Saturday, 15 December 2018

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Award-Winning Saxophonist Yolanda Brown

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Jazz saxophonist YolanDa Brown has had a stellar rise to fame in the past few years, becoming the first ever musician to win a MOBO award for "Best Jazz" in two consecutive years, and touring with the likes of Billy Ocean, The Temptations, Errol Brown and Diana Krall.

As well as releasing her second album, Love Politics War in 2017, she also embarked on a nationwide UK tour  (including Falkirk Town Hall in October) and has made numerous TV and radio appearances. If you haven't heard her name yet, then you sure will in 2018 – she is now billed as the premier female saxophonist in the UK. We caught up with YolanDa last year to find out more about the album, and to ask how she finds the time to juggle her busy career with family life.

YolanDa describes the sound of the new album as a mix of reggae, jazz, and soul. But Love Politics War isn't simply a soul track, followed by a jazz track, followed by a reggae tune. YolanDa has combined aspects of all three genres to create her own unique sound. "Combining the three together for me feels like the right place to sit: it's my home," she explains. "You have the upbeat reggae moments, there are some nice melodic jazz moments, and the soul, which is the heart of the music for me."

While writing tracks for the album, YolanDa took inspiration from the world around her. She says, "the album is a reflection of the world today, and where love fits in. In the past, I have tried to stay away from political stances, but this time I wanted to talk about the confusion that seems to be around right now...  it seems to me that what Marvin Gaye asked back in 1971 -What’s Going On? - it still stands. That was the inspiration behind this album.”

"Of course, politics and war are on everybody's lips at the moment with all of the political shakeups happening around the world, and with the War on Terror and that feeling of fear. When we studied war in school, it was in the historical sense of World Wars I and II, and asking hypothetically what it might have been like to live at that time. But now it's much more personal and I think that feeling is quite a new sensation for our generation. So the album is just trying to process all of those emotions as I was going through them while writing the music."

"I wanted to keep some positivity in the midst of everything that we're going through.  I think once you have that you start to see a prospective solution and also a feeling of hope which is equally as important to keep the world moving forward. The world needs love: the love we give to family and friends and of course the great charity efforts and work that people do around the world. So although the album reflects the current political state of the world, it carries the underlying message that love conquers all."

Love Politics War also features special guests Bill Laurance, (pianist from multiple Grammy winners Snarky Puppy); Floacist, from Grammy-winning UK group Floetry; Dame Evelyn Glennie (three-times Grammy-winning percussionist); and vocalists Phebe Edwards and Raheem Devaughn.

The album was released in June 2017, and since then, YolanDa has embarked on a UK tour, taking in venues across the country from Cornwall to Inverness, including a gig at Falkirk Town Hall on October 15th. She says: "Live for me never gets old, no two gigs are the same. Obviously, we have the set list and the album as a base for the music, but I find that the feeling of the room and the people that are there really creates an organic vibe that the band and I can work from. We improvise a lot of the music so it's based on what you feel at the time and what message you're trying to give. I think it's really exciting especially when you find an audience that's interactive and that filters through into the music."

Aside from her own tour, YolanDa has appeared on-stage with Mica Paris, Alexander O'Neal, Soweto Kinch and the Temptations, and is also in the process of launching a successful presenting career, having hosted shows on Sky, BBC Radio 2, and for British Airways in-flight entertainment. YolanDa even performed on a BA flight, alongside Nicole Scherzinger, at the launch of their new service from Heathrow to New Orleans. She has also been selected as a charity ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, Children and the Arts, Plan UK, Mayor’s Music Fund and Greater London Assembly’s "Learn Music London” Campaign. As if that wasn't enough, YolanDa has also been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of East London, has been invited for tea with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, and is currently writing a series of children's books. In her spare time – if there is any after all of that – she enjoys racing fast cars!

When asked how she manages to fit everything in, YolanDa explains: "the interesting thing I find is trying not to stress too much, even though I have a busy schedule." Apart from work commitments, YolanDa also has a three-year-old daughter, who comes along on tour with Mum. YolanDa laughs, "I will call myself a 'new mum' until she starts school, but my I've been really lucky that from the age of three months she has been able to come along on all of the tours, which has made life a whole lot easier, and she's a part of the music, she's a part of the touring party and she enjoys the gigs as well, which is great. I know all of that will change soon when she starts school, but it's been great so far."

"I think it's about paying attention to all of the different aspects of my work and family and also making time for yourself. I think that once you make time for yourself then everything else sort of just slots into place. Yes, it's a juggling act, it certainly is, but it's something we all have to do and you just find a way to get through it." 

Fans will say that YolanDa has broken down musical barriers within the music industry, but YolanDa herself says "I never had the time to think, for example, about being a black female saxophonist and what it might mean for the market." When asked whether she wants her daughter to follow in her footsteps, she says: "my daughter is more than welcome to follow my footsteps into the music industry. I'm not a pushy parent, but she's already had a lot of access to all of the different musical instruments and loves to perform. But whether she's interested in science, literature, journalism, or anything else, she can do what she wants and I'll be supportive anyway." YolanDa believes music, whether as a career or just a hobby, is very important for young people. "It's a great outlet," she says, "and a great way to process emotion. it's great to see it happening in my daughter, even at the age of three."

So, what's next for YolanDa Brown in 2018? First of all, more music and more touring. YolanDa says, "the music continues to grow and evolve with every tour, so it will be an exciting year. I'm also writing a series of children's books which will come out this year, and a lot of presenting gigs will be coming up in 2018, so it's an exciting time of doing lots of extra projects, and I think it all comes together to make me feel as though I'm getting myself out there. At the moment I am enjoying every aspect of both the music and the writing, and I have a lot to look forward to in 2018, so watch this space!

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