Following the release of the new album Jungle Run and their current ongoing tour, we spoke to Leeds-born and London-based 10-piece collective Nubiyan Twist about influences, Brexit, and the roots and future of the group. Their eclectic and genre-transcending sound draws on a number of genres including (but not limited to) jazz, soul, afrobeat, reggae, hip-hop and dance music. Finn Booth, drummer of the collective, answers our questions...
How did the group form? We met as students at Leeds College of Music. I think those of us on the Jazz course linking up with people on the Production course was a good catalyst for making music that really meant something to all of us. At points, the music you are playing/making on the course can feel over-prescribed and compartmentalised - I think we all found a creative release from starting up the project. The founding members of the group were Tom Excell (producer and guitar), Nubiya Brandon (vocals) and Joe Henwood (Saxophones and Live FX). Over the next few years, more instrumentalists steadily joined and the productions of the original trio could be played in full.
What is Leeds’ significance to the group?
We all lived and studied together in Leeds, and some of us also grew up here. The Leeds music scene was very conducive to creativity for us. The tight-knit student boroughs are great places to hang out all day making music.There is, of course, musical life outside the Leeds College of Music sphere. As with any large city, musical inspiration is abundant. Leeds lays claim to some very influential producers such as T2 and Nightmares On Wax and played a major part in the development of UK Garage, Bassline and Hip Hop. Iration Steppas Soundsystem is an internationally respected soundsystem. As you can imagine, these are not genres that you would generally find on a BA Jazz syllabus!
Where did all the influences that make up your sound/genre originate from?
To list the origins of all of our musical influences would be very difficult, because of the multi-faceted nature of music itself. Sampling culture is something that we all grew up alongside, where you can gather a palette of sounds from wildly varied origins, and use them to create music. Speaking personally, a lot of my own influence as a drummer comes from the USA, where the Drum Kit (as we know it) was invented. Of course, influence goes deeper than that, and I am consciously and subconsciously influenced by rhythms from all over the world, the majority of which can probably be traced back to an ancient African tradition.
What were your main influences for the new album, Jungle Run? It feels like there are some more electronic influences… We are often influenced by current musicians and producers, and jazz-influenced music from the UK is being influenced by the genres created by producers and DJs in such a positive way right now. For instance, the London scene is super potent- check out Steamdown (playing Headrow House 20th), Yussef Dayes, The Comet Is Coming, Wonky Logic and Ezra Collective, to name a few. Jazz started off as a form of Dance Music, so it seems like a natural and exciting relationship between live and electronic music was bound to happen.
Would you say your style has evolved over time? I don’t believe the style of music we play has really changed that much, we’ve just (hopefully) got better at playing our instruments and have streamlined and improved our production process. I don’t think we are really trying to be constantly evolving, but influences from contemporary and newly discovered musicians will always motivate us creatively. That being said, a lot of our original influences are still as much a part of the sound as they were at the beginning.
What is the significance of retaining and preserving authentic musical traditions, such as jazz, whilst also adapting and modernising these sounds? A lot of musical traditions are preserved within their own contributions towards modern music. The harmonic inventions and rhythmic complexity of Jazz shaped an entire generation of genres - Rock, Funk, Soul, RnB, Pop, Metal etc. You can then take a further step back and see how Jazz drummers were taking influence from West African and South American traditional rhythms. I’m sure it goes back further. I think it’s important to respect, credit and try and fully understand each musical tradition that you are learning from. I’m pretty sure these musical traditions are so strong and so influential that they will be preserved by musicians around the world.
How does the current state of the music and performance scene (the current epidemic of venue closure and Spotify listening culture, for example) affect what you guys do and how you make music? It’s certainly difficult to keep a band this size going. Since we were all using LimeWire as kids we grew up with the knowledge that record sales aren’t a way to make money any more. Spotify is a great tool for reaching a wider audience, but as is common knowledge, we receive no practical revenue from them. A big fear for us is Brexit, as we often travel into the EU to play gigs. It seems that the live music industry is taken more seriously and professionally in Europe and there are many well-funded festivals and venues. The uncertainty of freedom of movement could have major implications on our ability to travel out of the UK for gigs.
Best gig you ever performed? There are so many, it’s really tough to pick one out. The most electric atmosphere I can remember was the first time we played in Berlin in a club called Yaam. The room was packed, everyone was dancing and I counted in all the songs too fast.
How does it feel to be touring the new album, and what’s next for the group?
It feels great to have the album released, and to be playing it in our upcoming shows. It’s always fun to re-learn the stuff you recorded in the studio for the stage. A brief rest, after the madness that comes with releasing and touring an album, and then straight back on it. New music will be on the way before you know it!