Interviews

AN AUDIENCE WITH AFROBEAT'S RHYTHM KING - Tony Allen talks to SJF

Monday, 02 October 2017 16:44 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Dressed all in black, with a cap to match, Tony Allen looks sharp but is smaller than I expected. Perhaps that's because his drumming is so powerful - and the kinetic grooves that he creates seem so much larger than life - that it leads you to assume that he would be a big, burly man with bulging muscles. Not so. His hands, too, when we shake each other's on greeting in a trendy London bar, surprise me - they're soft and gentle and not, as some might assume, rough and calloused from almost sixty years of non-stop drumming. Evidently, then, Tony Allen is a man who shatters preconceptions. He sits opposite me exuding the cool demeanour of a benign guru and though he's 77, you wouldn't guess it from looking at his skin, which is ebony smooth and seems to belong to a much younger man. Though softly spoken - you can't ever imagine him shouting or working himself into a lather - he is not at all diffident, and though he likes to talk at length, he only occasionally grows animated with passion.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Allen is Afrobeat's undisputed master drummer. He rose to fame in the 1970s as the percussion dynamo driving Fela Kuti's legendary Africa '70 band, a huge ensemble that became the trailblazers for a style of music called Afrobeat, a unique musical hybrid  that blended the vocabulary and polyrhythms of African highlife music with American jazz and funk. Allen left Kuti in 1979 - "I just got tired," he says - and eventually landed up in Paris, where's he's lived since the mid-1980s. He's made around twenty albums under his own name and his latest, called 'The Source,' and just released by Blue Note Records, is one of his best yet.

"I was always dreaming of doing something on Blue Note," says Allen, who confesses that he listened to American jazz when he was starting out in the early 1960s. Indeed, the album is Allen's most overtly jazz-influenced long player yet and the title, he says, refers to "the roots of my music. I'm doing jazz on this record but it's not standard jazz." On previous albums he has also supplied vocals as well as the rhythm track but that, he says, is a thing of the past. "I've been doing singing on my albums for some time but I don't want to be singing anymore because I want to concentrate on my drumming. I want to evolve more. Singing is another thing for me but I think it's confusing for people. I'm a drummer first so this new album is all instrumental." He pauses then says "Just call a spade a spade," and then laughs heartily. "That means I just stay as I am."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 October 2017 09:11

 

DREAMING BIG - CÉCILE McLORIN SALVANT TALKS TO SJF

Monday, 25 September 2017 06:34 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"My memory is not the best," confesses 28-year-old Cécile McLorin Salvant, one of jazz's fast-rising young stars, whose voice and music is not easily forgotten once heard.  Her admission is followed by a melodic peal of laughter. She's scheduled to perform at London's Ronnie Scott's venue for two nights on the 11th and 12th October and is trying in vain recall details of her previous, critically-acclaimed, appearance at the legendary jazz club back in 2015. "I don't remember the concert so much," she admits, "but I remember the things that happen around the concerts. So I remember walking through London and then going to the stage, but to be fair, I don't even remember what we played there. But I do know that it was a really great time. I'm looking forward to being there in October and offering a little bit of what we do now and showing how we've evolved since the last time we were there."

Certainly, her career and music has moved on considerably since the last time she was in London. She won a Grammy award last year for her third album, 'For One To Love,' and is now about to unleash her most ambitious project yet - a sprawling double album called 'Dreams And Daggers' via Mack Avenue Records. Fusing live performances of jazz standards, recorded at Greenwich Village's legendary Village Vanguard venue during a residency there at the tail end of last year, with brand new studio recordings featuring a string quartet, it's an album that dares to be different. Cécile also devised the album's striking cover art,  which combines provocative photographs taken in her own bathroom with illustrations she's done. It's a thrilling example of a young artist exercising total and uncompromising artistic control in the realisation of her musical vision.

"I don't think of myself too much as someone who has really big concepts," she laughs, when quizzed on the central idea behind the album. "A lot of it is unexplainable and instinctive - or just what feels right. But also the album celebrates contrasts and is really playing with that idea -  contrasts in texture, themes, intention, and sounds. Another thing about the album is that the songs are connected in different ways. The songs I wrote with the string arrangements were sometimes written in connection with the songs that we performed live. They're like comments, counter-ideas or create a dialogue in between the songs, so the order is very much important in listening to the album because it's a story that unfolds with those songs."

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 September 2017 08:58

 

ON THE RISE - MOBO-winning chanteuse ZARA McFARLANE gets back to her roots

Monday, 18 September 2017 18:09 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      alt"He's interesting to be around because knows so many records -  he's like an encyclopaedia." So says Zara McFarlane, who is talking about her boss at Brownswood Records,  world-renowned DJ, broadcaster,  and tastemaker, Gilles Peterson. The Dagenham-raised singer - who won a MOBO award three years ago in the category of 'Best Jazz Act' - has been with Brownswood since 2011 and is just about to release 'Arise,' her third album for the label. She describes Peterson as an inspirational presence at the record company. "He's an ideas man 100%," she declares.  "He's been helpful for me with all of my albums. He likes to sit down and ask you what's going on with your life and when's the record coming out.  But musically, he offers inspiration through records and will say, 'I think this record will be perfect for you to listen to for inspiration,' and it's been really helpful. He won't automatically reference something obvious but he can hear something that might influence me in a different way, which always works and I find inspiring. So that's pretty cool."

