As most Barnard and Columbia students can attest, coordinating between students is almost never a simple matter. That’s why this year’s Bacchanal student opener, the ten-piece ensemble Soul for Youth, is such an exceptional case.
Comprised of emcee Mamadou Yattassaye, CC ’21, vocalist Julia Rocha, BC ’20, saxophonist Riley Swain, CC ’21, trombonist Timoteo Cruz, CC ’21, saxophonist Jay Karp, CC ’21, trumpet player David Acevedo, CC ’19, guitarist Liam Broderick, CC ’21, keyboardist Joseph Block, CC ’21, bassist Nigel Telman, SEAS ’21, and drummer Jesse Thorson, CC ’18, the band formed early in the spring semester. Last Sunday, Spectator sat down with Cruz and Telman to talk about the band.
Nigel Telman: “We kind of grabbed people individually over time. In the first week after winter break, Riley approached me and asked, ‘Hey, are you interested in playing a show?’ He and Mamadou were both talking about it and interested, and I always love an opportunity to play music with people, so I jumped on immediately. I hadn’t played a lot of hip-hop and thought it’d be a cool way to start. We really just started getting people as necessary.”
Timoteo Cruz: “It was mostly Mamadou’s idea from the start. This was like two weeks prior to Battle of the Bands, so we were kinda surprised that it worked so well, but we’re glad that it did.”
This Battle of the Bands was the Bacchanal-organized competition among student musicians to determine the festival’s student opener. This was Soul for Youth’s first show and, given that they’re taking the stage at Bacchanal this April 7, by all accounts a success.
However, this success comes with its challenges, as the only recently-formed band now has to prepare going from playing Battle of the Bands in the basement of Lerner Hall to performing in front of Lowe steps for the 5,000-person crowd at Bacchanal.
TC: “We’ve been doing a lot of rehearsals trying to get new content made, because by the time Battle of the Bands rolled around we had three songs done, and that was the amount of songs we needed. Since then though, we’ve been formulating new stuff we can do.”
NT: “For the group as a whole, it’s causing us to change how we play. In terms of song choice, we’ve gotta do less of like the soft stuff, cause it is a large concert event and keeping people interested and especially for Bacchanal is gonna be key.”
But even though the group may be looking to change some of its dynamics to match the usual energy of a Bacchanal crowd, it still has a clear idea of what kind of sound it wants to bring to the table.
NT: “We’re really introducing something that we don’t think we hear a whole lot of which is like hip-hop with a big-band sound behind it.”
TC: “I agree with that. In most hip-hop, the band is represented by a few electronic instruments and a board, but we’re actually doing a whole nine-piece group where we’ve got bass, drums, guitar, piano, and a horn section. Horn sections are kind of a rare commodity nowadays. And including that many horns in one band gives a level of sound and dynamic volume that you wouldn’t get from most acts doing this kind of music.”
It’s this shared background that seems to accounts for much of the band’s success despite its seemingly unwieldy size.
TC: “Mamadou has his lyrics. Him and Julia both have this very intricate songwriting process. They introduce the lyrics they have, then the band as a whole decides the keys, decides the groove, and then just trickles down the lines. It is a whole collaborative process, and it takes a while for the whole thing to come together, but when it does it goes pretty well.”
NT: “I think that’s a great thing about being in a jazz band. You can give us chords and we can work out the rest ourselves, because we’re so used to having to do that already.”
But while this shared background in jazz has kept chemistry from being a problem for the band, they’ve still had to face some all-too-common issues for musical groups throughout Columbia.
TC: “The amount of practice and performance spaces on the Morningside campus is just kinda wrong. There are so few practice spaces that are central to where campus is, and performance space as well. ”
NT: “We just slip into the Carman basement to practice whenever we can. And even that’s kinda cramped sometime. It’s a tight space and it’s also like always used by a combo or a group, even up till like 11 at night. You go in there and people are still there cause there’s like no space.”
Despite these issues, Soul for Youth’s been hard at work getting ready for Bacchanal and is looking forward not just to performing at Columbia come April 7, but with hope and a bit of time, venues across New York.