An interview with Nubiyan Twist

In a young and exciting London jazz scene where convention is brushed aside and creativity sets the tone, Nubiyan Twist are raising the bar. If you cop tickets to their live shows you’ll see them raising the roof. They are the 10 piece outfit from London who came together amidst the formative climate of Leeds College of Music. Taking the lead is Nubiya Brandon, potent on the vocals and effortlessly cool, who fronts a band built on versatility. Soul, Hiphop, Afrobeat, Dub, Reggae, Ska, Electronic, take your pick. They use a captivating blend of genres supplemented by Nubiya’s ability to drift between soulful to gritty – from singing to rap to spoken word. We had the pleasure of catching Nubiya and tenor saxophonist Dennis Scully for a chat and a chuckle before their set at Love Supreme Festival this summer. The band’s origins and influences, a hairdo, a studio made out of a barn, Flowdan, and the powerful message behind their upcoming track ‘Permission’ are all on the agenda. Check it below and have a look at our highlights video for a taste of what’s in store!


In conversation with Nubiya and Dennis:

We’re very excited to see you guys play, what does it mean to be here at Love Supreme?

D: It’s one that’s been on top of our list for a while. Every January when your booking agent comes in with your list of festivals, Love Supreme in the UK is top of our list. I know it’s been on the go for five years but every year you look at that lineup and you’re wetting yourself at it, it’s ridiculous.

N: It’s like being invited to the posh girl from school’s birthday party for the first time, I’m accepted!!!

We know Leeds College of Music was an initial birthplace for the Nubiyan Twist. Tell us a bit more about how the band came about..

N: We were on different courses but we all hung out, went out, partyed… you know. It wasn’t until we were all at the end of our course that we were like ‘let’s get together and have this jam’ ( I didn’t take it very seriously! ) and then it happened from there really. We originally didn’t have a name so we called ourselves the Ten Trick Pony – like ‘one trick pony’ but there were ten of us – but I didn’t get that until three years later cos I thought Tom was saying ‘tantric’ like as in one word…

That’s amazing, why did you not stick with that name?

N: It was our friend from Leeds who was listening to a Lauryn Hill track where’s she’s talking about a hairstyle, the Nubiyan Twist, and as Nubiya is my name he was like ‘Stop the car!!’ and called us on his phone and said, ‘I’ve got the name!, I’ve got the name!’ *thick Leeds accent*

So the name grew out of a hairstyle?

N: Yehhh!

A question you get quite a lot I imagine… How did such an eclectic sound come to fruition? 

D: Tom Excell, he’s the MD, and Nubiya were writing a lot of stuff for the first album together and a lot of it grew out of Tom’s uni projects at the time. There’s ten of us in this band with ten people who are influenced by absolutely feckin’ everything. You’ve got some of us who study jazz, some of us who produce jungle, dubstep, whatever the feck it is! You’ve got every genre covered and everyone has their own obsessions, you know what I mean.. I love jazz, you might have another one who might be obsessed with jungle or hiphop. Everyone has their own little obsessions but everyone’s open to all the other genres. 

It’s about finding a balance so you’re not just jumping genres every tune but having some cohesiveness to it. Let’s blend it altogether because their might be some that are more hiphop or more afrobeat but they’re still going to have the dub elements in it and still going to have the African elements in it whether it be the rhythms or percussion, whether it’s jazz harmony involved or something else. So it’s about finding a balance between all those influences and keeping it cohesive.

N: I can’t say it any better than that!

Tell us a bit about Henwood Studios as we think it’s awesome. Can you fill us in a little bit about what it’s like to have a studio made of hay bales?

N: We’ve not got our boy Joe here to big up his hard work. Me and Joe were the babies of the group. We were doing diplomas while everybody was doing their degrees. Basically we left [LCM] and and Joe inherited this money from somebody he was really close to and he just thought: ‘I really wanna make something of this’. And, you know, Joe has never mixed a song in his life, he’s never used analog equipment, any of that palava, yet he built a studio out of a barn which was incredible. I couldn’t believe it!

It’s great, we have this home that we go back to and everything’s recorded and it’s got the best of both digital and analog equipment and every time something new comes in and, you know, we’ve just been riiinsing the Rhodes and Hammond and we’ve got all our little booths and we’ve done so many live recordings in there. We’ve slept in there for at least half the year. 

Basically he’s sound-proofed it with hay bales and its underneath all this like weird cementy-mud stuff and then there’s painted pillars everywhere and he’s had different artists come and paint all of the walls.

