YolanDa Brown is the UK’s leading female saxophonist with a flourishing career, known for seamlessly blending jazz, reggae, and soul. She has toured with Diana Krall, The Temptations, Billy Ocean, and collaborated with artists such as Reggae Legend Bob Marley’s son Julian and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.
Born in Barking YolanDa Brown has been flying high and fast pretty much all her life. She was Head Girl at her comprehensive in East London; she romped through her GCSEs and A-levels before going on to study an Undergraduate Masters in Operations Management and four years of a PhD in Management Science at the University of Kent. She taught herself to play saxophone and when it began to pay off, only then did she make music the central focus of her future career.
Aside from her MOBO awards and tours around the world, YolanDa has played on stages with Mica Paris, Alexander O’Neal, Soweto Kinch and The Temptations, hosted her own shows on Sky, BBC Radio 2 and for British Airways’ in-flight entertainment. She’s been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of East London, has taken tea with the Queen and Prince Phillip, is currently writing a series of children’s books, loves to drive fast cars around race tracks in her spare time. Earlier this year she was named as Chair of the biggest UK music education charity “Youth Music”.
The Street talks to Yolanda before her Canberra concert as part of her tenth anniversary tour – Love Politics War.
DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MUSIC?
Playing music is very therapeutic to me and all about communication. Since picking up the saxophone, the instrument has been my voice and allows me to play my emotions. I love how music is a universal language that allows you to connect with amazing people and create unique experiences. Listening to music always feels like a gift, I love hearing different interpretations of songs and new approaches to making music. It conveys culture, history, experiences and inspirations.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE MUSIC SCENE THAT MOTIVATES YOU?
It is an exciting time to create and play music. True musicians reflect the mood of the time in their music, whether it is a call for love, unity or pain. The music scene allows musicians to have creative freedom with what they want to say in their music and audiences around the world are inspired by the music. I love that… the power of music, the travelling to different audiences to introduce your music and the reaction to this sound that you created miles away is priceless.
Social media that allows you to access your listeners from afar and also enables you to connect with like-minded musicians, which promotes collaborations.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE POSH REGGAE, YOUR OWN GENRE OF MUSIC?
I didn’t deliberately set out to create a new genre. My natural rhythm is in the genres of Reggae, Jazz and Soul and over the years the response has been great when I mix these genres. I was always asked in interviews, what genre of music I played, but my music is a fusion.
I listen to such an eclectic mix of genres that it is not easy to stay tied down to just one. With Reggae, Jazz and Soul I can pick and choose to what degree each genre has prominence and lean more towards straight ahead jazz, emphasise a reggae bass line or pull out more soul chords and grooves. The term “Posh Reggae” started as something I used to say on stage to describe how to enjoy Reggae in a Jazz Club setting but has stuck and has become my genre! The Posh Reggae merchandise is flying off the shelves internationally! I am so grateful for the love.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITIES OF THE SAXOPHONE FOR YOU AS AN INSTRUMENT?
The Saxophone offers so many possibilities and options as a player. It has such a soulful tone that works with any form of music and allows me to collaborate from classical to folk, hip-hop to rock and everything in between. As an instrument, it can stand up front and centre or sit back with the band. It’s also a fantastic instrument to play away from the stage.
HOW HAS YOUR CULTURAL HERITAGE INFORMED YOUR CREATIVE LIFE INCLUDING COMPOSING AND PERFORMING?
Composing and performing are very personal acts for me and the process involves reflection on past experiences and encounters along with thinking about what I want to ‘say’ with my music. I can only be me and only be inspired by what I have seen and experienced and so that involves my heritage, my history and my present.
YOUR CAREER HAS TAKEN YOU ACROSS CONTINENTS AND MUSIC GENRES. WHAT IS YOUR OBSERVATION ON THE RECOGNITION OF FEMALE COMPOSERS AND PERFORMERS IN JAZZ?
I think that times are changing and there is a greater respect and recognition of female composers. We are living in a time where the spotlight is being shone in retrospect to the amazing female musicians and composers that have gone before us. It’s very inspirational celebrating and learning about the lives of musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Dusty Springfield, Etta James and an unsung hero like saxophonist Vi Redd. It just shows that women have a message and a voice.
YOU HAVE WORKED WITH LEGENDARY MUSICIANS. WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO COLLABORATION WITH OTHER ARTISTS?
I am honoured to have worked with such a diverse mix of musicians around the world. My approach is that it is not a competition; it is collaboration, a union of sounds and influences. The collaborations that work are the ones where the ego is left at the door and the music is king.
WHAT HAS BEEN AUDIENCE REACTION TO A TEN-DAY JAZZ FESTIVAL IN LONDON?
London is a hot bed of cultures, a diverse mix of people from all around the world and you see that reflected in the food, fashion, language and that filters into the music. Jazz is London is extremely popular and the audience looks forward to festival season every year.
THIS IS YOUR SECOND VISIT TO AUSTRALIA. PLEASE SHARE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE.
I am so impressed with the music taste in Australia. I love how open the audience is to try something new and remember having wonderful conversations with the audiences after my concerts last year. I love the diverse appetite for music, from Country to Americana, Jazz and more. I am so glad that my music has been embraced by the Australian audiences, press and venues. I feel at home and cannot believe it took so long to come on tour to Australia.
YOU ARE A CHAMPION OF MUSIC EDUCATION AND HAVE JUST BEEN APPOINTED THE CHAIR OF YOUTH MUSIC, A NATIONAL CHARITY IN THE UK INVESTING IN MUSIC-MAKING PROJECTS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE EXPERIENCING CHALLENGING CIRCUMSTANCES. TELL US MORE.
I have always been passionate about music education and ensuring that young people and young musicians are supported in their music making.
There are many young people in England missing out on music-making opportunities simply because of who they are, where they live, or the circumstances they find themselves in. Youth Music’s vision is that, one day, music-making is central to young people’s lives whatever their background or circumstances.
Youth Music currently invests in around 350 music-making projects each year, reaching more than 75,000 children and young people. But there’s so much more to do. Right now, we’re only able to support a third of projects applying to us for funding. Projects supported by Youth Music help young people to develop musically, of course, and they have personal and social outcomes too. We believe in practical, creative music-making of every possible genre, style and technique.
Everyone has the ability to make music, they just need support and guidance to discover what works best for them. This is why the work we do is so important.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING MUSICIANS?
Follow your heart and chase your dreams, but remember it is the music business, you will need to make money to sustain your livelihood, so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
I am so excited about the future. 2018 is my 10 Year Anniversary in music, so I will be on a world tour, presenting TV shows in between and releasing a book later this year. It is exciting and I am so grateful for the opportunities.
WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
My Daughter… she is my heartbeat!