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“It’s just amazing for such a legendary musician to be so open-minded and happy to work with young up-and-coming artists” – Nubiyan Twist on their new album and collaboration with Nile Rodgers

The genre-hopping group Nubiyan Twist are in the middle of their tour for their new album, Find Your Flame. The band, brought together by Sheffield-based artist Tom Excell, have enlisted a variety of musicians to take part in their new project including the iconic Nile Rodgers. Exposed’s Amy Britton sat down with Tom to discuss their dynamic live shows, a multitude of musical influences and how the band tackles writing music with so many members. 

How did Nubiyan Twist come together?
The band was set up by myself in Leeds College of Music when I was studying production there and it started out as more of a soundsystem-type project, inspired by the subdub nights, but with vocals and instruments.

Then, Finn Booth, our drummer, who’s one of my oldest friends, was moving up to Leeds as well. So, I was holding out for him to turn it into a fully blown live project, as opposed to just a DJ and instruments. Once he was about, it just quickly turned into a 12-piece band, which was never the plan. We weren’t thinking of turning it into an actual career and now, 15 years down the line, here we are, still going.

Nubiyan Twist

Tom pictured with the group’s vocalist, Aziza Jaye (image: Barbora Cetlova)

What music do you guys take inspiration from?
Quite a range of stuff really! I grew up listening to my dad’s record collection, which had everything from dub reggae to jazz, trip-hop, jungle, techno and folk music from around the world. Also, my mum plays instruments and sings, so she was keen to get me playing an instrument. I think as somebody who was brought up to love music from across the world, you start hearing everything as music.

I think the same answer is probably true for the eight other musicians in the project. When you start to add up all of those different influences, it becomes massive, which is why it’s sometimes quite a confusing project to listen to! People used to be a bit scared of it and not know how to define it, which seems to be what people often want to do.

The tour bus is quite a big part of us sharing tunes. We rotate who has the Bluetooth on the stereo. So, we are always sharing each other’s music of the moment and I think that influences a bit of the collective sound.

You guys have recently released a live performance for your single, ‘Lights Out’, which was filmed at the iconic Sheffield venue The Leadmill. Why did you decide to film it there?
The short answer is that I live in Sheffield and so does our singer, Aziza Jaye. We’re both parents so our lives have an extra layer of joy and complication that requires other people to come up here sometimes.

Nubiyan Twist

“We weren’t thinking of turning it into an actual career and now, 15 years down the line, here we are, still going.” (image: Laura Page)

The longer answer is that we were formed in Yorkshire. Half the band are up north and half are down south. The Leadmill is a great space to join the dots and tell the story of the band.. Sheffield’s tour date is going to be at The Leadmill. It all just kind of fell into place.

The track features none other than Nile Rodgers. What was it like working with such a huge name in the industry?
It’s still quite hard to believe it actually happened even when people say it. We had the honour of supporting his show in Leeds Millennium Square and that was the catalyst for starting up the collaboration. He heard that tune whilst we were playing it and expressed interest in it. We just did some back and forth online, such as things are these days. In an ideal world, one day, we will get to jam in a studio together.

It’s still just amazing for such a legendary musician to be so open-minded and happy to work with young up-and-coming artists, which I think shows that he’s really in it for the music rather than just trying to make some money. I mean, he’s done extremely well at both!

Being such a big group, is the songwriting process a bit chaotic at times?
We did try to compose all together in the room a few times and it was quite fun to jam, but it’s difficult to make decisions with loads of people. I think what people are imagining is that it must be chaos. How does it turn into something so detailed and put together?

Nubiyan Twist

“So we’re always kind of half in the lab, brewing up the next record and half out there playing it to people.” (Image: Dom Bowman)

My background as a producer is my approach to composing: demoing something in the studio, half playing the instruments, half fixing it in the computer and getting something that resembles a piece of music to then take to the band and say let’s develop this.

Nick Richards, who also writes a lot of the music, his approach is sometimes scoring using the traditional way to write arrangements for horns, and he’s an amazing songwriter as well. Jonathan Enser is a big part of the writing team and our trumpet player. He also enjoys the studio as a composing tool being a multi-instrumentalist and just layering up the ideas.

Our vocalist, Aziza Jaye, lives five minutes down the road from me and is also a producer. We’ve been in close proximity for this album and those late-night studio sessions where we’re not thinking too much, just having fun, adding bits here and there and then all of a sudden, subconsciously I know all the components it needs to have to work as a Nubiyan Twist track. I think that’s always bubbling away. We try not to go in with a prescribed plan of we need to write this style of song about this. It’s whatever’s in our subconscious at that time that wants to come out.

How does the new album, Find Your Flame, differ from your previous release?
It’s our first album featuring Aziza Jaye on vocals, and she’s brought an exciting dimension to the project. As I said, the roots of the band were inspired by soundsystem culture originally and it’s nice to come back to that and approach it from some different angles.

Nubiyan Twist

“For the foreseeable future, it’s going to be getting the music out on the road and sharing it with audiences across Europe and the UK.” (Image: Laura Page)

It’s similar in a lot of ways in covering certain pillars of musical traditions like the African tradition is definitely something that’s been on every record. There’s a feature with K.O.G. We almost always have them on at least a tune since he’s an old friend of the band. Seun Kuti as well as Mamani Keïta feature. So, there are three tracks that have that very strong African identity.

There’s always jazz as another pillar of our sound in terms of the harmonies and the improvisation. The other is the modern electronic sounds. It still has those three pillars that we have on every album.

What can we expect from Nubiyan Twist in the near future?
We’re bringing out a Find Your Flame hot sauce on this tour! It’s a collaboration with Dutch Pot International, a Sheffield-based caterer. Post-album, we are working on a deluxe edition with a few extra tracks with some very special guests that I can’t disclose at the moment!

For the foreseeable future, it’s going to be getting the music out on the road and sharing it with audiences across Europe and the UK. There’s always some kind of composing and writing going on in the tour bus, whilst we’re away. So we’re always kind of half in the lab, brewing up the next record and half out there playing it to people.

Nubiyan Twist’s new album, Find Your Flame, is out now, and the band will perform live at The Leadmill on 7 June.

@nubiyantwist




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