May 18, 2024

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Interview with Kwesi Yvorra: Life experiences of the soul help form the overall intellectual structure of an individual: Video, new CD cover

Jazz interview with jazz drummer Kwesi Yvorra. An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Kwesi Yvorra: – I currently live in Stockholm, Sweden… But I was born in Tooting, South London. I grew up in London for most of my childhood. My mother was a professional singer in a band, (as was my birth father), so I was present at almost every gig she was at from birth till about age 10. Her band performed and traveled often, so over time I became the unofficial roadie for the drummer… I was fascinated with all the drums and cymbals he had on his kit! Later on, (at about 11 years of age)  my mum left her band and formed a family band with my stepfather and my younger brothers ( myself on drums and sometimes guitar and backing vocals  and guitar, as well as my brothers on bass and percs respectively, with my Dad on Guitar and backing vocals). We travelled various parts of the world performing in churches and all sorts of venues for about 8 years. My brothers and I all studied during this period, so we did not suffer academically. It was during this time, I really learned what the life of a professional musician was all about – Both the good and the bad!

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

KY: – I was always interested in music. I grew up listening to my mum’s old tapes and records, ranging from Sade and Michael Jackson to Eek A Mouse, the Meters and Jimmy Cliff, with loads of other styles in between,most notably East Coast Hip Hop and Jungle/Drum & Bass music. I bought my first albums at 8 years old in Central London, on one of my many excursions (times were different back then!). At about 11 years old I found my stepdad’s old band when rummaging through his stuff out of sheer boredom one day. He released a prog rock album back in the early 70’s with his old band (Skryvania), as well as some later releases back in France when he was signed to Polydor in the 80’s. I became obsessed! Discovering Skryvania led me down a path musically that led to bands like YES, King Crimson, and most notably, The Mahavishnu Orchestra. When I found out about Billy Cobham’s appoach to drums blew my mind! That then opened the door to Jazz fusion, with Dennis Chambers and Dave Weckl. I began to base my drumming style on these guys from then onwards.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

KY: – Over the years, I spend alot of time on sticks and pad. As a kid, before I had a real drumset, I would make a huge drumkit made of pillows, (with my rubber drum pad as the snare) and practice for hours every day to whatever music I could get hold of, as well as various exercises on the metronome in different time signatures, something which I still do time this day. My stepfather was always really hard on me for doing too much on stage, with good reason. I would often try Billy Cobham chops mid gig out of nowhere! He would always stress the importance of being able to keep time convincingly as a drummer in whatever musical situation you would found myself in, so I would often spend alot to time playing simpler grooves to a metronome… That and early Jamiroquai albums. He also encouraged me to write songs from early on, with the emphasis on memorable hooks and melodies within the music.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

KY: – My musical tastes have evolved over the years, but I still listen to the same core stuff I grew up on. My musical ear has most definitely  evolved over the years. Gustav Holtz’s album ‘ The Planets’ had a huge effect on how I perceived music as a child, and I began to naturally visualize  images for music I made or listened to, especially with the use of art. Colours and moods have become synonymous with musical expression for me over the years.

JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

KY: – Well, the way I prepare for studio recordings and live performances are totally different. I would say my prep studio is much more controlled and methodical, as the aim of my performances on drums is to play with the vision of each given track without overplaying. I do tend to hold back alot. As for live… A good shot of rum pre gig calms the nerves just fine! Seriously though, I do tend to worry alot before gigs, partly because I know I will often be sharing a part of my soul on stage, especially when playing my own material.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: I’m About, Still, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

KY: – I really appreciate the track, “Give Go Scenario” featuring the amazing Heidi Vogel on vocals. I spent almost 50 hours editing that track alone… I was obsessed with getting the right vocal feel for it! I feel that track in particular is a perfect showcase of both my approach as a songwriter and a jazz oriented musician.

New CD – 2022 – Buy from here

I'm About Still - Album by Kwesi Yvorra | Spotify

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

KY: – The musicians on the album were guys (Andre Louis on Keys, Kwesi Mcintosh on bass) who played in my live outfit at that time, (Nuvorrian), so it was natural to be in the studio and record the tracks that they featured on live. As for the rappers/ Vocalists, it was really a case of right time, right place. John Robinson, for example, is one of my all time favourite rappers. I have wanted to work with him for years! Reaching out to him seemed right,and it was justified with an incredible performance on the track,” Copastetic Movements”. The same goes for Greg B. and Joshua Idehen, who both featured on tracks on the album.

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

KY: – That’s a great question. In my opinion, life experiences of the soul help form the overall intellectual structure of an individual. We are programmed to learn lessons from birth, for example, fire is hot, the ledge is high, etc. As we grow, how we respond to those lessons (if at all) would determine our overall intellectual trajectory. I think the same goes for life situations whereby retrospectively we would reflect, contemplate and adapt. Hard lessons mould the soul… If we allow them to.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

KY: – I find it absolutely imperative that there is a strong relationship formed between the artist and the audience… Especially when it comes to Jazz. I have seen too many musicians caught up in their own glory to realise that there is an audience to entertain and inspire. We are not just playing for ourselves, we are sharing a sacred part of ourselves when we perform on that stage.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

KY: – I have had alot of great memories over the years as a professional musician… One being my first huge gig as a 15 year old in Bridgetown Barbados, playing in front of an outdoor audience of 10,000 people. The most recent memory that sticks out would be performing a drum solo for the 2019 Wimbledon finals with the BBC. The thought of playing what I love in front of millions of people is surreal.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

KY: – Time does not stand still for any of us, yet some of the young people are stuck out here reciting only old jazz tunes. What is stopping us from making our mark by creating our own future classics for upcoming jazz heads to appreciate?

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

KY: – First of all, respect to Mr. Coltrane. When we share a composition or a performance, I believe a huge part of the success of how it is perceived is spiritual. Merely reciting a piece of music and performing the heck out of it are two different things for me. Energy, passion and and joy comes into play… You can’t make up those sort of things. You could make a ton of mistakes performing a track, but if the performance is fire, the audience won’t remember them . But they will remember the spirit in which that music was played. Life is shared that way.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

KY: – Probably the pretentious attitude in which certain musician groups put themselves out. There is a reason why Jazz is marginalised so much, and in my opinion it is in part due to the inaccessible, snooty high brow behaviour that some have grown accustomed to.  Nobody wants to go to a gig full of people like that.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

KY: – Wow, it’s alot! Soulive, Steve Khan… Any trio that Dennis Chambers is in! Also alot of Hip Hop. MF Doom, Conway The Machine, Sean Price to name a few… Partly because I am producing alot more of that stuff lately.

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

KY: – I love to tell stories through my music. It always has to have an overarching positive message, even if the theme is a dark one.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

KY: – Back to the 70’s, no question! Alot of my musical heroes were thriving then!

JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

KY: – I sincerely hope that people will see something that resonates with them, and get a better idea of who I am through my music.

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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