Nubya Garcia On Identity, Accessibility And Independence

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Saxophonist Nubya Garcia—who recently issued Source (Concord Jazz), her debut as a bandleader—often is referred to affectionately as the “queen” or “empress” by British broadcasters, journalists and fans.

(Photo: Adama Jalloh)

Since emerging with the septet Nérija in 2016, saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia has worked to inject fresh energy into the UK jazz scene.

After contributing to the We Out Here compilation, as well as leading a pair of solo EPs, Garcia’s only now stepping forward with her first full-length record, Source, released via Concord Jazz on Aug. 21. Garcia—who’s often referred to affectionately as the “queen” or “empress” by British broadcasters, journalists and fans—doesn’t shy away from big topics on the record, choosing to explore her family’s roots and her own place in the wider world.

The album gels broken-beat, soul, dub-step, reggae and Afro-diasporic sounds, drawing on the backdrop of both London, her hometown, and Bogota, Columbia—cities where the album was recorded. Kwes, who co-produced the record along with Garcia, brought with him the sonic values that he’s applied to the music of Solange, Bobby Womack and Nérija, among others.

Garcia recently spoke to DownBeat about the importance of identity and why it’s time to drop being independent—at least for now.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Are there themes that run throughout Source?

It’s a collection of thoughts and feelings about identity, family history, connections, collectivism and grief. Ultimately, it’s rooting yourself and getting grounded in yourself and in your community. I was thinking a lot about what powers people, what powers me, what feeds my soul. What’s the source of humanity’s power when the world’s falling apart? These are all thoughts I was having before the pandemic and social upheaval, and the movements that are happening now.

It’s a poignant time to be issuing an album that explores identity. So, how does it feel to release Source while racial injustice is receiving heightened attention?

It’s been really hard in lockdown as a Black woman to see and feel everything going on, to recognize that so many people in the world are just cottoning on to the realities of social injustice and racism. It’s important for me to be releasing now, but there was obviously a different plan, and then COVID-19 happened.

How did you integrate these huge topics into your music?

It’s how you’re feeling when you write something and the reason why you write it. I had huge life and identity questions. I wanted to know more than I already did about where my family’s from. With “Pace,” it was written when I was rushing around London predominantly, and then touring started to pick up. Londoners rush around all the time and don’t really stop. I’m thinking, “Are we going to be doing this for our entire lives?” I wrote that tune so that I’d always have a reminder to say “no” to some things.

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June 2021
Vijay Iyer
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