Nubiyan Twist – Freedom Fables
(Strut Records – STRUT225D Review by Graham Spry)
The name Nubiyan Twist refers to an African hairstyle but is fitting for a ten-piece collective whose music encompasses a wide array of African-inflected popular genres including jazz, highlife, afrobeat and soul. The band was formed by cohorts from the Leeds College of Music who still remain close to their Leeds roots.
Nubiyan Twist are a superlative live band and the tunes on their second album, Freedom Fables, are perfect for the stage. The music is driven by a harmonic horn section accompanied by guitar and keyboards, anchored by a solid rhythm section and fronted by a range of guest vocalists of diverse styles. The melodies and vocal hooks of the tunes swiftly and firmly embed themselves in the listener’s head. The album’s singles, 24-7 and Tittle-Tattle, are already frequently plays on UK jazz and soul radio shows.
According to the band’s producer and guitarist Tom Excell: “Freedom Fables reflects on the power of narratives. Each vocalist on this record explores their own memoirs, a freedom of expression underpinning our belief that music is the ultimate narrative for unity.” Nevertheless, due to the bewildering range of styles, the album is best reviewed as a set of songs rather than as a single thematic whole.
The album opens with Morning Light, a light lilting song with soulful singing from Ria Moran over a compelling brass accompaniment. Regular band member and Jazz FM Vocalist of the Year, Cherise, takes the vocal lead on Tittle-Tattle: the album’s lead single and probably its most commercial song. Ghanaian vocalist Pat Thomas, who made his name as the singer for highlife guitarist Ebo Taylor, takes the lead on Ma Wonka. It is probably a credit to Nubiyan Twist that this track sounds as if it could have been recorded in Accra. The vocals on Buckle Up are shared between band member Nick Richards’ soul singing and Soweto Kinch’s rapping. Cherise displays her skills as a jazz singer on Keeper: possibly the album’s most jazzy tune.
A single has been released from the album (video above), the highlife tune If I Know, featuring a guest appearance from the K.O.G. vocal trio, led by Kweku of Ghana. This is a danceable tune which alternately builds and collapses, where the tune’s heft comes as much from the brass and percussion as it does from the vocals. The next track Flow again features Cherise, followed by the lilting and wistful 24-7 which features the expressive voice of Ego Ella May, South London jazz singer and 2020 MOBO Best Jazz Act award-winner. The final track, Wipe Away Tears, features Nick Richards and is a fitting and pleasantly uplifting conclusion to the album.
Given that the music on Freedom Fables is ideal for stage shows, it is indeed a real shame that Nubiyan Twist aren’t able to perform in front of a live audience during the current lockdown. Nonetheless, they have an album launch planned for 31 March in Islington and an extensive tour of Europe planned from March onwards which will be well worth seeing if possible—perhaps online. The album is released on Strut records: a label that features danceable music best performed live from such jazz artists as Idris Ackamoor, Greg Foat and Sun Ra.
LINK: Nubiyan Twist on Bandcamp