The Senegambian Jazz Band: ‘Every gig we see people losing themselves in our music’

The Senegambian Jazz Band must be one of the hardest working groups in Melbourne. Barely a week seems to pass without them being in a venue around the city, electrifying audiences with their high-energy blend of Afro-jazz, deep world music beats, and funk (not to mention their epic, three-day marathon album launch in three different clubs in August, which still remains one of the music highlights of the year). This week, they have a gig at the B.East, helping us bid farewell to 2017 in a proper manner. But if you miss them, dont worry; their next gig is just round the corner.

What is the Senegambian Jazz Band’s story so far?

The Senegambian Jazz Band was formed in 2015 by Amadou Suso (kora) and Boubacar Gaye (percussion), soon after Amadou arrived to live in Melbourne from The Gambia. It began simply by inviting different guests to join in at local cafe gigs in St Kilda and Footscray, experimenting and jamming. The line-up gradually grew through connections with musicians in Melbourne to a six-piece as The Senegambian Jazz Band. By this point, the band played weekly at Bar Oussou in Brunswick, aiming to bring high energy live shows to Sunday nights. The journey so far has been amazing; we’ve moved from playing in small bars in Melbourne on a weekly basis to getting offers for festivals like Bello Winter Music, Dark Mofo and Meredith. There have been a few line-up changes across the band’s two year existence; the current line-up have a strong connection both musically and personally, which has allowed for the music to develop organically through lots of improv during live gigs. TSJB has just released its debut album, and are becoming a regular feature at festivals around Australia.

What has been the highlight of this journey?

The highlight has always been the fans and their feedback. Every gig we see people losing themselves in our music.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?

Our biggest challenge, and another highlight, has been recording our debut album. With our live shows having such a strong focus on improv and responding to each other’s playing, it was difficult to refine that into 5-6 minute tracks that would be final. Our aim was to capture the feeling of a live show, and without an audience in the studio this was no easy task. We were helped a lot by the continued support of MAV, Creative Victoria and Myles Mumford from Rolling Stock Recording Rooms, whose combined experience and attention to detail took a lot of the burden off of our shoulders. This allowed us to relax and focus more on enjoying ourselves throughout the process, and having launched the record over three shows in a weekend, we feel like we’ve captured a large element of our musical journey thus far.

How would you describe your music to someone not familiar with it?

African Jazz Beats.

How do you see yourselves as part of Melbourne’s multicultural fabric?

Our members come from The Gambia, Senegal, Ethiopia, Ghana and Australia. Our musical influences are broad and culturally diverse.There are many African musicians in Australia who have paved the way for bands like ours. We look up to musicians such as Afro Moses, Randy Borquaye, King Bell and Passi Joe who are the true ambassadors of the African diaspora in Australia. We benefit from their expanding the Australian audiences musical experience and are able to build to another new and different level.

Who is your ideal listener?

It’s always fascinating to watch our audiences. Everyone from seasoned musicians to small children seem unable to resist the urge to move. All we hope for in an audience is openness and honesty, and so that a connection can be established through the music.

How ‘jazz’ is this project?

The style Jazz that we play has its origins in West Africa, so it’s not your traditional jazz. It draws on both traditional African music styles and western jazz.

What does jazz mean to you?

Jazz is often a nebulous term as its meaning is open to interpretation, and this suits our style. For us jazz is about a willingness to explore new possibilities with only a moment’s notice, whether it be inviting a guest on stage who has no idea what they’re getting themselves into, or intentionally playing something that goes against what would normally be done, say in a piece of music that has become well known. As a more broad ranging metaphor this can be used as an invitation to leave past mentalities behind that were potentially stifling, freeing us to move forward in life.

Who are your heroes?

Each member of the band has a different musical background, however one common hero of ours is Richard Bona. His music is impressive not only from a technical standpoint, but also in that it focuses a lot on telling a story. He has his own way of blending elements of jazz and funk with traditional African music, and this has been very influential for us.

If you could choose anyone to join the band on stage, who would that be?

Richard Bona; he has a huge influence on the entire band. We all admire his presence on the stage and how he connects with the audience as well as his unique sound.

Which song best describes your current state of mind?
From the new album, it would have to be the single Sarayela.

The meaning of Sarayela is that whatever you do, good or bad, you will be rewarded in kind. The band has worked really hard to bring our album to the fans and we’re being rewarded by their response. From the broader repertoire of the band it would have to be one of our new ones: Tamala, since its about a traveller; now that the album has been released we’re looking tour as much as we can.

The Senegambian Jazz Band will be playing at the B.East on Saturday 30 December, and then at New Year’s Evie in Tallarookbefore they come back to Melbourne to play at the Evelyn Hotel on Saturday 6 January.