It’s that party time of year again: tastemakers have their eyes on the city as London gets glammed up to show off its best talent for the EFG London Jazz Festival. Camilla George is one of the emerging musicians attracting the attention of the music world, who are taking an interest in the new jazz gang on the block.
Having risen up within the industry with the now notorious Tomorrow’s Warriors group, she studied history before coming back to concentrate on music later at a post-graduate level. She has worked with Jazz Jamaica, Nu Civilisation Orchestra and Courtney Pine’s Venus Warriors, and is now running her own band.
Her latest album The People Could Fly was released at the end of September and weaves in her African heritage whilst maintaining a floor of Caribbean rhythms designed for dancing. At the launch event for the EFG London Jazz Festival, George kindly took the time to answer some quick questions about her latest work and her thoughts on the scene.
The festival brings jazz lovers from all over the world into town, but generally how important is London for the scene right now?
“Everyone is looking to London at the moment. I go to New York quite a bit and they’re all just talking about what’s happening in London.
It’s amazing for me because I’ve always felt that original American bebop was a music that people danced to. As time has gone on, jazz has gone in different directions and that danceable element seemed to get lost. I think that’s what is changing now and why it’s becoming more attractive over here. This city’s young musicians are bringing in people who’d say they aren’t jazz fans but are listening to improvised music.
Also, hip-hop is seeping in, as is grime. There are all kinds of global references too, African especially. Yazz Ahmed is part of that scene and is playing beautiful Arabic influences. It’s basically what makes London so cool; we have people that have come from all over the world with different types of backgrounds, bringing what they know.”
Tell us about how world music influenced your latest project. How do you weave your own background into your composing?
“I was born in Nigeria and my dad is Grenadian, so I have Afro-Caribbean heritage which naturally flows into my music. My new album definitely has a strong African influence. The new recording The People Could Fly is based on a book of African folk tales which are written about slavery. These stories are a shared history as most people with Afro-Caribbean heritage would know these tales.
It took me a long time to write this [album] as I always knew I wanted to write something about these. I was just thinking about each message and then the music came. To give you a little peek of what’s on the album, there is one song about how a slave found liberty; ‘How Nehemiah Got Free’. There is also a spiritual number I wrote which is based on a tale called ‘The Most Useful Slave’ which is obviously quite a poignant title about suffering. Sometimes I even used words from the stories to form part of the rhythm for the tunes. The music simply evolved from each tale. Ultimately, I want this to be a positive story of human strength and survival.”
You’ve composed two albums now, how does it work with the makeup of your band?
“All my band are so amazing in their own right. I have my core quartet, but I’ve expanded it now. So, I have another drummer with Femi Koleoso called Winston Clifford. I have Shirley Tetteh on guitar, Quentin Collins on trumpet and Cherise Adams-Burnett on vocals.
“Omar is singing on one of the tracks as well. I met him through Courtney Pine who has championed my playing over the years. This recording uses a much bigger band and it really builds the theme and goes well with the music.”
How have you found rising in this industry and have you had any struggles getting to this level?
“I have to say I think I was quite lucky. When I first started playing with the Warriors, and before they did the female collective, there were probably fewer women. Then, I was probably more aware of it. When I went to college though, the thing I really liked about that it I was the only girl on the course, but I didn’t feel like I was ever judged. I always feel grateful that I was able to study in a place where I wasn’t subjected to any stereotypes.
I have had many struggles, and more recently than I’d care to admit. Definitely getting up at Ronnie Scotts, the amount of times I’ve gone there and played and thought ‘ah no’. But I think you learn something every time. I always try and make a note of the tunes they’re playing and try my best, and that’s what it’s about really.
There is the horribleness of playing really badly and then having to go back the next week. People really respect that though; even if you’re not the best player at the time, it’s that drive to improve because you will become a great player eventually. It’s all about confidence and perseverance — it’s about going to jam sessions, getting roasted and then coming back.”
What will you be playing at the EFG London Jazz Festival and what’s lined up for the future?
“We have a London Jazz Festival gig at the Purcell Room on 23rd November and I’m collaborating with a kora player, Kadialy Kouyate from Senegal. We’ve been writing a couple of things together which will be fun to perform.
My album is out – The People Could Fly – now which we launched at Buster Mantis. That is the hip night in Deptford where it’s all happening!”
Not one to shy away from a difficult subject, Camilla George is spreading the identity of strength and hope through her new music. You can hear her influences from Kenny Garrett in her music as she brings a little funk and pushes the rhythm to the forefront in her numbers.
The EFG London Jazz Festival is not only a time to see George expanding her repertoire and collaborating with exciting new musicians, but it is also a time to get out and discover new sounds. Just a few of our other local favourites playing the festival are Anthony Joseph, Cherise Adams-Burnett, Zara McFarlane and Kansas Smittys, not to mention some greats coming from the States such as bassist Stanley Clarke.
Time to brave the cold and check out what all the fuss is about!