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YolanDa Brown | Courtesy of Kapranos PR
YolanDa Brown | Courtesy of Kapranos PR

Meet YolanDa Brown, MOBO Award-Winning Saxophonist

Picture of Ashiana Pradhan
Updated: 13 January 2017
Culture Trip headed down to Nell’s Jazz and Blues Clubto see British Saxophonist YolandDa Brown’s Feb. 14 performance, and were absolutely blown away. We caught up with the talented musician to find out more about her journey and her current national tour, Reggae Love Songs.

What has been your top musical achievement to date?

If we’re talking musical achievement then I guess it would have to be the two MOBOs, because as a musician to  be celebrated for your craft, it means a lot. I’m an independent artist so I don’t have the push of a record label behind me. That was a momentous moment for me to think that wow, people are actually listening! Another one would be meeting the Queen. I was invited to a reception at the Buckingham Palace, sort of to celebrate people in the music industry, so that was amazing! She was very interested in my journey and asked loads of questions.

Who are your top three reggae acts of all time?

Bob Marley has to be the top one! I think now that I’m doing a fusion of jazz and reggae, it would have to be Monty Alexander — he’s a pianist that mixes reggae so well, and I think my final would be a reggae group called Sergent Garcia… They mix Spanish, Latin and reggae. I lived in Spain for a year and their album taught me more Spanish that I could’ve ever imagined. Plus, the rhythms… I just love it!

Who’s on your playlist right now?

That’s a good question! I do love Bruno Mars. I’ve been listening a lot to a lot of Donny Hathaway — I know it’s really random but I think it’s good to listen to music outside of your boundaries.

So you’ve performed in a lot of different countries, haven’t you? How do the crowds differ, from England to internationally? Have you performed in Jamaica?

Yes yes, I have! We did a tour in Jamaica, around 2013; it was amazing. I think the thing I’ve noticed is that you are definitely celebrated more outside of your hometown. I’m so grateful for all the attention and love but getting to go outside of the UK, it’s a lot more open and receptive. When I went to Mexico, for example, it was just amazing how they celebrated new music. We went to America we sold out all the shows and it was absolutely overwhelming. And when we were on tour, hearing the comments from people saying that they want more shows and how I should keep in touch — I was so touched and it was such a nice feeling.

YolanDa Brown | Courtesy of Kapranos PR

YolanDa Brown | Courtesy of Kapranos PR

We remember you saying during your show on 14 February 2016 that you just love doing what you do and there are no complaints. Is that genuinely true? Are there really no complaints?

It is genuinely true, you know. I didn’t think music would be profession for me, it’s not something I envisioned. Music was more of a therapeutic thing, I used to play on my own in my room; but I didn’t think it would be a profession! I was studying Management Science at university at PhD level, so I really thought I was going to be a management consultant. Being offered an honorary doctorate for my contribution to music showed me that this was the path I was meant to follow. I do actually pinch myself sometimes… It’s amazing that this is what I’m doing for a living, it’s great!

What kind of advice would you give to young people who are starting out and choosing an instrument to master?

Listen to different types of music and to figure out which instrument resonates with you. Do you hear the bass a bit louder than the vocal? And then you can get an idea of what your ears like. I think music isn’t just about reading a page, it’s about feeling it and about what your ears and your heart is directed towards. As a child it was always the horn lines that sang out to me, more than the main vocals!

It is said that the saxophone is the most similar instrument to the voice — would you agree with that?

I totally agree with that. In fact, my first EP was called Finding My Voice. I feel more comfortable communicating through my saxophone; but I’m not just playing notes, I’m also trying to sing through the songs. To me, the saxophone is a voice and I’m trying to communicate through that. So, yes, I agree whole-heartedly.

YolanDa Brown | Courtesy of Kapranos PR

YolanDa Brown | Courtesy of Kapranos PR

So how does performing onstage make you feel?

It’s a bit cliché, but definitely free. It’s about the moment, it’s about creating something wonderful and entertaining the audience. Once you’re on that stage, nothing else matters and you’re free — and you feel you can express yourself.

We really liked how you made the audience members introduce themselves to each other at the show — that was very cool!

Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I love to speak to the audience — the saxophone is my voice, I don’t have words. The bits where I do get to speak on stage are very important for me as a result. It’s nice to give people permission to be free. I’m being free, so they should be too!

What are you most excited about your ‘Reggae Love Songs 2016’ tour?

The collaborations with the artists. We have Michelle Williams coming over, who I’ve collaborated with before. We’ve just got Matt Cardle — who’s coming over to the show as well. This new concert of reggae songs is new for me, it’s a happy place and I’m really excited.