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Meet Nubya Garcia: The Rising Star Taking The London Jazz Scene By Storm Talks Debut Album 'Source'

Nubya Garcia

Photo: Adama Jalloh

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Meet Nubya Garcia: The Rising Star Taking The London Jazz Scene By Storm Talks Debut Album 'Source'

The emerging artist tells GRAMMY.com about how her first solo album explores identity and community, how the sounds from her multicultural roots left a "life-changing" impact on her and why she thinks livestreams will never replace live music

GRAMMYs/Aug 23, 2020 - 03:00 pm

In clubs around Britain, a loud, colorful revival is happening. Shaped by artists like Soweto Kinch, Shabaka Hutchings and impresario Gilles Peterson, the blossoming U.K. jazz scene, propelled by a welcoming attitude to genre and a celebration of diversity, is bringing a healthy challenge to jazz's long-running U.S. focus. 

In the middle of London's vibrant scene sits Nubya Garcia, a saxophonist and composer who has a hand in many of the next wave of U.K. jazz outfits. You can find her in Nerija, the female-led septet now signed to the Domino label. She changes tack in Maisha, an outfit contributing to the history of spiritual jazz. It's telling of her pivotal place in the scene that Garcia's lucid sax lines appeared on over half of the tracks on the era-defining We Out Here, the 2018 compilation album spotlighting London's rising jazz scene.

Garcia now follows two successful EPs, Nubya's 5ive (2017) and When We Are (2018), with her first album, Source, released Friday (Aug. 21) on Concord Jazz. But even on this debut solo release, the temptation to hog the limelight is never satisfied. Despite being imbued with questions of personal identity and roots, Source truly feels like a group effort. Appearances from Nerija bandmates Cassie Kinoshi and Sheila Maurice-Grey as well as versatile pianist Joe Armon-Jones only add to this feeling. This community-driven scene behind Source creates a uniquely cosmopolitan sound as Caribbean flavors meet EDM-infused club culture, all built on a solid understanding of Black jazz history.  

Garcia is a star in this world, a role model for youngsters across the country. But the outlook on Source is global, as is its creator's reach. 

GRAMMY.com chatted with Nubya Garcia about how her debut album, Source, explores identity and community, how the sounds from her multicultural roots left a "life-changing" impact on her and why she thinks livestreams will never replace live music.

The Guardian recently described your music as "post-American" jazz. What sort of sounds and influences do you find in your music that you might not find in more straight-ahead, bebop-oriented music?

Labels are really interesting; they can often leave out quite a lot in the picture they create. I'd say you can find a lot of reggae and dub. You wouldn't necessarily hear it in my music, but I [also] love garage, footwork, tiny bits of early dubstep and music from the Latinx community. Essentially, I like music from all over the world—global music. I don't like the term world music, and I'm glad that's slowly leaving 'cause it's ridiculous—we all live in the same world! 

How much of this stems from growing up around these sounds in Camden, North London?

Kind of in a big way, but also, I wasn't exactly listening to bashment at home when I was a kid. We had a lot of reggae and dub in the house, but as much as that, we had classical music and mum's '70s and '80s pop records. A really big influence for me growing up was visiting Trinidad Carnival when I was 10; that was my first dive into a culture that I was born into [Editor's Note: Garcia's father is Trinidadian]. Witnessing the multitude of sounds within soca and calypso was life-changing. Since then, I gravitate towards it—I seek it.

I guess our music is a real involvement of jazz within a different dancing complex. Jazz has always been dance music, and it's taken little windy routes away and back from this. Perhaps this is another one of those moments. Bringing jazz to different venues has charged the music with a different energy, too, although it hasn't lost any of the influence of "the tradition." I can still play a ballad in a club if I wanted to. And by club, I don't mean a jazz club.

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Exactly. I think one of the most interesting things about the U.K. jazz scene at the moment is its emphasis on space and place, as well as sound, which often means jazz-influenced music turns up in unexpected places.

We're blessed with curiosity and a supportive community, which includes venues, too. There are lots of places to play, to see what everyone's up to and collaborate. 

Collaboration isn't unique to us, but there is certainly freedom of creation. [In non-COVID times,] we were in jazz clubs alongside pubs, warehouses alongside "club" clubs, places that only had indie bands, rock bands, grunge, punk … These weren't really places for jazz-inspired music, and that's what's really exciting to me. We're just creating, playing what we like and pushing it together.

