Nubya Garcia: Saxophonist embodies capital’s jazz community on spectacular solo debut

On her debut solo album 'Source', she leads her band on a mind-bending journey that shows off the versatility of her – and her pals' – talents

For London-based saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia, her community is everything. That physical connection is the undercurrent which swirls throughout her life; an anchor through which she can feel more grounded, and that ethos runs through debut solo album ‘Source’, out on Friday. “I like to check in on people face to face. Sharing food, stories, listening and playing music together,” she proudly beams.

On the nine tracks of ‘Source’, Nubya Garcia is at her most polished. She leads her band on a journey through textured syncopated rhythms which ebb and flow to no destination other than to be present within the grooves. “‘Source’ maps points around identity and history, connections and collectivism, and grounding ourselves for each other,” the 28-year-old tells NME. “Fundamentally, ‘Source’, to me, is about community and unity: a full story with different elements from the beginning, middle to end.

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This mentality has marked Garcia’s life. Growing up in Camden – formerly seen as the capital’s indie heaven and punk playground – she found like-minded people in big bands and jazz groups. At Tomorrow’s Warriors, an education and artist development organisation, which has also spawned friends and frequent collaborators Joe Armon-Jones, Ezra Collective and Theon Cross, the ideology of community was reinforced. The company she’s played alongside have now become globally-recognised as a new wave of the London jazz scene, one which Garcia is integral to. “To be honest, I’m really happy and joyful that we get to do it together as friends,” she says. “Our community is super strong and people are busy doing amazing things worldwide. That is special to me. I don’t think any of us could have envisioned this at 16 or 17.”

Garcia’s name and work is splashed across the city through the work of Ezra Collective, Makaya McCraven, Blue Lab Beats, DJ Yoda, Swindle and the critically-lauded ‘We Out Here’ compilation. In 2017, Garcia started paving her path with the release of her first EP, ‘Nubya’s 5ive’, before she recorded and delivered a follow-up EP ‘When We Are’ the following year. Releasing them was a special moment for Garcia, especially holding the first physical vinyl after spending her life gravitating towards the works of jazz greats like Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon and Hank Mobley who she discovered on similar formats.

Both of Garcia’s previous releases were playful and an experimental ground for her to burrow into various genres, dipping her toes into each to see what floats. “I’d say that the last two EPs feel like smaller versions of ‘Source’,” Garcia says. “They feel like snapshots and exploring composing, exploring how to write melodies, harmonise and structure them. Exploring conceptual ideas and the ideas of the stories you’re trying to tell. I think they were an accurate and special snapshot of like, ‘What the hell was going on at that time?’ And it feels like the other day and it also feels like bloody ages ago.”

On ‘Source’, the conceptual ideas that have lived within Garcia come to life here. Her vast array of influences mark the album from the dub overtones of dream collaborators King Tubby to the exploration of boundaries on Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’. Though it may seem disparate, Garcia grounds them in a sound she has made singularly her own, and that speaks to a people whose music she looks to respect and build upon.

Recently, she has been back in the studio with her collaborators, booking herself in for three sessions on the same day and left it feeling invigorated in a way she hadn’t in months. “Last week, my band and I played together for the first time since January or February,” she says. “It felt so crazy. I was exhausted at the end of the day, but I was still more energised than I’d been all lockdown because I got to see part of my community. It’s just really nice to play music with people and chat and talk and like, ‘can I connect?’”

“The London community is super strong and people are busy doing amazing things worldwide”

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Despite the pandemic she did manage to sneak in one collaboration: a powerful performance with Joe Armon-Jones at Glastonbury’s Worthy Farm, aired during the BBC’s coverage of the cancelled festival in June. “I’m glad that we did it but it was so hard to be there,” she says. Despite having history with the festival, 2020 marked the first year she was booked to play with her own stage, timeslot and band. “Glastonbury sticks out as quite painful to get cancelled,” she says before hopefully maintaining ”maybe in the future, there’ll be rescheduled.” You sense that they’re already aware that they’d be fools to not ask her back.

Despite missing out on an anticipated tour, releasing ‘Source’ has spurred Garcia to not sit on her laurels. The album is another stamp in the collection of great jazz records coming out of London over the last few years. But, to her, it’s still nascent. The community around her is evolving, and Nubya alongside that. Her upcoming album showcases the growth of an artist who – with each release – is moving towards a place where she’s creating a sound that will resonate only with her name, and ‘Source’ is a big step towards that: it marks a new chapter for Garcia, allowing her to forge new beginnings.

“There are so many more possibilities, so many more ideas that nobody knows about yet,” she says. “It feels different. I think the case of ownership is changing across the music industry, and also, empowerment and education in terms of what musicians should be getting and asking for and, you know, doing it themselves as if they’re not happy with what’s being offered. I’m just really happy about it. It’s still like we’re in the thick of it. So it’s quite hard to like to think about it objectively, but we just play the music that we write and that we care about. It kind of feels like just the beginning.”

Nubya Garcia’s ‘Source’ is out August 21 on Concord Jazz

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