Freedom Fables

Freedom Fables

“When you collaborate, you always end up stronger than the sum of your parts,” Tom Excell, musical director of Nubiyan Twist, tells Apple Music. Ahead of the release of Freedom Fables—the nine-strong collective’s third album—five years was spent honing themselves as a vehicle for collaborative expression. Having previously combined forces with Afrojazz luminaries such as Tony Allen and Mulatu Astatke, the London-based band have carved out a high-energy sound that meanders from the frenetic melodies of Ghanaian highlife to the funk-inflected jazz exemplified by Donald Byrd, and to a languorous west-coast hip-hop production style. Freedom Fables finds Nubiyan Twist at the height of these co-operative powers, enlisting the likes of highlife veteran Pat Thomas, saxophonist Soweto Kinch and singer Ego Ella May across its nine tracks. Largely written while on tour and incorporating the visceral response of live audience feedback, the resulting record charges through the high-register energy of tracks “Tittle Tattle” and “If I Know”, to the neo-soul introspection of numbers like “Flow” and “24-7”. It produces an engaging snapshot of the band’s varied influences, all grounded by their luscious instrumentation. “We’re celebrating each collaborator’s unique qualities and it builds a beautiful narrative,” Excell says. Read on for his thoughts on the album, track by track. Morning Light (feat. Rita Moran) “We’ve known Rita since we all studied at the Leeds College of Music over a decade ago. We played in a few college bands and then went our separate ways, until about two or three years ago when she got in touch and asked if I wanted to help produce her solo EP. I was really excited by the stuff she sent me and we clicked so much with our vision of the arrangements that it was a natural progression to invite her to do something with Nubiyan Twist. We found the idea for this track from a phone recording of a jam at a sound check and it all just fell into place once we put Rita on it.” Tittle Tattle (feat. CHERISE) “Cherise was touring with us last year and we wrote a lot of the new songs on the road, testing them out on audiences. This is a really energetic song, one of our big party tunes from the live show. It’s always interesting trying to get these kinds of songs on to a record because you never know how it will sound without the live audience interaction and how people will respond to that energy while sitting at home and listening, but we’re really pleased with it.” Ma Wonka (feat. Pat Thomas) “We’ve been on the same label as Pat since our last record [2019’s Jungle Run] and it’s an honor to have him featured as one of the last few legends of the original highlife scene. I had really wanted to write a highlife tune and this one came out of a jam session in the studio. By the time we were looking at working with Pat, he was in Accra and it was locked down. Luckily, Kwame from his band recorded him and he wrote an incredible song on top of our music. It has a really nice message of not letting people’s gossip affect you—if you let them talk and talk, they’ll just get tired and move on to something else eventually. Some words of wisdom from an elder!” Buckle Up (feat. Soweto Kinch) “We’ve been inspired by Soweto’s music since we were studying and it’s a huge honor to have such a foundational artist in UK jazz on the record. We were on the same line-up for a festival in Sheffield and he came up to us after our set and said he was just itching to jump on the mic, so we decided to try to make it happen. As soon as we started jamming this tune, I could hear him in my head, soloing and MCing over it. Luckily, he was really into the song and it’s fantastic to hear his flow—lyrically and on his saxophone—and his unique style of rhythm and content taking charge.” Keeper (feat. CHERISE) “This is one of the jaggier, more instrumental arrangements from our live set and it came about from the first time we jammed with CHERISE. It’s a really complex tune with a lot of jazz changes but she just sang this fantastic improvisation over the whole song. Once she started gigging with us more, we decided to get in the studio and develop it, but we kept that ethos of improvisation and expression. Her vocal on it is like a beautiful instrumental solo.” If I Know (feat. K.O.G.) “I’ve been working with K.O.G. for about seven years now. He had come over from Ghana to live in the UK and had gotten into the reggae scene. He didn’t realize how much of an African music scene there was here, especially in London, and we quickly got talking about our mutual love of traditional African music, which spurred us on to collaborate. He feels a bit like an honorary member of the band who’s featured on all of our records. This is definitely one of the hard-hitting party tracks of the album—very Afrobeat and highlife-inspired but also with a modern twist on the rap and electronics.” Flow (feat. CHERISE) “It’s funny trying to blend all of these different styles on the record. We can come across like a bit of a schizophrenic band but it’s really an honest representation of all the music that we love. We just try to bring everything in that’s inspired us and somehow link Afrobeat into neo-soul and R’n’B. This tune is softer, with CHERISE singing about letting go of stress, and specifically taking inspiration from her training to be a yoga teacher. It’s a real showcase of her vocal abilities, as she gets quite acrobatic in her melodies.” 24-7 (feat. Ego Ella May) “This track came about because I’d been producing on Ego Ella May’s album, which recently won a MOBO [2020’s Honey for Wounds]. We started writing this track and it didn’t make it onto her record but it had a real energy about it, one that I could imagine adding the Nubiyan Twist horn section to. We decided to meet up and it really came to life as soon as the band was playing over the top, especially Dennis Scully who delivered an absolutely burning tenor sax solo. The lyrical content is about going through a very difficult break-up and I definitely feel that over the last year of people being stuck in lockdown that the challenges of relationships are something we’ve all had to experience.” Wipe Away Tears (feat. Nick Richards) “This is a positive message to end the album on—the idea of wiping away the tears from all of the different struggles that the singers have been expressing in the record up to this point. It’s quite a long, meandering structure, but it really shows off Nick Richards’ melodic writing, who also sings on it. It’s a heavy, groove-based tune that felt like the perfect way to close things off.”

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