This week’s ‘First Look Friday’ subject Nubya Garcia is a jazz creative with the style to make you contemplate and the grooves to get you moving.
I first came across Nubya Garcia last year when NPR was bigging up her contribution to We Out Here compilation project, which came out via Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings label. Around that same time, she was building out her own dreamy exploration into sound with her debut, Nubya’s 5ive, which, if it’s not in your rotation please don’t sleep.
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The tenor saxophonist has been on a lot of people’s radar thanks to her sultry, smooth, around-the-way cool. A former club DJ, Nubya balances the surging intensity and the virtuosic ease her playing presents to listeners. Born in the Camden district of northwest London to Caribbean parents, Nubya Garcia has filled speakers around the country with the sounds of a sonic soulbird. I have yet to see Nubya live and in living color, but if you have been able to see the standout talent on stage then I am envious of you witnessing her laid-back cool.
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With that said, we chop it up with one of the leading voices of jazz’s renaissance in London, Nubya Garcia, about her love for Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, what she’s learned about herself and her artistry, and premiere her “Source” live performance at Church of Sound for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact. What is it that those in music game are seeing and hearing that the rest of the world has yet to discover?
Nubya Garcia: Big question. I guess that I’m out here doing my thing, y’know? I am excited to reach more places around the world to bring the live and direct energy to them for real.
OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they honed their skills and practiced their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?
NG: I’d say some of my most cherished influences are definitely John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Heavily. Their sheer passion throughout the music they have written and throughout their [collective] playing, I would have to say their work ethic and their lives are something I find inspiring. When I was younger and just getting into jazz I read that Coltrane used to practice 15 hours a day. I had read that for a couple of musicians as well. It absolutely blew my mind.
OKP: Can you talk about how your life was while developing as an artist? How did you react to your first bits of press?
NG: I think the fact people want to write about what’s going on within my musical sphere and also my friends is really great. I very much appreciate people wanting to find out more about us, about what has inspired us, and our journeys so far.
OKP: With incidents involving people of color, police and racist occurring almost on a daily basis around the globe — how can your music help to relieve the trauma that is being experienced by the masses?
NG: I’ve had people sending me really encouraging emails of how my music has affected them. Either they were listening on record or in person live, and it is truly amazing. I haven’t set out to purposefully relieve anyone of anything but the fact that what I write and play moves people, allowing them either an escape, relief, or hope. Any emotions that can alleviate the stresses and traumas that some people face in their lives is absolutely beautiful.
OKP: What have been the most definitive obstacles that you’ve overcome in your career thus far?
NG: Obstacles wise… I’m not sure. I have had a really strong unit around me with my family and friends, so that has helped [me] definitely. Maybe self-confidence when I was younger? I was a fairly quiet kid. Also, jam sessions used to terrify me, so I guess getting over that fear and feeling comfortable was really important for me.
OKP: Can you also talk about the importance of the music industry scene as how you’ve experienced it? How do you see it evolving in the next five years?
NG: Difficult to predict to be honest. All I know is that I think it is amazing people are showing up to live gigs and they’re buying merchandise and records. I hope the support continues.
OKP: What are some things that you’ve learned about yourself that comes out in your music?
NG: Good question! I think I have learned that I have a voice. Also that I need to music to make me move, dance, and give life. It connects us in the room and further!
OKP: What were some moments from your recent travels that will forever stick with you? Why?
NG: Definitely my trip to Brazil with Jazz re:freshed x British Underground. That was probably the most inspiring two weeks of my life! [It was the] first time experiencing [at] first-hand, Brazilian culture: dance, music, art! The gigs out there were incredible—great audiences! I got to sit in on a bloco rehearsal on xequere and that was a deep rhythmic lesson. Also, the New York Winter Jazz concert this year. Playing in New York has always been a dream [and I] fully still can’t believe it happened and that audience—wow—amazing energy and love.
OKP: What was the first song that you ever wrote entitled? Can you talk about what it has come to symbolize since you’ve entered into the professional life?
NG: I think the first song I wrote and played with a band was called “Open Your Eyes”. It was a while back and I was doing a project for the Brainchild Festival Launch, which was basically writing some tunes to go with short videos. The video for this tune was about an older man who struggles to adapt to his recent blindness. For his 70th birthday, his daughter plans a surprise journey to all the places that marked his childhood—essentially this video is about regaining the hope and joy for [the] life he once knew. I named the song after this video, this story.
OKP: How can your music speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond?
NG:I think and feel that my music is real and full of truthful energy. To me, truthful energy and realness are timeless. I always come back to search for those albums, artists, and tracks that make me feel that. So, who knows, hopefully people feel that too [with my music].
OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you want to work with this year going into the next and why?
NG: It’s been on my mind for awhile, but I’d love to work with Georgia Anne Muldrow. She’s such a strong and unbelievably talented force! Nai Palm, Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Bilal, Erykah Badu, Miguel Atwood Fergusson, and Ambrose Akinmusire.
I have a huge list. They’re such brilliant and honest artists that I respect so much, collaboration is such a great opportunity to explore new things to you and others.
OKP: What is the overall message that Nubya Garcia is trying to present in her music?
NG: Be present. Be creative. Be honest. Be all that you can be. Go in. I give all my energy to my music, my playing, my gigs, and I love that.
OKP: How do you get over any anxiety before hitting the stage to perform live? What are some lessons or tips that you’ve learned from others about doing a stage show?
NG: I used to get super, super nervous before gigs… but I think doing them more and more just gets you used to crowds and performing. I try to remember to enter each room the same—big or small—and give as much energy and intent to what we’re about to do. I’m human—I make mistakes—and I get nervous. I’ll always be surprised by how there is always more room to give and go in that performance—especially after a crazy long travel with no sleep. The adrenaline and the energy from the crowd will never fail to surprise me.
OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with Nubya Garcia — what would it be?
NG: I really love what I do. I feel so lucky to get to write and play music with friends I’ve grown up with as well as new creatives! I’m forever thankful for all the messages of support and everyone who comes to my gigs around the world. Thank you so much. To everyone who’s bought one of records, thank you again! It’s really hard for me to put into words, but honestly, the love and support mean so much.
is the managing editor of Okayplayer. His top three MCs are: 1) Andre 3000, 2) Scarface, and 3) Black Thought. Debate him on Twitter @KevitoClark.