Black Classical Music

Black Classical Music

For drummer Yussef Dayes, music is a family affair. Getting his first taste of performance as a teen by playing with his older brothers in the jazz group United Vibrations, Dayes has gone on to build a formidable family of collaborators. From working with pianist Kamaal Williams as Yussef Kamaal and kick-starting a new London jazz scene with the release of 2016’s Black Focus to duetting with guitarist Tom Misch on 2020’s What Kinda Music, Dayes channels an intuitive connection when it comes to his energetic, improvised music. Now releasing his debut solo album, Black Classical Music, Dayes places family front and center. “I became a father in 2020 and it led me to reflect on the amazing influence of my own parents,” he tells Apple Music. “My mum passed away in 2015 and this album is guided by her healing spirit. It’s my tribute to all those I love, in music and beyond.” The result is a creatively boundless 19 tracks, traversing epic jazz harmonies on the title track, Bahian beats on “Chasing the Drum,” head-nodding hip-hop on “Presidential,” and orchestral expansions on “Tioga Pass,” all anchored in the foundation of Dayes’ innate groove. “Genres are restrictive when it comes to what I play,” he says. “I’m just chasing the rhythm, tapping into the Black classical music.” Read on for his in-depth thoughts on the album, track by track. “Black Classical Music” (feat. Venna & Charlie Stacey) “We wanted to kick off the album with a jazz epic, something to reference the lineage of improvised music I’ve grown up on. It features my live band with Charlie Stacey on keys and Venna on saxophone, and it’s the tune we always open our shows with. It never fails to get everyone dancing, which is exactly what jazz has always done.” “Afro Cubanism” “In 2019, I took a trip to Havana and worked with some great musicians to learn the technicalities of Cuban rhythms and the clave groove. We came up with this tune on the spot in the studio, jamming after ‘Black Classical Music.’ It instantly took me back to my time in Cuba. Plus, it’s ‘Afro’ since I have a huge one on the album cover!” “Raisins Under the Sun” (feat. Shabaka Hutchings) “I’ve known Shabaka since I was a kid. He lived in my area and I always remembered seeing him as this super-tall guy getting on the train with his instrument cases. I later started playing with him and was on the drums for some of his Sons of Kemet shows. He is one of a kind, a person full of wisdom and artistry, and I knew I had to have him on the record. He’s on bass clarinet for this tune, which takes its name from the Sidney Poitier film, and is simply perfect.” “Rust” (feat. Tom Misch) “Ever since me and Tom started playing together in 2018, it’s always been a vibe. We’re both independent artists who keep our playing free and we’ve never been in the studio and not had a wicked idea. He takes me out of my comfort zone and provides a great fusion between styles. It only felt right to continue our collaboration on this album.” “Turquoise Galaxy” “We invested in a Moog One synth for the album and created a new patch for this track that I played a shuffle beat to. For some reason, that combination took me to another place, to the summer and the sky and the color of turquoise, which was my mum’s favorite and is still all over my family house.” “The Light” (feat. Bahia Dayes) “This track was first recorded in 2019. I used to play it to my daughter Bahia as a lullaby while she was a newborn. When it came to making the album, I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and got inspired by how he uses his daughter’s voice in his tracks. I decided to do the same thing for Bahia’s favorite tune, so you hear her throughout this.” “Pon di Plaza” (feat. Chronixx) “My dad’s Jamaican and, recently, I’ve wanted to tap into my Caribbean heritage more. I’ve known and loved [Jamaican reggae star] Chronixx’s music for ages and this ended up being a beautiful Jamaican collaboration after we got in touch during lockdown. He sent over the vocals and arrangements and it was so fun to put together and produce. I’m really pleased we managed to make it happen.” “Magnolia Symphony” “I recently took a trip to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, and was so struck by the music on every street corner there, as well as the gorgeous magnolia trees that are all over the city. This track became an ode to that beauty, chopped from an outtake the Chineke! Orchestra played when they