Some bands might talk about social change without living by the words. United Vibrations not only talk the talk, they walk the walk.
Defying any strict sense of categorisation, but coming from a jazz background, social change was a key goal when the London 4-piece formed in 2009. With the support of their parents, three brothers Kareem, Yussef and Ahmad Dayes, and friend Wayne Francis, set up their own label with profits from their first EP going to creating a community land trust to build sustainable housing called R.U.S.S.
Having recently won a contract from Lewisham Council, they are about to embark on the huge project of building 30 homes in Ladywell in the borough with the aim of not only regenerating energy and resources, but also a sense of community.
Following the release of their latest album The Myth of The Golden Ratio we were fortunate enough to grab a chat with band member Kareem Dayes for our recent multimedia feature on the UK jazz scene Reawakening and below is the full interview.
United Vibrations seems to blend afrofunk, funk, soul and jazz. I wondered if you could describe how your sound developed?
I guess growing up listening to my dad’s record collection and growing up in London with all the sounds around us. It all combined really. I’m lucky enough to live in London where the world is here really. My dad lived in New York in the 70s and his record collection had some classic kind of electric jazz, fusion, funk – he was into that sound a lot.
What was the first kind of music you remember being into?
We’re classically trained and did classical music. But things like Bob Marley and Fela Kuti. Definitely early memories of that stuff. And then as we got older I guess more contemporary things but my dad’s from Jamaica as well so a lot of Studio One stuff. We used to play a lot more reggae and ska in the beginning. When we were studying, we all studied jazz and classical music so started listening to some of the jazz greats – John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, people like that. When we left school we were all doing our thing, trying to make our own sound, and it all came out together.
What do you love about the music that you play?
I love that it’s us. It’s our identity. It reflects who we are and all the things that influence us and I think only in London in the 21st century would you get that combination of things. And I guess when we’re playing our songs we’re expressing something that is personal but universal. Yourself and the wider community.
Do you feel connection with the audience?
Yeah when we play we try to have the audience involved so in that sense it’s community definitely – that’s the beauty of playing live.
Do you feel that jazz is more fashionable now compared to five years ago?
Difficult one. I felt like we’ve always had people who are into our music. Whether it’s more so now or not I don’t know. Jazz is a pretty broad brush which you could argue is being used erroneously – a lot of people come under the jazz category. For example if you played one of our records and put on some bebop it’s quite different. It’s a contentious point, I think generally we struggle with genre classification – how things are categorised – I have an issue with how that works and I don’t think we neatly fit into any of them. That can be difficult sometimes for people trying to sell and promote what you’re doing. All we’re doing is a mix and it’s for anyone and everyone. Anyone who’s into good music. When you listen to great music it crosses boundaries. It’s not stuck in one camp on the other. That’s what’s great about Miles Davis and stuff like Bitches Brew - it kind of split the jazz community but crossed into other communities and other worlds and it went outside of jazz. What we’re doing is heavily inspired by jazz but it goes outside of jazz as well.
I read a quote from The Big Issue a “community self-build scheme undertaken by the brothers’ parents 20 years ago". Could you talk a little about that?
It’s kind of a recognition of our parents and where we grew up in south London influenced us by giving us the freedom to be creative. For our first record we set up our own label and the profits from our first EP went to creating a community land trust to find more land to do another self-build because it’s kind of tying in with all the stuff that’s happening in the world and our local community and trying to do something positive.
And also some of the lyrics in the music is about trying to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. I’ve been inspired by people like Bob Marley and Fela Kuti in terms of having a message in the music but we don’t want to stop there – we want to do something. We set up this community land trust to get some land to build some more sustainable affordable houses and it’s taken some years to get going – we have some land in Lewisham and going to be building 33 houses in the next couple of years. But in terms of setting it up, our friends and family and the people who come to our gigs, we just kind of use that as the foundation to get this thing going.
What are the ultimate goals of your social projects?
Ultimately for all of us we want to live in a way that is not embedded in some kind of global violence, so growing our own food, producing our own energy and living in a way that has a beneficial footprint on the planet and isn’t toxic and destructive, which is the paradigm we’re on at the minute in London.
It all comes from the fact that we’re Londoners at the end of the day and this is recognising our place in the world and that we are integrally plugged into a system of violence. Instead of fighting against that, it’s about becoming absent from that and creating something new which is embedded in the earth. It’s quite a big project – we’ve started with the houses and plan is to get into securing energy production and see where it goes. We have over 500 members of our community land trust, so just one step at a time. Quite a big project.
Do you feel you’re spreading that social message through your music?
Yeah definitely. United Vibrations is all about trying to come together and have a positive outlook. We’re living at a time when we’re schooled that we’re all doomed and the world is messed up and incurable. But we’re coming in with a different message which is we have all the skills and knowledge and ability to do great things. We just need to get active and become aware of how we’re living. But yeah the music starts from there really. We’re trying to talk the talk and walk the walk. The music is when we’re talking and what we do outside is walk the walk!