Interview: Nubiyan Twist (July 2016)

30-06-2016-nubiyan-twist_emma-marshall-6

One of the most exciting names on the UK music scene is also one of its most indefinable and difficult to pigeonhole. That’s because the musical ‘dirty’ dozen Nubiyan Twist (in honour of its front woman) dislikes definitions, labels or borders. The band, originally from Leeds, London, Oxford and Dublin (as you can see, even the origin is quite confusing), simply loves to play together today, as in 2011, when they first met between desks at Leeds College of Music.

A few days ago (and a few days after their overseas gig in Germany) we sat together with a “quarter” of Nubiyan Twist: Nubiya, Denis (tenor sax) and Luke (bassist), chatting about the group’s past, present and future.

Our interview began in Leeds College of Music because, as Nubiya said: “The majority of us went to Leeds College of Music. We were attending completely different courses but we were all part of the same social group. We were quite together but separate at the same time. The project eventually started when I met Tom [Excell, guitar] in 2011. He missed the first two weeks of Uni, so everybody called him Mysterious Tom. When we met, we really got along well. We were talking about music all the time, so it was natural to form a band.

The initial nucleus of Nubiyan Twist comprised myself, Tom and Joe [Henwood, sax baritone]. We really had no direction at that time. We recorded our first little song in our bedroom, but had no idea what kind of music we’d like to play. For example, I was more into writing lyrics and poetry than music. I had no ideas about arranging a song or working on music with a laptop. I’d also never been in a studio until that point. So I did the best of my ability over Tom’s beats. Then Joe included a lot of solos and then that rehearsal that accidentally happened, accidentally turned into a project too.”

So what was the glue which stuck the band together and has cemented it?

I think it was the fact that we were close. We had a strong bond with each other and that’s one of the facts that keeps us going. We have this general appreciation of each other. We aren’t only members of the same band, but also friends”.

We then asked Denis how the project developed during these years and why they took four years to release a debut album.  “Yes, we released our first album only last year, but all the material comes from a long way back. There are some songs which we wrote for university courses or even college projects. I think the first album for every band is an accumulation of works written and performed over years and years. Then, when you record the one after that, you have to put that much time into a one-year spell rather than three or more years”.

So why does their latest EP (published by Wormfood) sound different from their debut work?

According to Nubiya: “A few things happened during the process of making the album. But for me it was mainly because Oliver [Cadman], who’s our keyboard player, changed the dynamic of how we record live stuff. He brought a nice soulful vibe. He also brought some jazz to it, which we’re all familiar with. Then, since we are a little older, our tastes have changed and we’re becoming more focused on what we like and don’t like to play. Everybody plays as an individual and you’re always influenced by the things you listen to around you. So similar things change the dynamics of a band.

Denis added, “Everybody in the band has grown up. As we said, we wrote some of our first album tracks when we were freshers at university. Now many of the band members are trying to make a living from music. Everyone has grown up as a musician too: we have evolved and the sound of the band has evolved consequently. I’m sure that you’ll have the same questions for our next release, because it will inevitably sound different. There are too many brains in the band to sound constant.

In fact, one fact that always amazed us about Nubiyan Twist is their formation: twelve musicians playing together, who get along well. That’s why we felt the need to ask them to explain how their balance works.

Nubiya answered naturally: “It’s only complicated when the song finished and then, if we are rehashing, or we got the song right or everybody is coming out saying they got a slightly different idea about how it should unfold. That’s the only time when it’s complicated. But we usually appreciate other ideas and other people’s solutions. To be honest, I don’t have an idea how it’s worked all this time: it’s a kind of miracle.

Luke instinctively agreed: “Definitely, all the ideas flow together and we trust each others tastes.” Denis added: “We respect each other as musicians and trust what we bring to the table. Even if in the beginning it can sound a little weird, we trust everyone else’s judgement. Because even if you’re not present at a session, you know that everything will work.

Their recent German performance at Fusion Festival in Germany was Nubiyan Twist’s first gig abroad. It was unavoidable to ask the musicians what they felt playing there and Denis affirmed: “We haven’t quite started touring Europe, that’s our next step: to become more European and spread our music outside the UK. We know that our music will be well received in Europe, we just have to go there and play. So our next step is to tour and find dates in Spain, France, Germany…

As a matter of fact, over the years, Nubiyan Twist have extensively travelled and performed in the UK, building quite a following in every city they’ve played. We wondered if there was a favourite stage where they played and what was the most memorable concert they had…

Luke took no time to answer: “Probably Leeds

Something Nubiya agreed with. “Yes definitely, I like Leeds. We had some really good gigs there. We always played at the right place at the right time. London is like a girlfriend you have to impress. When she’s in a good mood on a good day everything is cool, but if she’s in a bad mood you’re in the doghouse.”