were in to record the track ‘Tioga Pass.’” “Early Dayes” “This is a little family skit, taken from a VHS my dad filmed when I was a kid and you can hear me in the background playing the drums. It’s a link back to those childhood days of being free, as well as an appreciation for my parents—you have to have patience when there’s a drummer in the family!” “Chasing the Drum” “I’m always chasing rhythms and trying to find different drums native to each place I’m traveling to. This track is dedicated to the rhythms I picked up in Salvador in Brazil. It’s an ode to my time there and my interpretation of the way those incredible people express themselves through their drums.” “Birds of Paradise” “‘Birds of Paradise’ is one of the first sessions I laid down at [one of the album’s co-producers] Malcom Catto’s studio back in 2021, with my core band of Rocco Palladino on bass, Charlie Stacey on keys, and Venna on sax. It’s a lover’s song that reminds me of the beauty of nature and how we need to take care to protect it.” “Gelato” “I love listening to funky house and dance music, and ‘Gelato’ is inspired by that vibe, creating a little dance riddim in the album to get the people moving. It’s a tune for driving along to, named after a nice strain of one of my favorite herbal remedies.” “Marching Band” (feat. Masego) “I met [Jamaican American singer-songwriter] Masego in 2022 and we really got along, he’s such good vibes. He invited me over to his house to record and we had a conversation about my love of Brazil and how he was starting to learn Portuguese. Once he got in the booth, he freestyled what we were speaking about in one take, on the spot. It was amazing to watch and be a part of.” “Crystal Palace Park” (feat. Elijah Fox) “[Pianist/producer/songwriter] Elijah joined the live band in summer 2022 and we soon started working together in the studio. This is his interlude and space for him to shine. He’s from North Carolina, where John Coltrane and Nina Simone are from, and he channels this contagious, positive energy that really comes through when he plays.” “Presidential” (feat. Jahaan Sweet) “Jahaan Sweet is an incredible producer from the US who I worked with when we were in a session for Kehlani. This is a tune we came up with then that showcases my love of rap music. Listening to it makes you feel presidential, it gives you such confidence, and it has perfect space in it for a vocal feature, which hopefully could come through in the future.” “Jukebox” “I grew up listening to records played on an old 7-inch vinyl jukebox my dad has. Over the lockdowns, my brother repaired it and this track is dedicated to the sounds and feeling of those records being loaded and played. It’s also a collaboration with my good friend, the producer and guitarist Miles James, as it references his love of West-Coast G-funk and ’80s drum machines. It was my chance to bruk out with him on his flex.” “Woman’s Touch” (feat. Jamilah Barry) “[UK singer-songwriter] Jamilah joined us on our 2021 UK tour, and she has such incredible talent. I wanted to give her a moment to shine on the record. ‘Woman’s Touch’ has a great Sade feel to it and spotlights Jamilah’s beautiful voice. It’s amazing to be able to curate a record like this and to collaborate with so many great artists I know and love.” “Tioga Pass” (feat. Rocco Palladino) “The bass and drums combination is super important, from Sly & Robbie to The Wailers and The Headhunters, it’s the foundation. Rocco and I had the same upbringing in music and we essentially have a telepathic connection when we play—he knows exactly what I’m going to do. This track is his moment to play beautiful lines and it reminded me of the epic nature of Yosemite, which is the last family holiday I took with my mum in 2014. It also features the incredible Chineke! Orchestra, who are a blessing to have on the album.” “Cowrie Charms” (feat. Leon Thomas and Barbara Hicks) “I wanted to end on a note of healing and peace, so this track features a recording of one of my mum’s yoga classes, where she’s guiding us in a shavasana. It was always my favorite part of her practice, as you can just lay down and relax. The track also features the amazing vocalist Leon Thomas, who I linked up with in 2022. It’s really special to be able to collaborate with my mum in this way and it also channels the good energy of the cowrie-shell necklace that I got given in Senegal and that features in the artwork.”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada