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Nubiyan Twist Afrobeat-reggae-jazz extravaganza

Leading up to the release of their new album, Jungle Run, we talked to Nick and Joe of Nubiyan Twist, a band that've been making waves nationwide with a unique sound that defies easy definition.

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Blue Laybourne

Musical experimentation, crowdfunding and touring all over Europe while merging genres and avoiding compromise - Nubiyan Twist, this gargantuan band from Leeds now based in London, certainly have a lot on their plate.

Leading up to the release of their new album, Jungle Run, we talked to Nick and Joe of this afrobeat-reggae-jazz extravaganza, a band that've been making waves nationwide with a unique sound that defies easy definition.

How's it been leading up to your new album?

[Nick:] Everything's pretty full-on at the moment. We've just about finished getting the orders packed and sent out - all the vinyl, CDs, merchandise - and we're now doing rounds of promotion. There are flights and rents to book, so we're very busy.

It's an important time, because the album has been two and a half years in the making. We've been using our live gigs as a way of composing music. We try all our ideas out for a live audience. It's a way to be as honest with our music as we possibly can. So the album is a collection of snapshots of us put into a piece of art, representing the way we've spent all this time. There was really no difference between performing and working on the album. It was all happening at the same time.

How do you streamline the creative process in a band so large?

[Joe:] There are a few different ways to go about organisation. We don't have one set method. There are some songs on the record that a single member came up with and we just took it and ran with it. Sometimes people switch up to groups to ideate and sometimes these groups change during gigging. The other way is that songs organically happen through rehearsing, but that's pretty rare.

[Nick:] The most important thing is that everyone's personality and skill shines through on the record. Everyone's given time and space to add what they want. Maybe our bass player has ideas for horns or horns might have an idea for percussion. Tom XL, our guitarist and producer, oversees it all and keeps everyone in the loop.

We can work hard under deadlines, but that's rare. There are songs that I started drafting two and half years ago that have taken time to develop. Our single 'Jungle Run' was like that. I was given a drum loop and I just started drafting vocalizers over it and we ended up changing the whole groove. We also took into account how the audiences were taking it. When we saw people dancing to it, we just made it more dancey.

What are the main differences compared to your last album, Dance Inna London?

[Joe:] We wanted to build on the vibes of that album, but this one's definitely been influenced by what's going on in London musically right now. It really plays into the hype around improvised jazz and mixing electronics with jazz. It also points heavily towards roots music, which we try to approach with a new angle.

[Nick:] I played it to some friends and family and they were saying it was quite dancey, quite breakbeaty. It's got a real UK dance sound to it. It's a bit like a garage record. It's very much multi-layered. Whenever I listen back to it, I discover new tunes, new vibes. What keeps standing out for me though is the push of this fresh electronic dance sound. In the past a lot of people liked to present us as an afrobeat band, so we went with that for a while, but as we grew we realised we prefer doing stuff our own way, and I feel like that comes through beautifully here.

Did you feel pressure to turn into a fully afrobeat band?

[Nick:] I remember that years ago people suggested that our sound was too broad and we had to pick something more definite, go for it, and then get played on the radio. I made some comments to the band, suggesting that we should perhaps try to just do a reggae album first, then an afrobeat album, then a hip-hop album. Everyone disliked that. I realised too that we've just got to go with what we can bring to the table and never question our instincts.

[Joe:] As long as we just meticulously arrange our songs and pay proper respect to the roots we are influenced by, there's really no way to go wrong. This is the essence of what we're doing.

Tell us about your crowdfunding campaign and how it worked with the label.

[Nick:] The crowdfunder was the best and only option we have in a very hard situation, and Strawberry Records got onboard later, once we'd raised the money. The crowdfunding thing is wicked, because we got to build and solidify our fanbase through it. We've been building up a fanbase for years because we're primarily a live band, and it was great that they got to be investors in this project. Besides raising the money, we engaged them in the process. When we got near the end, we just looked for someone to release it. It's great that we got Strawberry Records, because they brought a wealth of experience, contacts and PR to the table.

[Joe:] These indie record labels don't work the same way as the big ones. They may give you advice, but now they're more interested in working on the PR side.

Has your audience also changed?

[Nick:] One thing I've been seeing is that now people of all ages tend to show up. We've had gigs in jazz clubs in Germany where the average age was around 50 to 60, and at some festivals we even see little kids getting into it. We want to play the sort of music that a lot of people can relate to.

These African-inspired tunes move a bunch of folks and our passion for it is also bringing people in. Some people like us because they think we have a really nineties jazz sound, even though we don't always feel that. Especially in Italy, a lot of people compared us to acid jazz and bands like Incognito. We don't see that, but we appreciate it.

[Joe:] I think there's a nice resurgence of people wanting to see really live music nowadays. DJs are wicked, but we've had a lot for a while. If a ten-person band comes on stage, older folks appreciate it because they might be used to it more, and the younger crowds have an opportunity to experience the beauty of it. You don't usually see five horns on a stage anymore, so what we're doing is unique in a sense.

[Joe:] A lot of bands now play with very electronic-like setups with sound systems, heavy bass and then just plug in the jazz tunes. It allows this sort of music to be played in clubs and it's something both the old and the young love.

[Nick:] We just all share the same scene. It's a great thing. It lets our audience grow and brings more jazzheads into the club. That's what we aspire for.

Learn more

Nubiyan Twist play at Yellow Arch Studios on Friday 5 April.

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