Isobella is a Bassist, Vocalist and Composer from London. She grew up in Barbados where she soaked up the rich musical culture. Isobella returned to London in January 2018 and has since played bass with Connie Constance, Tom Misch and Sampa The Great, touring around Asia, Europe and Africa playing festivals and headline shows. This Friday she released her incredible EP Dancin’ Garuda! We spoke with Isobella about her upbringing, musical life and the process behind the making of this incredible body of work. Check out her interview below!
How did you get involved in music back in Barbados?
I always played an instrument from an early age. I started learning the drums and guitar informally in primary school. When I went to secondary school, I had my first music lessons. At a parent teacher meeting, my music teacher Ms. McClean told my parents that I have a natural ear for music and if I didn’t pick an instrument to play by the end of the year she would choose one for me! I went on to learn to play classical piano at age 12. I only studied piano 2 years as I didn’t enjoy sight reading and had other commitments. At age 14, I picked up the bass and haven’t been able to put it down since.
What is the Jazz scene like in your hometown?
The Jazz Scene in Barbados is quite small but it is filled with incredible players. As the demand for jazz music in the island isn’t big you’ll find that jazz is played mainly the hotel scene. Jazz is the main focus of the music course taught at The Barbados Community College (BCC) by Roger Gittens. Every year new young talent emerges but with limited venues to play, it becomes quite competitive to secure a gig.
Are there a lot of Jazz female instrumentalist leading in Barbados?
When I was in the scene, there were a few female instrumentalists but we were always out numbered. However more were emerging when I left the island.
I first spotted you a couple of years ago at Tomorrow´s Warriors, how important is it to be part of that community?
It’s been life changing. I first heard of Tomorrow’s Warriors before I even moved to London. Back in summer 2017, I was visiting on summer holidays to get a feel for the music scene. My college teacher Dr. Stefan Walcott told me that I should get in contact with Gary Crosby and gave me his contact information. I called and Gary invited be to the Female Warriors session at the Southbank Centre where I played for him for the first time. Ever since, Gary Crosby and Janine Irons have been giving me opportunities to shine. Through the organisation I played my first ever festival, Love supreme and my first gig at The Jazz Cafe. You can really feel the familial energy as they continue to shape and raise the young jazz stars of tomorrow.
How was your experience touring Internationally with artists like Tom Misch?
Touring around the world was the goal I set for myself when I first moved to London. I spent my first 8 months of living in London going to Tomorrow’s Warriors rehearsals, Steam Down and going to jam sessions. The goal was to go and play for as many people as possible then network after and give out my facebook and instagram handles. Instagram became an incredible marketing tool and it’s how I got discovered by Tom Misch, Connie Constance and Poppy Ajudha. Touring has been everything I dreamed it to be. My favourite part was waking up in a new city every few days and getting to connect with the audience. Depending on which city you’re in the vibe can be very different. For instance, the crowd for Connie’s sold out show in Paris were electric and really interactive whereas the crowd in Tokyo for Tom Misch sold out show were quieter and listened intently whilst savouring each moment.
Are you ready for Life on the road with your project?
I am incredibly excited to see where my music will take me. I am hoping to play different venues around London and build up a following organically.
What inspired you to write this new EP?
I wrote 3 out of the 5 songs on this EP because I got a call from Pat Pascal asking if I wanted to play at the London Jazz Festival for Jazz New Blood. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play such a prestigious festival so I got to writing. I wanted to highlight both my Caribbean and English heritage so I incorporated Spouge music from Barbados, Zouk music from St. Lucia and Shango Music from Trinidad and Tobago into my compositions. Then I asked the finest musicians I know to play on the record. The writing and arranging process largely took place in the summer of 2019.
Tell us more about the songs and the writing /recording process.
I wanted to record this EP altogether as I love the energy created when everyone is together in the same room. It was important to me to record in the way jazz was back in the 1960’s as that’s the sound and feel I was trying to emulate. I achieved this by going to Pink Bird Recording Co and working with the engineer, Rick David. I also called in the most killing musicians I could find. On the record you’ll hear Sheila Maurice-Grey on Trumpet, Nathaniel Cross on Trombone, Thomas Seminar Ford on Guitar, Lorenz Okello-Osengor on Piano and Benjamin Appiah on Drums. Recording took place over 2 consecutive days and I overdubbed the vocals on the 3rd day 2 weeks later.
– Written in London in 2020, Tynerisms was inspired by the use of 4th voicings popularised by legendary pianist McCoy Tyner. This track includes solo’s from Thomas Seminar Ford on Guitar and Nathaniel Cross on Trombone.
– Written at home in summer 2019, In Power is a fusion of Trinidadian Shango and the sounds of the London Jazz Scene. This track includes solo from Isobella Burnham on Bass.
– Written between London and Croatia in summer 2019, Hard Ears takes Spouge music from Barbados and puts it in the forefront of Jazz today. Track includes solo’s from Thomas Seminar Ford on Guitar and Benjamin Appiah on Drums.
– Written in Bristol and Croatia in 2019, the title track of the EP is taking the traditional Jazz approach of the 1960’s and fusing it with the sounds of the 2021 London Jazz scene. The mixing on this track was inspired by Rudy Van Gelder. Track includes solo’s from Isobella Burnham on Vocals and Lorenz Okello-Osengor on Piano.
– Dusk Till Dawn is first track written for the EP in 2018. Named Dusk Till Dawn because of the use of minor tonalities in the A-Section and major tonalities in the B-Section. This track includes solo’s from Sheila Maurice-Grey on Trumpet and Nathaniel Cross on Trombone.
Dancin’ Garuda was Produced by Isobella Burnham and Grantleigh Burnham, Mixed by Rick David, Mastered by Katie Tavini
How did you come up with the musician’s line-up for this recording?
Everyone on the record I asked to be a part of because I love their individual style and sound in their playing. I got lucky with the line up as Nathaniel and Sheila have known each other for 16 years and you can really hear it in their playing as a unit. Lorenz and Benjamin have grown up in music together and there is like a 6th sense that they have that you only get from playing with someone for a long time. This particular line up sounds as if we’ve been playing together for a long time and that’s what contributed to it sounding the way it does.
When can we expect to see this EP LIVE?
Hopefully when the pandemic is over and venues start opening back up. You can catch my “live” recorded Jazz Re:freshed EP performance on Thursday 20th May 2021. It will be available on YouTube and Facebook for 7 days after as well.