1 September 2021

Mark Kavuma Interview

I interviewed Mark Kavuma on the day that his new record label Banger Factory Records was officially launched. The Banger Factory began as a quintet performing weekly at The Prince of Wales in Brixton but now, seven years later, has grown to an octet and now a recording label.

Your new album is out on 17th September, and it’s the first one on your own record label.
That’s right. I’m so excited I can’t tell you. It’s been a long time coming but we’re there. It’s ready. It’s very exciting.

You did two albums before with Ubuntu. How different was it doing an album for your own label?
To be honest, I was quite involved in the other two albums because I presented them to Ubuntu once I had recorded them and sorted out the artwork etc. But this time round it’s just been very, very involved because from every stage it has been me. It’s been very much a learning experience and also challenging at times as well, with things that you didn’t think about before. For example, registering everybody and making sure I get all of that right, ordering the inventory, distribution and so on. Whereas before I just handed in the album and hoped for the best but now I’m very much involved in every process. It’s been a learning experience but I’m so so happy that I’ve done it and I’m excited to see where the label goes. We’ve got a lot of projects lined up already which is quite incredible really. So it’s all very exciting.

How did you first get into playing trumpet?
I started playing trumpet in secondary school. It was completely by chance. I’m not from a musical family, by any means, but once I started secondary school we had a very incredible music teacher there called Joe Morgan. We all had to do music in year 7, that was compulsory. But after that you specialised a bit more in subjects. He asked me if I wanted to learn an instrument and I thought ‘why is he asking me?’ but then I thought why not. At that stage I had no real musical knowledge of the different instruments. I knew a piano if I saw one, and maybe a drum kit and guitar but apart from that I just had no idea. I was under the impression that we would have the lessons in a group. I asked one of my best friends at the time what he was choosing and he chose trumpet and guitar, so I put down trumpet and guitar. He ended up with the guitar and I ended up with the trumpet.
That’s how it all started. But to tell you the truth, not long after that, after a few months I joined Kinetica Bloco, where there’s 140 kids, with brass, steel pans, dancers and drummers. I was like ‘Woh!’ and that’s where it sparked my interest straight away. So I was very lucky in that sense. From the beginning I just totally fell in love with it, just from going to Kinetica and meeting people like Claude Deppa, Andy Grappy and Mat Fox. I caught the bug straight away. From then on, after I finished their summer school, I was telling my mum ‘Yes, I want to be a musician’. She just thought ‘Alright, son’ but I didn’t really look back. From then on it was ‘this is what I want to do, it’s what makes me happy’.

So how did jazz come into it?
The jazz came into it with Kinetica, mainly world music with a bit of Afrobeat, we did a bit of South African music like Abdullah Ibrahim, and English folk songs. It was world music. I did that until I was 14 or 15, up to year 9 and 10. That was when I started going to Tomorrow’s Warriors through Kinetica because a lot of the more advanced players were going there. Eventually I just tagged along. So I then went on to Tomorrow’s Warriors and that was where the serious jazz begun. In Kinetica there were loads of us, in the brass section there were 40-50 of us alone. It was just a big sound and you were just part of the mess, whereas when I went to Tomorrow’s Warriors it was a lot smaller, more specialised and in smaller groups. So there was a lot more room for improvisation. I would solo a little bit in Kinetica but there were so many of us whereas when I went to Tomorrow’s Warriors there was more of an opportunity to find your own sound within the group.
Around 14-16 is when I really got into jazz. I was obsessed with Clifford Brown, the Max Roach Quintet and Miles Davis. I knew that this was what I wanted to do.

Gary Crosby and Tomorrow’s Warriors have the ethos of ‘each one, teach one’. That’s something that you’ve gone on to do.
Most definitely. That’s very accurate when I look back now to when I was doing Tomorrow’s Warriors. It’s set up in different tiers. You have the teeny warriors, then the development group (which was where I was at) and then you started to get the bands that formed from that. So there’s always a band that’s formed. When I was in it we had Rhythmica, which had Mark Crown, Peter Edwards and all of those guys who I suppose were in their early twenties. If you asked them for a lesson they’d be like ‘of course’. I remember going to Trinity and getting lessons from Mark. You also have the more professional bands like Jazz Jamaica, Jazz Jamaica All Stars. Even those guys, every time you asked them for a lesson they’d be like ‘sure, come by’. So it was just what I was used to. Whenever anyone asked me for a lesson I’d be the same. It’s the model that I’ve been raised with. Kinetica also has a nurturing thing. A lot of us that started there younger are now teaching at Kinetica as mentors. It’s very much part of my identity as a musician.

What upcoming releases do you have planned for Banger Factory Records?
The main reason I started Banger Factory Records was because The Banger Factory – it’s a band but especially the last 3 years barring the pandemic, it’s become more of a community. We’ve got the core unit but then there’s loads of people that are within the London jazz scene that are also involved in the Banger Factory. It’s a community of musicians within the London jazz scene. We’ve all got similar interests: we’re chasing this sound. Because we’ve played together so much there’s a unified sound within those different projects, even though it’s completely different music. We’re together and we hang together so much outside of playing that there’s that consistency of sound. When we started the label our first release was going to be Arashi No Ato and our next release was actually going to be a project with me and Artie Zaitz. It’s my first piano album and he’s on Hammond organ. We recorded this album last year and that was supposed to be the second project but then Kinetica Bloco were doing a 21st anniversary celebration recording.
So many people have come out of Kinetica. We’ve got Nubya Garcia, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Theon Cross, so many people. Kinetica said ‘well, you’re starting a label and we can’t think of anyone else who represents us more than you’ . So that will be our second release in September called The Kinetica Bloco All Star Recording. Then we have the Zaitz and Kavuma album out in February next year.
There’s a few projects already lined up because we’ve been recording quite a lot during lockdown. Over the next three years there are quite a few things that are going to come out on the label, which is very exciting.

What’s the meaning of ‘Arashi No Ato’?
Arashi No Ato means ‘after the storm’ in Japanese. We recorded the album just before the pandemic happened. I was like ‘okay, there goes the plan for that release’. But as we worked on it through the pandemic the phrase ‘after the storm’ just kind of stuck. I loved how it sounded in Japanese. I think it’s quite fitting that it’s coming out when it is.

Is there a standout track on the album?
There is one very unique combination on there which is Love Will Find A Way, which has the tuba playing the melody. That was very special, with Theon Cross playing the melody. In the studio he was like ‘man, I haven’t actually played a melody on anything for a long time’. Throughout the album there are quite a few special combinations, of people and instrumentation.

The last track is very different with all of the vocalists.
Yeah, I suppose it highlights the wider community of The Banger Factory on that last track. That also links to the Kinetica album as well because a lot of the people on that last track will be on that Kinetica album or have been involved with it in some way.
The track is One More River by Sam Cooke. Just before the pandemic started I was listening to that song a lot, and even when we got into the pandemic it was just very fitting. So I’m just happy that we got it on the album and we got all those people on there. The people on there are either Kinetica related people or the band member’s girlfriends. So there’s that link. It was very much a family affair. Mussinghi is on there, his son is on the cover, his partner and his brother and then the band members and their girlfriends. It’s very much a community vibe, with the band and the concept. I think that’s what makes it stand out and makes it special.

Arashi No Ato by Mark Kavuma and The Banger Factory is released by Banger Factory Records on Friday 17th September, 2021.
Mark Kavuma and The Banger Factory perform at The Brighton Jazz Festival, Palace Pier on Saturday 2nd October, 2021.

Photo by Joe Hart.

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