Surprisingly, in my opinion, the best gig we had was supporting the Brand New Heavies in Scarborough, which is one of those places where your mum takes you to stick a rock and you look out there and think: ‘is this all there is?’ That’s what growing up as a northern child is like. We went there to play in this huge, really old venue [The Spa], which I love. It’s like a 1950’s ballroom and we played such a good set… despite the fact no one usually wants to watch the support act – especially if there are big groups – everybody was like ‘you guys were amazing!’ That was lovely, because it was kind of an older generation of people and maybe some of them had lost the idea that there are bands out there which are alternative but still stick to the old school.

Alternative, but still, stick to the old school was the nth definition we listened to and read about Nubiyan Twist. Since we couldn’t and still can’t find a solution to that enigma, we decided to settle things once and for all and asked the group how they’d describe the project…

Denis tried to answer first: “You know, it happens to us a lot that our PRs ask us to write down a short synopsis about the band, like when we have to play in a new venue. We have come out with a few of them. Because you start to write and you end up naming every genre. All I can say is that it changes, because we change. In the first album, for example, we were more afrobeat, while in this EP, we are more neo-soul but also ska. We normally say dub, afrobeat, hip-hop and jazz. But it also depends on the track.

Nubiya added: “It’s been quite funny, because we got a couple of messages from people asking why we call ourselves Nubiyan Twist even if we’re white guys from Leeds or we don’t play Nubiyan music. That’s simply hilarious, because sometimes we find a crazy way to answer these messages. Denis once said: ‘the Beatles weren’t actually insects’. So no, we don’t play south Sudanese music. We’re called Nubiyan because my name is Nubiya.

Denis, diplomatically, concluded: “Maybe we should have spent more time thinking about the name…

Hoping to understand which way the band would go, we asked what they were listening to, which only clouded the issue:

I’m really into Tigran [Hamasyan] at the moment,” said Luke. “He’s a great piano player from Armenia who plays a kind of jazz mixed with Armenian folk music. I saw him playing with an oud player called Dhafer Youssef from Tunisia. Tigran kind of stole the show because he was amazing.

Does this mean Nubiyan Twist are changing their direction again, looking towards Caucasian music for the next record? Joking aside, we wanted to close our interview asking about Nubiyan Twist’s future and Denis revealed…

We’ve already prepared some new tunes. Actually, I can say that there’s a new album ready to go. We also have a live video coming out soon which was recorded during our gig at the Jazz Café in London. We are looking forward to it because we haven’t got any live footage and we want to fill that gap. Hopefully, there’s also a video clip of a song coming out in the next two months, but we still don’t know if it’ll be from our latest EP or a new single. What I can say about it is that it’s going to sound different from the songs we have published. There’s even some garage in it. Finally, as I said before, we want to become more international, because if I think about the UK, we’ve played more or less every venue on my list.

We here at Rhythm Passport will be looking to support them in every country they play (starting from their upcoming gig at Battersea Arts Centre part of Borderless on the 24th of August), even if we still fail to find a concise way to describe them. With all its musical ability, tastes and influences, the band are one of the embodiments of the current UK scene.

 

Content Related To This Artist

Podcast: Radio Mukambo #491 – Tribal Futurism

Guedra Guedra‘s debut LP Vexillology is kicking down borders, offering listeners an experience made from hypnotic and rhythmic arrangements rooted in ancient cultures. From his Casablanca studio, the Moroccan genre-defying producer serves an elevation of tribal consciousness and underground futurism. Vexillology is album of the week on Radio Mukambo, out on On…

Artists: Ancient Astronauts , Brothers of Brass , DJ Tudo e Sua Gente de Todo Lugar , Guedra Guedra , IKOQWE , Matjé , Nubiyan Twist , Son Palenque

News: Bandcamp Your Friday (Friday, 2nd April 2021)

New Bandcamp Friday and new shopping tips… As we often do on the first Friday of each month, when Bandcamp lifts its fees redistributing all sales profits to artists and their labels, also today we give you some suggestions on how to spend your money on music effectively supporting musicians….

