British music culture is experiencing a marked increase in the interesting infusion of jazz and hip hop. The measure of which can be aligned to the influence of London-born producer, pianist, multi instrumentalist and rapper, Alfa Mist.
Unlike your typical classically trained jazz pianist, Alfa came into music through making grime and hip hop, but was inspired by the jazz samples he was using, and began teaching himself piano at the age of 17.
‘I got into other types of music through digging for samples, but I stayed in jazz because there was something about it. I couldn’t understand what was going on, but I enjoyed what was happening.’
I got into other types of music through digging for samples, but I stayed in jazz because there was something about it
Our first introduction to Alfa Mist was his 2015 project Nocturne. He produced the 11-track EP collaborating with close friends and leading protagonists in the new wave jazz-hip hop narrative, featuring names like Tom Misch, Jordan Rakei and Barney Artist. Four years on and a glimpse at the development and display of such musicians – alongside more recent collaborations with the likes of drummer Yussef Dayes – all in all, brings to light the calibre of talent within Alfa Mist’s circle of influence.
close friends and leading protagonists in the new wave jazz-hip hop narrative, featuring names like Tom Misch, Jordan Rakei and Barney Artist
Though a stand-out project in its own right, his follow up two years later was the first real taste of what this truly talented artist could do. 2017’s Antiphon presents a largely instrumental album and a more distinctly Alfa sound. Rather than a collection of songs, Antiphon takes you on a journey and this time Alfa Mist is the only one in the driving seat. That said, collaboration is innate to Alfa Mist and some familiar faces return, including Kaya Thomas-Dyke, who contributes vocals, bass and album artwork, and Jordan Rakei who flies almost under the radar with background harmonies on a couple of tracks.
Antiphon presents a largely instrumental album and a more distinctly Alfa sound
‘Nocturne was me making music I thought fit the artists that were on it, but in my style. I finished that project and thought, before I carry on producing for others, I wanted to put out a project that is properly and truly myself. I wanted to get something out there that was all me, then I could move on and produce again, but I didn’t expect the massive response Antiphon would get.’
I wanted to put out a project that is properly and truly myself
Recorded in only three days and now nearing six million views on Youtube, Antiphon speaks for itself. Rarely is music raw enough that a musician is able to speak through their instrument. A characteristic in tune with greats of the field such as Miles Davis – an inspiration for Alfa – and hip hop acts like 9th Wonder, Little Brother and Hi-Tek. Only time will tell, but through his Yamaha Montage, I’d stake a suggestion that Alfa is no exception to this specialised category.
Snippets of speech included on his tracks complement the intricate musicality and brooding complexity resonating from Alfa’s keys. As with his distinct playing style, recordings of conversations with siblings are becoming a trait. On Antiphon his brothers are heard discussing family values, respect, selfishness and more.
As with his distinct playing style, recordings of conversations with siblings are becoming a trait
‘Speaking to them helps me understand and process things because we all grew up in the same way. They are the closest thing to me trying to understand myself. Their opinions are the closest.’
This device of real, recorded speech supports the cinematic effect also prevalent in Alfa Mist’s sound, adding a layer of reflection to an already immersive listening experience.
‘I just want to raise certain topics with my projects, rather than provide any sort of answers – topics that aren’t necessarily discussed or even just brought up, whether you think one way about it or not. I’m not saying one way or the other, I’m just kind of saying, “Hey! Let’s talk about this, let’s bring it up”. I’m not qualified to give any sort of answers, I just make music. That’s what I like doing. That’s how I get what I think across.’
Alfa Mist’s new album Structuralism dropped last month on his own Sekito label. The eight-track record’s key theme of communication is upheld throughout with sentimental significance.
‘On Structuralism I have a conversation with my sister. She’s talking throughout the new album about people not being able to communicate as well as we think we can, because we normally just talk to get our points across – we don’t really talk to understand.’
we normally just talk to get our points across – we don’t really talk to understand
Structuralism as a notion implies people are shaped by their environment. Alfa Mist’s own upbringing placed more emphasis on stoicism rather than displaying emotion: ‘I grew up in a way where I need to relearn how to communicate, because my environment didn’t really allow me the space to.’
A poignant point on the record that accommodates this sentiment is the album’s fifth track, Jjajja’s Screen.
‘Jjajja means Grandma in Ugandan. And the screen is basically me not having a proper relationship with my Grandma because she can’t speak English and I can’t speak Ugandan, so we could never really have a proper conversation. I just thought that was interesting. It’s quite an interesting metaphor for life, I think.’
In this engaged catharsis, Alfa Mist blesses us once again with another work of art not only confined to the jazz-hip hop genre, but in his passion for film music, which rings true in the effect of a string quartet on the album.
‘It’s about the mood as well with my stuff, it’s sort of melancholic. Working with strings gives it a more cinematic feel.’
His sister says at the beginning of the album’s opening track 01 44, ‘For me, now what I’m realising is that I’m done trying to treat people as if they are finished beings, because we are all unfinished. Basically, we are all unravelling.’
This translates through the mood, style, structure and function of the piece. The brilliance of the band seamlessly pulls together, as with the whole of Structuralism, in the traditional jazz approach with improvisation. Tranquil, mellow and at times chaotic. Classical, groovy and filmic. It belongs here and there, and by not being completely contained, it becomes complete to itself. A piece of art, which correlates straight through to the artist.
I’m sort of everything and I’m sort of nothing at the same time
‘I’m a part of a black diaspora and we are sort of in a place where I don’t really belong anywhere. I’m sort of everything and I’m sort of nothing at the same time.’
He has been described as ‘a shining light of the London jazz scene’, but it is in the darkness that he uncovers that illuminates Alfa Mist as a truly contemporary musician and band leader.
Bristol will be welcoming Alfa Mist back this month for his Structuralism tour, coming to Trinity on 15 May.
‘I’m excited to go back to Bristol. Bristol is sick! The last show I did there was ridiculously good, man. It felt like a London show. Bristol is huge for me.’
15 May – Alfa Mist, Trinity