Leslie Mandoki: Musician & Founder, Mandoki Soulmates

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Leslie Mandoki has worked for many years with all the major companies in the recording industry as well as the largest movie corporations and numerous international stars. His longstanding experience in the music business makes him a renowned expert and visionary in innovative concepts and developments in the music business. He found commercial recognition nearly unintentional at the start of his career in Germany as the vocalist in the group ‘Dschingis Khan’ with No. 1 hits in many countries and innumerable awards. Through his studio work and resulting music production, Leslie Mandoki found a way to realize his original artistic vision. The Soulmates project sprung from his passion for the jazz rock of the 70s and progressive rock music, with jazz and rock icons like Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Jack Bruce (Cream), Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band), David Clayton-Thomas (Blood Sweat & Tears), Bobby Kimball (Toto), Michael and Randy Brecker, Nik Kershaw, Steve Khan, Al Di Meola, Bill Evans (Miles Davis Band), Anthony Jackson (Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Bee Gees, Chick Corea) and Victor Bailey (Madonna, Weather Report, Mary J. Blige), Chaka Khan and Steve Lukather (Toto), Till Brönner, John Helliwell (Supertramp) and Eric Burdon. Since then, the Man Doki Soulmates project has brought out 10 albums and put on many high-profile concerts with a variety of line-ups. As a producer, Leslie has worked with world-class international like Lionel Ritchie, Phil Collins, Joshua Kadison, Jennifer Rush and many more.

How did you get into the industry?

First I wanted to be a painter, but when I turned 14 it became clear that I was going to be a musician, just like my father. I started studying music at the conservatorium and later on at the academy. During my teenage years, I was the musical voice of an anti-communist movement. We were renitent rebels back then and I still hold on to those ideals today. My father told me on his deathbed, “Don’t dream your life, live your dreams. A dreamer is not a fool.” I learned that dreams can only fly on the wings of freedom.

In 1975, together with my Hungarian friends Laszlo Bencker (Musician) and Gabor Csupo (Filmmaker), I escaped through a tunnel from dictatorship and censorship into the freedom of the West. In our hearts, we took with us the idealism of our teenage years, the dreams and visions, the music and the art, and still today we remain committed to living these dreams. More than ever before, I feel such a deep gratitude for the chance I got as a refugee to find a new home in liberty, and for the luck—and freedom—to pursue my youthful aspirations, and indeed to make some of them real. All these dreams came true through music.

When I came to Munich, it was THE music city in continental Europe with bands like Deep Purple, Queen, Elton John, Rolling Stones all recording there to capture the world-famous Munich Sound that was started by Georgio Moroder and Donna Summers. My first touchdown in the industry was as a studio drummer, singer, producer and arranger before I became a popstar. As a songwriter and producer, I had the immense privilege to enjoy so much confidence and trust from many excellent artists. At the beginning of this phase of my career, I wrote songs for Amii Stewart and Jennifer Rush, serving as producer for Jennifer as well. Joshua Kadison and I created the wonderful “Americana” album, and I had the honor of composing and producing hand-in-hand with Lionel Richie. Working with Chaka Khan and the Temptations took me into the Motown world, and Toto’s musicians took me to the west coast rock scene and sound. With the masterminds of Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Cream, and Supertramp, I was immersed into the world of British rock; The Brecker Brothers, Mike Stern, Bill Evans, Steve Kahn, Anthony Jackson, Victor Bailey, and Al Di Meola opened the New York jazz scene to me. With Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones, Midge Ure (Ultravox), and Nick van Eede (Cutting Crew), I had the good fortune to walk in the world of sophisticated pop.

With the “ManDoki Soulmates” project, I was able to make my dream come true. We have played countless concerts all over the world and were joined by legends like: Ian Anderson, Jack Bruce, David Clayton-Thomas, Chris Thompson, Bobby Kimball and Steve Lukather, Nick van Eede, Eric Burdon, Nik Kershaw, Greg Lake, Al di Meola, Randy and Michael Brecker, Bill Evans, John Helliwell, Mark Hart, Mike Stern, Anthony Jackson, Victor Bailey, Pino Palladino, Paul Carrack, Robin Gibb (Bee Gees), Roger Hodgson (Supertramp), Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Chris de Burgh, Peter Frampton, and, on occasion, Chaka Kahn. After making music together for more than 2 decades and on more than 10 albums, deep and meaningful friendships have developed among the many legendary icons of jazz and rock in the band.

The ManDoki Soulmates have only played two shows (Detroit Motor show, Art Basel in Miami) in the USA, which were not open to the public so we are very excited to play our first public gig at the Beacon Theatre in New York on January 29.

Any emerging industry trends?

Music must always be meaningful and emotional. It should be a pretty great balance between content and form. What we are trying to create in the studio when we are working on a debut album is to lead and not to follow. Don’t discover trends and follow, much rather stand out from the crowd and follow your own voice.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

The greatest positive development of the change of paradigm and the implosion of the old music industry is that now we have leaders that truly are music lover, giving us support from the industry side. To hold on to this way is the challenge of today.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

I have a simple answer for this one. If everything goes on as it has been, I am happy to be privileged and honored that for so many years, great talents and legendary icons are prepared to work with me.  

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Countless great projects like last year. It was a fabulous year. In fact, during the last 40 years, every year was better than the one before. It’s going to be challenging in 2018, because 2017 was such an excellent year, with so many top end projects like our Book and Arthouse Documentary “Longing for Freedom” , our “Wings of Freedom” tour and our collaborations with the Car Industry. However, in fall of 2018 we are going to release a new ManDoki Soulmates album, which I am writing at the moment.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

To keep your honesty, integrity and authenticity and to never disappoint your precious audience. Wherever your music is going to be played, be it a concert hall, a car or at home, the room shall be filled with love, passion and sometimes difficult messages. It is not always convenient to listen to.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn.)

The most difficult moment of my career was to leave the stage of the student opposition (the leading voice against Communism at the time) to escape and reset my life when I was only 22 years old. I had to start again, reload everything. Much later, when I became a AAA celebrity and title page Popstar I had to reset my life again. I realized, when I was standing at the kiosk and 8 weekly magazines had my face on their title page and the world’s largest youth magazine “Bravo” elected me to “artist of the year”, that I am really only interested in music itself and the messages it can bring across. This experience showed me that I had to learn to be myself.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

The ManDoki Soumates embody the creative spirit of the 1970’s, when artists were striving not only for individual virtuosity in musical expression, but also for unlimited and unrestricted individuality and freedom. The ManDoki Soulmates is a group of musical rebels and idealistic freethinkers who continue to endeavor to be authentic and honest, and support common global values for free people in a free and tolerant world by playing sociopolitical relevant Jazz-Rock and Rock together as a community of shared values on one stage with one band. Listening to our live concerts, please be prepared for a long show with some of the greatest Jazz and Rock-musicians in the world performing together their Soulmates Songs as well as world hits of the individual members of the band with fantastic improvisations. Notwithstanding the pervasive talk about what divides people, we have chosen to focus on what unites us. This is the spirit of the ManDoki Soulmates.

How do you motivate others?

With the words that famous Walt Disney once said: “Only sky is the limit.”

Career advice to those in your industry?

My advice is the same my father gave me on his deathbed: “Don’t dream your life, but live your dreams.” To me, as a musician, this means: Every day you must be better than the day before.