Artists: Arooj Aftab , Floating Points , Guedra Guedra , José Carlos Schwarz , La Muchacha , Le Cobiana Djazz , Nubiyan Twist , Pharoah Sanders , Soothsayes , Ziad Rahbani

Podcast: Rhythm Passport On Air w/ Onipa (March 2020)

The March episode of Rhythm Passport On Air presents you with one of the freshest names on the global beats scene. A band that is becoming ubiquitous in these times of online gigs, with new (digital) performances and participations springing up like mushrooms on a daily basis. We are talking…

Artists: Bejuco , Dom La Nena , Fantasma , Gentleman's Dub Club , Kog And The Zongo Brigade , Nilotika Cultural Ensemble , Nubiyan Twist , ONIPA

Visions of Sound (November 2020)

Every month, we bring you a collection of the best world music-related videos. That’s our way to give value to too often overlooked, rich and diverse artistic expressions. Listen with your eyes! Watch the full playlist:

Artists: Altin Gun , Black Alien , Bomba Estereo , Branko , Coops , Elkin Robinson , Ghost Funk Orchestra , LADANIVA , Menzi , Nubiyan Twist , Nuri , Philippe Cohen Solal , U-Zhaan

Visions of Sound (September 2020)

Every month, we bring you a collection of the best world music-related videos. That’s our way to give value to too often overlooked, rich and diverse artistic expressions. Listen with your eyes! Watch the full playlist:

Artists: Ana Tijoux , Asian Dub Foundation , Aziza Brahim , Bigyuki , Deradoorian , Ghetto Kumbe , HHY , Lous and the Yakuza , Luedji Luna , Mas Musiq , Nubiyan Twist , Populous , Sumac Dub , The Kampala Unit , U-Zhaan , Urban Village

London Gig Guide (November 2019)

At times, we are the first to lose track of how many exciting music events happen in London each month, so we have decided to offer you some sort of “public musical service”, meant for all the locals and passers-by, with the aim of suggesting where to listen to some…

Artists: Actress , Amon Tobin , Bukky Leo , Dele Sosimi , Diezmo , Domenico Lancellotti , Dwight Trible , Fanfare Ciocarlia , Femi Elias , Gaijin Blues , Gary Bartz , Ivocore , Lokkhi Terra , Luke Vibert , Maisha , Marcos Aganju , Nina Miranda , Nubiyan Twist , Ólafur Arnalds , Pedrolito , Snarky Puppy , Taraf De Impex , The Scorpios , Tinariwen , Toby Kaar

Album Review: Nubiyan Twist – Jungle Run [Strut Records; February 2019]

Jazz has many different guises and, within those guises, a further plethora of textures. It’s one of the traits that sets it apart from other genres, classical music excepted. In the ongoing revival and reinvention of jazz within these shores, there is clearly a surfeit of talent. Nestled in amongst…

Artists: Nubiyan Twist

Event Review: Jam on RYE Festival @ Peckham Rye (London; 29th May 2018)

From the first Jamaican rude-boy sound systems of Duke Reid and Prince Buster to Trojan Records of London 1968, ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub sound system culture has thrived in Britain’s black culture and has defined generations and popular trends. A sunny May Bank Holiday saw hundreds take to Peckham Rye…

Artists: David Rodigan , Horace Andy , Nubiyan Twist , Soothsayers , Theon Cross , Theon Cross and The Fyah

Event Review: Ealing Jazz Festival @ Walpole Park (London, 29th July 2017)

Much like a charming village fete with a complimentary cleansing mud bath, Ealing Jazz Festival provided both entertainment and healing from the music and comedy of sliding from one stage to another. Unfortunately for the locals, this was the second week that the Walpole celebrations had been washed out. However,…

Artists: Courtney Pine , Faith I Branko , James Taylor Quartet , Matuki , Nubiyan Twist

Event Review: Love Supreme Festival (Glynde Place, 30th June to 2nd July 2017)

The concept of an outdoor jazz festival hardly conjures images of glitter-filled Glastonbury excitement, a young hip crowd and dance-fuelled elation. However, previously exclusive jazz appears to be undergoing a fashion revolution and the grounds of Glynde Place hinted at this. Love Supreme, the UK’s only three-day greenfield jazz festival…

Artists: Camilla George Quartet , George Benson , Herbie Hancock , Hot 8 Brass Band , Kansas Smitty’s House Band , La Mambanegra , Lauran Mvula , Miles Mosely , Nubiyan Twist , Shabaka and the Ancestors , Shabaka Hutchings , Sons Of Kemet , The Comet Is Coming , The Jacksons , The West Coast Getdown , TriForce

Album Review: Nubiyan Twist – Siren Song [Wormfood Records, 27th May 2016]

Following their highly celebrated debut album in 2015, the eclectic 12-piece band from Leeds, Nubiyan Twist, is back with their new EP, Siren Song. And what an apt name for this second album, which allures and entices its listeners in many unexpected ways, from its dance-inducing funk groves and intoxicating…

Artists: Nubiyan Twist



There are no comments

Add yours