 Zara says it was Peterson's idea for her to meld jazz with reggae, which is a musical fusion that defines the singular sound and style of 'Arise,' a 12-track album that finds the singer-songwriter delving into her Jamaican ancestry. "Exploring jazz and my heritage in Jamaican music is something that I've always been very interested," says the singer who studied at the London College of Music. "With the last album, I had a cover of (Junior Murvin's) 'Police And Thieves' and on the new record I wanted to explore Jamaican music even more. I've always been interested in my Caribbean heritage, though Jamaican history is not something that I've known a huge amount about, especially as I grew up in Dagenham."

The singer had a chance to visit Jamaica recently, which further fuelled her interest in the island's history and culture. "I went there in June for a week to do some research for a musical I'm writing based on a Caribbean folk story," she reveals. "It's the folk music of the 1830s-era just before the emancipation period in Jamaica that really interested me, though I was also listening to 'kumina,' an early folk music of Jamaica from the late 1800s, after the emancipation of slavery, and the influence of Liberian drumming, and also the Rastafarian element."

Last Updated on Saturday, 23 September 2017 13:52

 

MAGIC'S IN THE AIR - Soul troubadour SON LITTLE talks about his new album

Monday, 11 September 2017 16:18 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"I was very nervous at first," reveals softly-spoken, Aaron Livingston, who's better known by his stage name, SON LITTLE. A rising singer/songwriter and award-winning producer originally from Philadelphia, he's recalling his first encounter with the First Lady of Memphis soul, the legendary Mavis Staples, with whom he worked on a 4-track EP, 'Your Good Fortune,' in 2015, which later won a Grammy. "You may be nervous but it's hard to stay that way, because one of her great gifts is being able to put other people at ease," he says. "She absolutely just bubbles positive energy. I was just ecstatic about working with her. The rasp and power of her voice is just so incredible.  The Grammy was just really the cherry on top because one of the greatest honours I could have had was working with her."

Now, in 2017, Little is focused on his own music and promoting his second album, 'New Magic,' which follows in the wake of his self-titled 2015 debut. Explaining the album's title and attempting to describe the creative process, Little says: "People often ask, where does the inspiration come from? Where do your songs come from? I feel like the closest thing that we have or description that we have to what comes out is magic, as a sort of conjuring where something materialises from nothing. This is not exactly a trick but it has illusory parts to it - and yet it's something that is very real that you can't deny. At the end there is a song there and something tangible that people can touch and be touched by."

In terms of its style, 'New Magic' is soulful in an old school way but also combines different stylistic elements - hints of blues, gospel, singer-songwriter pop, and rock - which means that it's elusive and hard to pin down or categorise. "I think I was kind of lucky to be exposed to a lot of different things pretty early on and that sort of set me on a path to continue that," says Little, musing on the eclectic nature of his own music. "It became like a hunger for me to find the source of new sounds and semi-absorb them. It's a little bit of a tightrope act being able to synthesise all these different sounds. I found myself to be very open to the differences in people, language and custom as well as genres and styles of music. I find a lot of joy in those differences. And I like to find and discover the common ground between things, which is something that really pleases me and that's carried over into my work."

Last Updated on Monday, 11 September 2017 18:42

 

SUGARAY SPEAKS; The Sugaray Rayford Interview

Friday, 08 September 2017 19:07 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSugaray Rayford is a Texas-born blues and soul man who, after paying considerable dues, may just be about to win the recognition that his considerable talent deserves via his latest solo album 'The Wolrd That We Live In'. Released on Italian label, Blind Faith, the long player is winning plenty of friends in the soul copmmunty ... people who repect old school values of passion, committment and gospel-reared vocals. These proper soul buffs asked to know more about Mr Rayford. So, we obliged ... and having caught up with the big man we started by asking about some personal details....

I was born in Tyler, Texas. My mother was an incredible singer and this was my musical imprinting. Sadly she was fighting against a bad cancer when me and my brothers where just kids. She suffered and we suffered mightly, litteraly starving. It was an hard life, but taught me perseverance. Then our grandmother stepped in and literally saved our lives . We ate every day and we were in church every day too, which I loved. I grew up in gospel church and became a choir director. At 16 I was with the Inspirational Youth Choir, 300 plus members and I had the chance to work with some legendary gospel bands like "The Jackson Southernaries", "Mighty Clouds Of Joy" and many others. I learned so much from them. Those people can sing without a mic in front of packed churches and give you the chills. Beautiful memories.

What about secular music ... did you ignore that?

Gospel of course was not the only music that I liked at the time. When I was young, R'n'B and Soul music played a big role. Let me say also that I have always loved to dance. For a while I was a pretty good break dancer! I think that dancing makes your soul feel free. But then I relocated my life in California and used to be a bouncer, and a fulltime avocado farmer! One night, my wife heard me singing and out of the blue suggested me to join some band or musicians in my local area. It was 1999 and I never hit the stage in twenty years. My soul was missing something and when she pulled the trigger I realized that it was the music. At the beginning it was just for fun and on the weekends, but soon thanks to the power of word of mouth I became a professional performer with 4 solo albums on my shoulders, with thousands of gig performances all around the world and many awards as a blues singer and entertainer.

Last Updated on Friday, 08 September 2017 19:21

 

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