Born in London, this 25 year old Oxford history graduate is now a full-time jazz/hip hop artist. His album has been nominated for the Mercury Music Award and more recently for an Urban Music Award gong.
Who did you collaborate with on your latest album?
We worked with a saxophone player called Jason Yarde, he produced the album along with another producer - Tony Kratz who’s worked with Bob Marley. I met Tony through the Jazz Jamaica Project. So it’s quite a class team and we’re hoping to work together on future projects.
The title track is called ‘Conversations with the Unseen’. What’s the story behind it?
It’s a reference to our spiritual beliefs within the group. The point at which it sounds most interesting and frightening is when everyone in the group is thinking the same thing at the same time and I wanted to get that sense of total cohesion. I wanted to have a ‘conversation’ if you like with the fifth band member, who’s the conductor – that position was filled by Amoah Cee
The track ‘Intermission - Split Decision’ is it autobiographical?
It’s a metaphor dealing with the two biggest musical genres in my life i.e. jazz and hip-hop. The song deals with the contradictions and the problems of reconciling the two of them. It gives a lowdown of the reasons why jazz is thought of as less accepted, too old or poor or hard to understand and why hip hop is thought of as too young, hedonist and foot-loose and fancy free.
Who are some of your jazz influences?
Artists influence me all the time because jazz is a constantly changing thing. It’s the methods from the past that inform what people do in the future But at the moment I’m really into Joe Harriot, Ornette Coleman and Benny Carter who died recently. The music we collectively call jazz is a continuing process of discovering the past and moving forward at the same time.
How does your love of jazz and hip-hop manifest itself when you perform live?
We unapologetically wanted to play our music and let the audience make up their own mind so we will play a hip-hop song then a jazz song. I spoke with Eska, (she does some vocals on the album) about putting all the jazz songs at the beginning and then all the hip-hop songs in the second half of the show. She felt it would be patronising to the audience to do it that way…if the music was good, people would appreciate it. Also it would be a way of bringing new people to jazz and new people to hip hop. And that’s what’s been happening so it’s a testament to her foresight!
You’ve worked with some British jazz greats like Gary Crosby, Denys Baptiste and Juliet Roberts. How much have they taught and helped to form your own identity?
They’ve helped me on a personal as well as musical level. I was able to position myself within a wider collective. Since the Jazz Warriors there exists an infrastructure which has provided a support base and network of people to share talents with. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t one the musician that I am today and secondly as focused on continuing their work.
How can up and coming jazz Artists stand up to the onslaught of hip hop and RnB?
I’m an optimistic about this. Recently I went to a Wynton Marsalis concert at the Jazz café where the crowd went wild. It was a young audience and he was playing old skool jazz hits. I don’t think audiences have such ridgid genre definitions, they’re attracted to the way the music’s packaged, presented and represented. If young African Caribbean people go out and feel that they can identify with the musicians and where the music is coming from, I think we could have a whole generation of people who’ll be into old skool swing as much as they’re into DJs and Drum n Bass.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m really trying to consolidate this idea we had called ‘The Jazz Planets’ (laughs). It’s a track we’ve performed on a number of gigs and we’re just trying to take it forward as a single… that’s the immediate future. For the long term I’m continuing to write and develop new material so we never get stale as a band.
Any plans to go and ‘conquer’ the American market?
I’m gonna conquer my saxophone first! It would be nice to be truly global and truly appreciated wherever we turn up, be it Italy or Japan, Australia or America. I think it’s a time to be egalitarian about where we want to play and the audiences we want to play to ‘cos nobody can say where the next big thing is going to come from. I think the industry knows that traditionally people do gravitate towards America for sales though.
What’s your philosophy on music?
It’s possible for a jazz musician to be comfortable with that dichotomy of jazz and hip hop. Jazz has the capacity for it because there’s so much historical study involved ---it kinda University studies. There’s so much weight behind jazz. When we improvise, we communicate, we comment on everything. E.g. microphone stops working, we comment on that, it’s spontaneous. For that reason we can be playful and entertaining AND educational and informative at the same time.
So do you see this hip-hop jazz blend is something that will be developed by others in the future?
Yes. Definitely. There are already musicians like Roy Hargrove who have already done it before. We need to force it into the mainstream without compromising the integrity and the ideas.
Check out Soweto's latest album 'Converstations with the Unseen' on Dune Records