Musician Moses Boyd aims to fuse musical genres in his radical take on jazz

  • NQ reporter Elena Richards Coldicutt speaks to new jazz pioneer Moses Boyd

How would you describe your music?

An extension of black music, the diaspora. Influenced by the West Indies, parts of Africa, west Africa in particular and north America. Jazz, soca, reggae, calypso, via the UK sound system scene. Cohorts such as drum and bass, jungle, Afrobeat, highlife and a lot of spiritual drumming like giwayan mata. My sound is rooted in that music from the diaspora and various cultures I’m kind of connected to, and communities I guess I’m part of from being in London.

What and or who got you into Jazz?

I got into jazz via my very first drum teacher at the age of about 14, Bobby Dodsworth. He was a jazz drummer and got me onto people like Max Rodge and Bonny Rich, legendary jazz drummers. From there I started doing my own research, checking out things online, buying my own CDS, just following the family tree. If I listen to an artist, I’d look into who else they played with, which led me to Miles Davis. I then looked at what drummers Miles Davis played with and so on and so forth.

My parents are big music fans, but they don’t own a big jazz collection. I absorbed it all at secondary school and then fortunately had some great teachers in both music and music tech A Level who put me onto a lot more jazz that I wasn’t aware of, like fusion.

So, would you define yourself as a ‘jazz artist’?

Yes and no, I can definitely play jazz and I’ve been influenced by jazz. I owe a huge debt to that music, tradition and community, but maybe it not as simple as that. I’ve played a lot of other stuff, different types of music, different styles, genres and communities. So, it’s not solely one or the other. So yes, I would define myself as a jazz artist. If you look at Coletrane, not comparing myself but we’ve gone through very similar paths. There is a certain path you undertake when you play jazz and you got to learn it right.

I’ve gone through that experience but at the same time I don’t share commonalities with jazz musicians from the US, being from a west Indian background playing a lot of west Indian music as well as UK music sound system, which is a very different thing. It’s complicated.

Do you feel the genre is changing with the generations?

Yeah of course, by the nature of jazz it’s a tricky one. Even the earliest examples, you’ve got musicians from New Orleans playing instruments that were left over from the civil war. From slave descendants from all over the diaspora, from Africa, from South America, all over, that were put in one place – fusing their knowledge, their culture, their rhythm, their sounds, melodies on instruments they didn’t know, that weren’t indigenous to them.

So even at its birth, at its earliest, it’s always been a style that’s had to change and develop with what goes on around them. I think today is no different, whether it’s me, whether its Steam Down whether its Shabaka Hutchings, Yousef Kamaal, Alfa Mist. These are just artists that are being honest with what available tools they have, by utilising them to the best degree. It’s definitely changing and will always. If it ceases to, something’s wrong in my opinion.

Who are your idols and influencers, and why?

Anyone who dared to be different. OutKast, Andre 3000, Bjork, Madlib, SQUAREPUSHER, Max Roach, Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix. The list is endless. Anyone that was trying to better themselves and do something they hadn’t done before. You can kinda see that in all the artists I mention. It’s a constant journey of them evolving as people, artists, creators, creatives and those are the people I really look up to because I like to push myself, do stuff that is different, get out of my comfort zone.

Every time I do a project or am putting a collection of work together, I draw inspiration from all sorts of people. Their art is just incredible. This is art I lived alongside for a long time, and they’ve played a part in my listening experience.

Why have you taken this approach to social media, such as WhatsApp?

I was first inspired by Ryan Lesley, who has a similar thing, it’s called a ‘superphone’. It’s essentially the same principle, where he can reach fans directly via his app. I’ve always kinda liked that idea and have just worked out a way to do it in a simpler and more efficient way for me. As long as I’ve got Wi-Fi, a signal, and WhatsApp, then we can communicate.

But the bigger picture really is that I’m not a huge fan of social media, I’m on it because to a degree you kind of have to be as an artist, but I’m weaning myself off it. I don’t like the idea that you build following for these platforms, for these tech companies and ultimately, they’re in control. You know, I’ve got 12,000 followers on Insta, 10,000 on Facebook, I’m not sure what it is on Twitter. On Spotify I’ve got over 250,000 listeners a month? But what does that actually say? I want to reach the people who are really listening. If I was to put a post out now on Instagram, without any marketing spend or anything behind it, only 10% of my audience may see it over maybe a week period and only 1%-2% will interact with it, that’s just the way the algorithm works. Unless you start trying to jump through hoops, things I’m not trying to do, I’m not a puppet.

So for me it was like, I’d rather build a more genuine connection over time. Even if I only get a 1,000 people on my hotline, I want 1,000 of them to be genuine, people that genuinely want to know when I’ve got something going on whether it’s a gig, tour, new album. I don’t want a middle person in-between to try and block that communication which is why you won’t get a lot of spam from me.

But whenever I do have something that’s important that I want to share, you’ll get a WhatsApp message or maybe a text now and then. I sent out a text this weekend about my new tour and it’s got an 86% delivery rate meaning 86% will get it and will open it. Every other platform isn’t the same, unless you pay.

I wanted to go more underground, cultivate my own following, own my own audience, I don’t mean that in a controlling sense, just data is seen as the new oil. We’re building these platforms and databases for tech companies to sell off information and data to other tech companies and governments and make money out of it. I’m a musician ultimately, I either sell music, a concert or merch.

For those that are interested I want to know who you are, where you’re from, and how can I contact and hit you directly. And that’s where the hotline was born. It takes a while for people to get it and I explain it a lot, but it’s been quite interesting and very illuminating and real cool just to meet and talk to people that I know are listening. They can ask me a question, anything.

 I’ve met all sorts of interesting people on here. That’s why I did it. As much as social media is a great tool, it’s not the be all and end all. I grew up in a time when music was kind of distributed before this, it’s not foreign to me. I want to get to a point where I could have releases out and you don’t have to see me on social media to know it’s out. I could throw a party, or a gig and you don’t have to see it because the way the algorithm works now, you may not see it until a week later. If it’s something that’s very time sensitive you’ve already missed out. I just wanted a bit more control over the message I was sending to people who genuinely want to listen to and support my music.

What’s your greatest achievement as an artist?

I’m not one to accolade and I’m not materialistic in that respect. I may sound like someone speaking from a sort of privilege because I’m sitting here staring at my two MOBO awards on my shelf, and those are definitely nice. It’s nice to be acknowledged. But I definitely value, when people hit me up on WhatsApp like “Yo, your music really inspired me to do something” or “My daughter is now playing drums because I played her Rye Lane Shuffle”. I get that, and its definitely more of an achievement to me than any award.

These things are nice to show off and for my Mum to see. To me music goes beyond me just making it in my room or in a studio, and it starts touching people across the world and being a force for good in a positive way, where people’s lives are changing, or their day has changed, or I’ve inspired somebody to do something they wouldn’t have done before. That to me is a real achievement. The beats I made in my room are having a butterfly effect across the world. That’s powerful.

And as a collaboration?

On paper, me working with DJ Lang and that becoming Disney’s The Lion King soundtrack featuring Beyoncé, which is now nominated for a Grammy. As much as I love that there’s other collaborations that I’m even more proud of like my work with Leslie Odom Jr or Zara Mcpharlen’s Arise album. I’m fortunate to work with a lot of great artists. It’s a blessing.

Moses Boyd plays Band on the Wall in Manchester on 6 March.

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