On Source, the thing that flows through the album is a focus on identity, but I like that each track shows a different chapter of this story. I imagine it's been a personally rewarding experience putting it together culturally as well as musically.

Rewarding, but challenging. There was a massive pandemic in the middle of it ... It feels like a whole story, but as complete as it sounds, it still feels searching enough to me. There are themes throughout about identity—my identity and our identities as humans—how we connect to it and what grounds it. It's a really honest representation of me at the moment.

Albums like Source and the upcoming Blue Note Re:imagined, the latter of which features an all-U.K. lineup reworking iconic Blue Note tracks, show that the world is listening to your community at the moment. Where's the scene at now and where might it be headed?

It was a really exciting place to be [pre-COVID]. If you saw my calendar … we were finally like … well to be honest, I never really imagined any of this happening. My goal as an 18-year-old was to get a gig! Being able to play the music I grew up listening to all over the world was something I never really imagined could happen.

We'd been touring and building slowly, but really well. Everything felt very rooted in enjoyment rather than sales 'cause it's not pop music …

But where's the movement as a whole going now?

Right now? I think things are opening up. We've done a few sessions, and I've had a couple of livestream offers, but I'm not a fan of the livestream thing, I'll just be straight with you. 

Why?

Because we can't survive on livestreams. I think it's going to become even more difficult to be a musician, which is going to leave a huge gap in generations to come. When we look in five, 10 years, we'll ask, "Why are there no young bands coming through?" Because there's no money in it, there's nowhere for them to play, they don't have any options to get those £100, £50, £20 gigs. Lord, I hope they're not still doing that sh*t anymore!

They still are …

That's what was going on when I was 20! That's how we cut our teeth and learned when to say no, when to say yes and when to push for more. But I think livestreams aren't the same thing. They are something, don't get me wrong, but I'm very worried that it'll become the norm if there are no venues to play out in. I think the big venues will be fine, but we really need to protect the smaller venues that have had such a huge part to play in our development. You need to play out to improve. You can't just play together in a room for a year and then say, "I want to play at Glastonbury."

I'm trying to remain hopeful because I need to, but I don't think livestreaming is the way forward. It's great for reaching out around the world, but it's not sustainable, and it changes how the audience communicates with the other members of the audience, too. Music is a huge part of sharing that experience—it only happens once.

That's the other thing: Source feels live. How have you reconciled this with the current situation where there's virtually no live music?

I've made my peace with it—there's no point crying about it! It's all that we have, and it's the closest we can get to the real thing right now. Hopefully, we can play it in the future, and when we do get to tour it, it'll be mad. I've never done a gig so long after a record has been released, so in a way, it'll be really beautiful because then people will know the album.

What do you hope new listeners will find in your music?

Bits of themselves, bits of other people, stories they've not heard before and stories they're reminded of through the tunes. I just want listeners to listen, feel it and have an open mind, feel some joy, express themselves, dance, move and share. Most of all, I just want people to be present!

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Samantha Smith and John Legend

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle And John Legend Win Best Rap/Sung Performance For "Higher" | 2020 GRAMMYs

DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle and John Legend take home Best Rap/Sung Performance at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2020 - 09:05 am

DJ Khaled, featuring Nipsey Hussle and John Legend, has won Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Higher" at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards. The single was featured on DJ Khaled's 2019 album Father of Asahd and featured Hussle's vocals and Legend on the piano. DJ Khaled predicted the track would win a GRAMMY.

"I even told him, 'We're going to win a GRAMMY.' Because that's how I feel about my album," DJ Khaled told Billboard. "I really feel like not only is this my biggest, this is very special."

After the release of the song and music video -- which was filmed before Hussle's death in March -- DJ Khaled announced all proceeds from "Higher" will go to Hussle's children.

DJ Khaled and co. beat out fellow category nominees Lil Baby & Gunna ("Drip Too Hard"), Lil Nas X ("Panini"), Mustard featuring Roddy Ricch ("Ballin") and Young Thug featuring J. Cole & Travis Scott ("The London"). Hussle earned a second posthumous award at the 62nd GRAMMYs for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle." 

Along with Legend and DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Kirk Franklin, Roddy Ricch and YG paid tribute to Hussle during the telecast, which concluded with "Higher."

Check out the complete 62nd GRAMMY Awards nominees and winners list here.