ISSUE 35 FALL/WINTER 2019/20 OUT NOW         ISSUE 35 FALL/WINTER 2019/20 OUT NOW    

Yussef Dayes


Part of a new generation of musicians who are reviving the London jazz scene, the British drummer and percussionist explains how he sees team-work as the dream-work, and why not being afraid to push the boundaries is the key element in any collaboration.

KALEIDOSCOPE  Re-thinking authorship and ownership of ideas seems to be the key to unlocking a relevant cultural discourse today. What’s your take on collaboration?

YUSSEF DAYES  I’m very particular about who I collaborate with, especially if it’s a musical collaboration. I don’t necessarily look for technically skilled musicians; it’s about finding a balance between the technical and the vibe, the energy and character. Luckily, most of the musicians that I’ve worked with have a combination of those two, but personally, it’s about energy, expression, the story they’re trying to tell, that gives me the most inspiration to work together. I think it’s important in collaboration to look for things you’re seeking. I can’t cover everything by myself, so when you’re working with other people, it might be because of something they do that you really appreciate, where you know if it comes together with something you’re doing, it makes something you couldn’t do by yourself.

K  How does the notion of “collaboration” affect your own work?

YD  Sometimes it’s simple: we might be in the studio, and it’s like a blank canvas, and we just improvise. I try not to be too literal with what I do. I also try not to limit it only to music. Sometimes I might collaborate with people that are martial artists or painters, because it all links together—it’s all an expression, and it all inspires each other. Some art is made by an individual alone, and some is made by a team, whether the outside knows it or not—and for me, my role is to produce and facilitate those situations, bringing the best musicians together. That’s how it worked at Abbey Road, recording for Love is the Message: everybody in their own domain is the best of what they do, and that’s why the music sounds like it sounds. That doesn’t mean that I don’t respect people that do it all alone—but for me personally, it’s a bit more entertaining when you have a team of people. It’s like football: you don’t watch one-on-one—it’s a team. There might be star players, but everybody has their position. It’s always good to have other people around—that’s how you get inspired and have a team. Team-work is the dream-work.

K  Would you be able to name three collaborations that you wish could become reality? What about three collaborations that you’ve already developed and that you’re proud of?

YD  Working with Charlie Stacey (pianist) and Rocco Palladino (bassist) has been really special, and we’ve got new music coming. Working with my brothers—that’s the foundation of what I’ve always been doing. Then my good friend Barka—he’s a painter, and he did the artwork for Love Is The Message.

K  Building a shared network of influences and references is a major driver for collaboration. What’s the process behind choosing your collaborators?

YD  I usually gravitate towards people who are not scared to express themselves. That might come out in any way—it might be a crazy solo, crazy music, crazy art—it’s just they’re not worried about what people think. I try to find people that are going to push me. I think in life if you’re trying to be the best at what you do and you’re trying to push the boundaries, you usually gravitate towards people that like the same things in their own field. So it’s inevitable that you meet up with other people that are trying to push the limits of what they’re doing. That’s been happening to me. Five years ago I couldn’t have been working with the people that I’m working with now. But I put the work in and I’m working on my craft and I meet other people that are pushing their craft and that’s how it goes.
We live in a weird world now because sometimes you might want to appreciate something but not necessarily want to work with them. I might really like someone’s work, but  that doesn’t mean I want to collaborate with them—I just appreciate it. Sometimes, if the time is right, you can get it cracking, but now there’s a very blurred line between appreciating someone’s work and actually having to work with them. There’s a lot of musicians and a lot of artist that I want to do something with but at the same time I don’t rely on it, you put it out there but things have to happen mutually–especially when it’s face to face, getting away from the Internet. It’s easy to get lost in the vortex of the Internet but I think that actually meeting someone and conversing, catching a vibe, is the way to do it.

K  Do you think collaboration prompts a horizontal and multi-disciplinary approach to different creative fields?

YD  I think that happens perfectly. Sometimes you might do a different kind of collaboration that opens you up to a different world. It might be something as simple as me working with a producer that makes beats, and as soon as I do my drums over that, it might open it to another audience. We live in a world where everyone listens to everything now, so it’s wide open. But through collaboration and different kinds of collaborations, I think the worlds are coming together, and it’s showing the link between all the different styles of music.
But yeah, as I was saying, it can be something very simple, like the fact that I appreciate Virgil’s fashion or whatever and it happens to be that we came together in the festival, it was all in the moment. I saw the work “12-INCH VOICES” that he presented at KALEIDOSCOPE MANIFESTO and it just comes together. It shows how two worlds that may not necessarily meet can come together, and through collaboration, something special happens. I’m Jamaican, my dad’s Jamaican, and the sound-system culture is very important, because that’s where it comes from. If you look at the roots of sound-system culture, it’s a Jamaican thing, and growing up in London, we’d be going to street parties where sound systems were the main thing. So as soon as I saw Virgil’s sound system, I wanted to perform in front of it, plug it in and put some music through it. It was a good moment, and that’s hopefully the first of many collaborations that we do. I think it was a nice way to get cracking. As I was saying, I try to not overthink it and just do something, do it in the moment. I think sometimes when you overthink who you want to work with, it gets complicated—but if you do what it feels right in the moment, it’s just right.

Yussef Dayes is a British drummer and percussionist based in London. He recently recorded his first live solo entitled Love is The Message at legendary recording studio Abbey Road. On the occasion of KALEIDOSCOPE MANIFESTO, right after an impromptu activation of Virgil Abloh’s sound installation, he performed with his band in the foyer of Lafayette Anticipations.

Portrait by Jonayd Cherifi

Images by Martin Argyroglo
Portrait by Lukas Gansterer

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