February 28, 2024

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Nubya Garcia blows up jazz with her Afrofuturism sounds: Video

The saxophonist and band leader hailed as one of the scene’s ‘compelling stars’ is all set to make her Australian debut. A jazz revival is under way in England, with reverberations being clocked well beyond the confines of inner-city London.

One of its prime movers is 26-year-old saxophonist and band leader Nubya Garcia, who makes her Australian debut in Melbourne on Thursday and plays at Sydney’s Vivid this month.

“All the bands are wildly different,” says Garcia, when asked to identify what it is that makes the new jazz movement sound so different. “[But] the energy is what’s noticeable”.

Garcia has been hailed by critics, with Rolling Stone labelling her one of the scene’s most “compelling stars” for “tearing through compositions that draw inspiration from Afrofuturism, grime, hip-hop and other genres that hovered around her club-kid youth”.

She says the compact nature of London is partly responsible for the new sound. “London’s kind of full. It’s vibrant, busy, there’s a lot going on,” she says. “It must come through in what we do. In terms of what we’re exposed to, definitely every night of the week you can go and hear completely different, completely brilliant music. Tiny little warehouses – that’s where we cut our teeth. Little nights – anywhere between 50 and 700 people crammed in – that’s the kind of vibe.”

London has, of course, been the epicentre of previous jazz revivals; even before Ronnie Scott founded his still-thriving Soho club in 1959.

In the 1980s, Courtney Pine, Cleveland Watkiss and friends led an empowering Black movement centred around a teeming group called the Jazz Warriors, while the following decade produced the somewhat misnamed and dance-oriented “acid jazz” scene.

In contrast, this latest renaissance feels far more political, socially conscious and musically progressive. For starters, there’s little evidence of pop-chart aspirations in the avant-garde, free-form blowings of Garcia and her fellow horn playing contemporaries Theon Cross, Yazz Ahmed, Laura Jurd, Emma-Jean Thackeray and Shabaka Hutchings.

Hutchings seriously bent ears recently at his Sydney Festival show, with his all-male, but resolutely feminist group, the Ancestors, while the number of women instrumentalists prominent in the scene is also remarkable and refreshing.

The breeding ground for much of this is an organisation called Tomorrow’s Warriors.

“Basically that’s where we all met,” says Garcia. “It’s definitely a community hub and has been for generations. Shabaka, Peter Edwards, Binker Golding – who plays with Moses Boyd – Zara McFarlane – lots of us. It’s a youth development organisation that focuses on black and ethnic minorities, and women, bringing them through music, and specifically the jazz idiom.”

Not everyone in this complex, far-reaching web has come through the Tomorrow Warriors program, but its ethos of sharing opportunities and promoting improvisation as a gateway to trust goes beyond its graduates. Many of the scene’s players collaborate on each other’s records and guest in each other’s bands.

“We all want each other to do well, be happy and to be making music that we want to be making,” Garcia says. “It’s not really ever been about being better than each other. We all want to do well.”

Nubya Garcia makes her Australian debut at Vivid this month.

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