D: It would probably be fair to say that without the studio Nubiyan Twist wouldn’t be around right now. It’s such a tough operation to try and keep this band funded. It really is a consistent struggle and to have Joe helping us out is unbelievable. Even with this new album, we’re trying to raise money and we’ve got some money off PRS, we’re gonna be launching a kickstarter in a month, and even still we have to use Henwood to its full availability because if that wasn’t there we just wouldn’t be able to afford some of the studio time that we get, we wouldn’t be able to afford the time that we get writing there, the time that Tom [Excell] can go and spend mixing there. So all credit to Joe, regardless of his playing and the input he puts into the music, what he’s done with that separate project is intrinsic to everything that we’re creating at the minute. Props for the question Joe will be chuffed if he hears it.

Big up Joe! I wanted to talk a little bit about ‘Work House’ [Nubiyan Twist LP 2015] and  ‘Work House Mode’ [Siren Song LP 2016]. I don’t know how you guys feel about this but we see ‘Work House Mode’ as a softer jazzier spin of ‘Work House’, maybe like a chilled out cousin of the original. Was it the product of an inspired jam at Henwood Studios? 

N: For our keys player Oliver Cadman it [Work House Mode] was like one of his big intros into being one of the most important people during the writing session. He switched that around and there are so many songs that he’s written the skeleton to from that. It was like Ollie’s take on all of that and I think it was the first time I’ve ever had to sing something so calm with you lot *looking at Dennis*. It was great and nice because we could hear so clearly the original which has been our anthem as a band for quite a while really. So yeah it was Ollie basically!

We saw for your interview with Missguided that you named ‘Skeng’ by The Bug featuring Flowdan and Killer P as one of your guilty pleasures Nubiya. Could you tell us why as we love that track…

N: It’s not really a guilty pleasure. I love things like jazz and motown and all that kind of stuff. That’s very dramatic music, you know, where you’re very much the heroine or the hero like very classic, primitive roles within film and theatre and music. So then when I’m listening to stuff like ‘Skeng’… more of my friends in London are more into underground music and I like characters that pop out of London that are really real. I’m not really a grime connoisseur but I’ve got a lot of friends that are grime artists and it’s like the blues of London, you know, these lads coming from inner-city London talking about all of the troubles they have within their area. And when I heard Flowdan, even though it’s crude, it’s violent, I love the rawness of it and I think some MCs forget about the tone in their voice and how they carry it but Flowdan has got this voice which is so deep and wicked so I’m forever a fan!

You guys name Nat King Cole as a legendary inspiration. Have you got any more contemporary inspirations you’d like to tell us about?

N: There are loads of artists that I’ve been listening to at the minute. Ashley Henry who’s great keys platyer and I had the pleasure of meeting at the Jazz FM awards..

D: Some of the stuff that is happening in London at the minute is unbelievable. Ezra Collective for example are unreal and then Yussef Dayes is on straight after us so we’re gonna be packing down as quickly as we feckin’ can so we can catch that hour cos that stuff is phenomenal. So there’s a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t expect to be that close to home, you know normally you quote an influence from America and yes they’re all there but it’s amazing to see the amount coming from the UK. We’re going to gigs in London now and I’m truly inspired so it’s brilliant to see.

N: One more as well is Nubya Garcia. We know each other and without fail someone always comes up to me and is like ‘I really like how you play the saxophone!’ and I’m like ‘Yeh it’s not really me though is it…’ and she said she’s had someone say to her a couple of times ‘Great singing!’ and she’s like ‘Yeh but no though…’. Haha they always get confused with our name but her work’s been phenomenal, really great. 

Some amazing artists and great to touch on the real sense of energy in the UK jazz scene at the moment. On that note, we had Ashley Henry in who gave us a great interview as well, what an artist!

Last question for you guys… what track are you going to finish your set with today and why?

D: It’s a new tune called ‘Permission’ which we’re still currently tracking. Nubiya will tell you more about the lyrics as she wrote them but there’s some very meaningful stuff going on in the lyrics and its probably one of our heavier electronic tunes at the minute so it’s a good one to finish on.

N: So we’ve got an album in the works at the minute and it’s going to be a really important anthology to what we are as a group. There are a lot of things that have been premeditating lyrically and obviously we’ve changed so much in how we write things melodically but this song was the starting point of all of that. I named it ‘Permission’ because I felt like I’d been waiting for confirmation from someone to tell me that I was okay and that I was physically acceptable. One thing I noticed when living in London, I grew up experiencing a lot of racism and moving to a big city you notice that it’s very much an inverted thing. Women project it to themselves; girls want to change their hair, they want to contour their face, they want to do all of this stuff and I don’t think that a lot of brown women realise how beautiful they are. Just do you! It doesn’t matter if you put makeup on, just be you. And I feel like I’ve been told so many times that I was ugly and that I was so this and so that my whole life and I wanted to have something to give to our listeners that felt those same insecurities. So that they could feel some sense of home within this music. 

It’s really important for us. We’re gonna have a Kickstarter up for it as well. If we can get some help from everybody back home and from everybody’s who’s listening to it to really help us get this album off the ground then that would be amazing!!!

Thank you to Nubiya Brandon, Dennis Scully & Tom Excell.

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