Drummer Moses Boyd’s Amazing Music Journey
For Moses Boyd, it’s been a remarkable journey already. A multi award-winning jazz drummer, producer, composer and BBC 1Xtra resident, fiercely independent and powered by a vast array of influences and experiences, he’s ready to step up onto another plane altogether.
Growing up in Catford in south London, Moses Boyd’s childhood was sound tracked by his parents’ collection of gospel, soul, funk, reggae - as well as Bjork, Debussy and Youssou N'Dour. At the time, he says, this eclectic selection seemed normal, “but now I think about it, that’s quite a range for a first-generation West Indian woman”.
His first CD was a gift his older brother brought back from a school band trip to Canada (musical talent runs in the family). That CD would “set the tone” for his teens: it was Fly or Die by N.E.R.D. “It’s my favourite record ever. Here’s this black skateboarding punk band, and I was an aspiring skater too.” Moses fell in love with southern hip hop like Outkast and Master P, as well as Tupac, Nas and Jay-Z, while also growing up immersed in the uniquely London sound of Grime. “I was surrounded by it. It was normal, because my friends and I were making beats and swapping them via bluetooth, using the ringtone composer on the Nokia 3310, or cheap software like FruityLoops. It was a lived culture, it was right in front of me,” Moses says.
Moses Boyd, the jazz drummer
It was during this time that drummer Moses Boyd, began taking drum lessons at school. His teacher was a globe-trotting jazz drummer who had played with Bette Middler and Barbara Streisand. When he wasn’t on tour, he would loan the 13-year old Moses VHS videos of Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, and give him jazz drumming exercises. “I’m the fourth of six kids, so I was used to sharing everything,” he laughs, “but jazz became my thing.”
“Drums took a while to get the hang of, but I’m quite hard-headed, and when I get into something, that becomes my obsession - for a while it was modular synths, for a while it was finance - at the moment it’s botany and herbalism. But at that crucial point, it was drums.” His dedication as a jazz drummer soon started to pay off.
At the age of 16, Moses was introduced to British jazz icon Gary Crosby OBE and his band Tomorrow’s Warriors, “a peer-to-peer youth initiative that brings people together through jazz.” Crosby would text him and say, ‘I’ve got a gig tomorrow, do you want to come and play? Bring your friends’. They would hone their skills alongside each other, as well as jazz legends three times their age. Coming up through the thriving new London jazz scene, and its vibrant underground live circuit, was an experience that was “collaborative by nature,'' he says. “You can’t really do it on your own, so it becomes a real community - it’s in the DNA of the music”.
Becoming an award-winning musician
This is borne out in Moses Boyd’s numerous live and studio projects in his young career. A double MOBO and Jazz FM Award winner, Moses’s live and studio collaborations have been as varied as they have been prolific: from touring with Sampha and Kelsey Lu, to drumming on Sons of Kemet’s Mercury-nominated album, to his recent collaboration with South African Gqom king DJ Lag, which made its way onto Beyonce’s official soundtrack for The Lion King. He produced Zara McFarlane's 2017 full-length, Arise, in its entirety for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label, and released several acclaimed solo projects though his Exodus record label. Moses has produced original scores for major Paris fashion shows, and with saxophonist Binker Golding, he’s co-leader and co-producer of the ferocious semi-free group Binker and Moses.
The first album: a bold, new sound
Trailed by the acclaimed October 2019 single Stranger Than Fiction - “one of the most exciting pieces of music I’ve heard this season” (Mary Anne Hobbs) - his fully-realised debut album proper, Dark Matter, came out on Valentine’s Day 2020 on his own label, Exodus Records. The hotly anticipated debut, produced by Moses, features previous collaborators Obongjayar and Klein, alongside some familiar faces from the London jazz scene, including mentor Gary Crosby OBE. It’s Moses Boyd through and through, marking a significant step forward in his ongoing evolution as an artist and producer.
It’s an album with unusual roots, for such a powerful London producer. Travelling around South Africa in 2017 to make a (still unreleased) record with Klein and South African musicians such as Nonku Phiri, Manthe Ribane and DJ Lag, Moses discovered a new, if equally DIY method of working. In no hurry to rush out a release, he was captivated by the sounds of the likes of DJ Lag - something of the energy reminded him of grime - and so as he travelled, he recorded samples and snatches of rhythms, stopping off in studios and artists’ homes, experimenting and gathering new collaborators and ideas.
“South Africa is a buzzing, rich musical place - and when I got back to London, I found it had changed my way of thinking. I had all these new ideas and recordings on my hard drive to draw on, and it inspired me to start writing. I didn’t ever plan to do it this way - for a long time it was just ideas, vibes, moods, sketches; I was just having fun - but it all started out in South Africa.”
Moses Boyd’s amazing music journey
Producing his debut album has come naturally- which instruments and musicians to call on, precisely how to record them, what to do in post-production. “It’s taken me a couple of years to learn this as a science, but I feel like I’ve been preparing for this. I realised it’s not enough to just write music and play it, I wanted to know how you capture it as well. So, I got really geeky about mics and everything else, reading Sound on Sound, going to live jam nights and experimenting.”
All of these years of sonic science and artistic freedom combine into a whole that is greater than the sum of its many parts. Dark Matter is a landmark record, a producer album by a young auteur, threading several thrilling musical traditions into a bold new tapestry: the raw energy of grime and afrobeats and the rolling club rhythms of the London underground, combined with the freewheeling creativity and collaborative spirit of his jazz training.
“I still love jazz,” Moses says, “but this is something different. Growing up I was probably a bit of an oddball, listening to N.E.R.D. and punk and grime and jazz all at once, at the age of 13 - but it’s left me really open.”
Future Goals: Become a top musician, creating original music that lasts the test of time.
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