Band to Watch: Wild Belle

The brother-sister duo artfully blend island and West African sounds — with a dash of James Brown

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Jennifer Tzar

Band: Wild Belle

From:  Chicago

Members: Natalie Bergman (vocals), Elliot Bergman (keyboard, saxophone)

Their sound: Wild Belle’s breezy, reggae-tinged tunes blend Natalie Bergman’s rich, unique vocals with a retro 1970s aesthetic — and plenty of synth. “It’s all sort of soul music at its base,” Elliot Bergman, one half of the brother-sister duo, tells TIME. “There are different influences, and some of them are island sounds, with some West African influences — but it’s all love songs and soul music at the core.”

3-Minute Bio: Natalie, 24, and Elliot, 32, grew up around music — often singing around their family’s piano — but forming Wild Belle was, essentially, an accident. Elliot had already been making music for nearly a decade with his African-influenced jazz band NOMO when he started loosely collaborating with Natalie. He began sending her chords and drum beats he’d developed for NOMO while the two were both shuttling back and forth between New York and their native Chicago. But as Natalie began to respond with ideas for vocals, they realized that what they were creating was really the raw material for something else. These initial collaborations eventually evolved into Wild Belle’s debut album, Isles, released this past March.

“NOMO is much more open-ended and improvisational, and at the jazz end of the spectrum,” Elliot says. “I don’t think I can escape that — that’s always going to be a part of what I do — but this is a different hat that I’m wearing in Wild Belle.” He cites everyone from Fela Kuti to James Brown to Talking Heads as influences — which might explain the band’s rich, global sound. Of course, Wild Belle’s other crucial ingredient is Natalie, whose smoky, soulful vocals round out their signature sound. And for the record, while they may be siblings, they don’t argue —at least not much. “We see eye to eye on things pretty closely,” Elliot says. “When we’re working together, things are usually pretty good. It’s when we have to spend months on the road together when things can get a little testy.”

And indeed, the duo has been rather busy zigzagging across the world on their recent tour. If you missed them at Lollapalooza this past weekend, you can still catch them at one of their many upcoming shows across North America.

Watch: The music video for “Keep You,” shot in Kingston, Jamaica:


Listen: “It’s Too Late”

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