved. It is a wisdom stemming from a near-death experience.

Four years ago, the artist’s lithe body was a mess of bandages and tubes as he was fighting for his life. After years of dismissing aches and back pains as a result of his high-intensity performances, a health test confirmed he was suffering from testicular cancer. So rapid was its progression, that doctors ordered him to immediately undergo bouts of chemotherapy.

He explains those sessions as not only physically and emotionally draining, but as an opportunity to take stock of his life and priorities. “The cancer was so intense, it was aggressive and basically it was me against time,” he says. “When that happened, my automatic reaction was: ‘I’m gonna live for my wife and my kids.’ But then, I would also say: ‘Creator, please give me one more chance to be on that big stage with my best friends.’ Because that’s what I love to do, I love to perform for these amazing folks around the world. I wanted another chance to be on stage, doing the thing that I love to do most.”

Songs with meaning

It was with that clarity that a recovered Taboo – whose cancer is now in remission – returned to the studio to begin recording the Black Eyed Peas’s comeback album.

He was not alone when it came to purpose. Both Will.i.am and Apl.de.ap felt the new songs needed a stronger message than simply partying. This was down to the former spending time in the poor urban communities of the United States and advocating for their struggles, while the latter spent time in his native Philippines combating poverty through community education programmes run by his Apl.de.Ap Foundation. With Taboo a high-profile advocate for Native-American causes, the ground was set for Masters of the Sun Vol.1 to be their most socially conscious album to date.

In the lead single, Big Love, Taboo looks at society’s increasing numbness to the struggles of the underclass: “Money got ‘em stressin’ / Fear got ‘em flexin’ / Phones got us zoned out / Now we lose connection/ Please stand by / It takes you and I to keep the hope alive.”

While in the soulful Constant, he essentially lays out his three-step programme on how to contribute to the betterment of society. “First is the heart, gotta spread the love effect / Second is the mind, gotta feed ‘em intellect / Third is the body, gotta treat it with respect ‘Cause you don’t wanna be a ghost, be the spirit? Yes.”

Where is Fergie?

In addition to the timely messages, another feature of Masters of the Sun is how Black Eyed Peas it all sounds. Well, that depends on whether you are a pre- or post-Fergie fan.

Fergie’s inclusion in the band began the Black Eyed Peas’s ascent to stardom. Her sultry vocals provided the earworm hooks for nearly all of the group’s biggest hits, including 2003’s chart-toppers Where is the Love? and Shut Up.

Despite their success, old- school fans were dismayed at how the band seemingly turned their back on their hip-hop roots in favour of a more radio-friendly territory.

With Fergie leaving the group in what appears to be ­acrimonious circumstances – answering a question from Daily Star, Will.i.am was dismissive: “I don’t know why Fergie isn’t on the project. You will have to ask Fergie that” – the personnel change seems to have allowed the band to return to their old funky and gritty sounds.

Taboo says the reason behind the throwback is down to the group celebrating the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Behind The Front.

Masters of the Sun has some of that old-school vibe,” he says. “We wanted to come back with the traditional Black Eyed Peas sound that we all know and love. It’s got that Boom-Bap and classic hip-hop sound, straight lyricism, socially conscious lyrics. It feels good man.”

Despite the group exploring various styles over their career, ranging from hip-hop to electro and EDM, Taboo says their approach in the studio remains the same with Will.i.am, whom he describes as a “genius”, taking the lead.

“He is the scientist,” he says. “He understands the frequency, what tone is needed and how to produce the record. He makes sure that it all sounds like what we wanted. He’s meticulous, and even if you sing it wrong, he’ll fine tune it in a way to sound right.”

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But it is on stage, Taboo admits, that he feels most natural. He describes the present run of shows as not only exhilarating, but a nightly reminder of conquering his cancer battle. “The thought of returning to the stage is what helped me get better in away,” he says.

“I would be in the hospital watching videos of our live shows because it kept my mind from thinking about the bio-chemical white cells being pumped into me. I would tell myself: ‘No. This is not gonna take me out. You cannot take me out because I gotta get back on that stage.”

Masters of the Sun Vol.1 by the Black Eyed Peas is out now