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Roy Ayers and festival founder Noah Ball talk Croatia


SINCE FOUNDER Noah Ball launched Outlook Festival in 2008, the music scene in Croatia has come a long way. What was then the invasion of boozy Brits armed with heavy subs blasting drum and bass music is now seen by Croatians as a welcome boost to their tourist economy.

The story of Soundwave, the third of Ball’s entrepreneurial eastern European-based music festivals, is to some extent one of trial and error and owes much to Ball’s ingenuity, negotiating skills and respect for the local community and culture.

Heavily influenced by the ‘SubDub’ West Indian underground music scene in Leeds, even while an undergraduate at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett University) in 2005, a restless Ball was already putting on events and managing ‘nights’ at various venues. After graduating he stayed on in the city, working his events for a further two years, eventually launching Outlook
and Dimensions in 2008. Soundwave followed around a year later.

Ball explains the different and unique sounds that identify each Croatia-based event.

“Outlook’s roots are based in sound system culture – the music of Kingston in Jamaica, the New York hip-hop block parties, and also the London Notting Hill Carnival. The musical heritage of the festival stems from those three cities.

AN ATMOSPHERE LIKE NO OTHER: The picturesque fishing town of Tisno provides a beautiful backdrop to the ever-popular Croatian festival

“Dimensions, on the other hand, is more of a house and techno festival, with elements of electronica.

"Soundwave is much more jazz, funk and soul ‘sunshine’ music. Those are the three key differences.”

Unlike Ball’s other festivals, Soundwave, taking place between July 27 and 31, enjoys a slightly more sophisticated audience, borne out of a somewhat comical local reaction to big sister Outlook’s reverberating bass throughout the village.

“The locals weren’t too keen on the bass, or the audience that comes with a dubstep festival,” explained Ball.

“It was all a bit young and high-energy for them.”

Asked to “come back next year with a different event”, Ball rose to the challenge, went back to the drawing board and Soundwave was born.

“So we moved Outlook up the coast, and we launched Soundwave in 2009”, – with a fresh, different, more mellow jazz vibe – and more importantly, one which worked for the local village community.

Set in the village of Tisno, in Croatia, Soundwave is a small but perfectly formed festival of balmy, sunlit mellow ‘sunshine’ fusion of jazz funk and soul. As well as its dreamy Adriatic setting and eclectic line-up, it is interesting to note that Soundwave has hosted arguably some of the most varied black artists to be found in any music festival in Europe, considering its size. From hip-hop legends like De La Soul to Gentleman’s Dub Club and Ghostpoet. Then there’s IAMDDB from Manchester, weaving her hypnotic magic at the cove.

Add huge symphonies like Submotion Orchestra, and neo jazz sounds such as Yuseef Kamaal, who take their inspiration from artists such as Herbie Hancock and you’re talking.

Also thrown into this heady mix is BRIT Award-nominated artist Laura Mvula – with both songs from her 2013 breakthrough album Sing to the Moon, combined with new material collaborations with the legendary Nile Rodgers – the incredible The Pharcyde and, last but never least, the iconic Roy Ayers, who readers of The Voice both young and old will be familiar with and this year, the magic cove has one of the most arresting line-ups to date by a golden sandy mile.

For the record Great Godfather of neo soul Ayers took some time out of his relentless touring schedule to spread some, in his words, “sensory” happy dust down the phone to The Voice.

Even though it was just 10 degrees outside, Ayers’ sleepy voice (I had woken him from a punishing tour schedule after three morning phone calls) transported me there and then to a nameless sun-beaten cove that could have been anywhere between California and Croatia.

He reflected on the different elements that create his hazy languid laid back west coast sound.

“It has a lot to do with environment. When I wrote Everybody Loves The Sunshine, I reflected on my childhood days – that was in 1976. I reflected on those wonderful, wonderful days and they were pretty laid back.”

Speaking of his decision to select the grit of New York City over his own LA coastline as his habitat, he says:

“It’s beautiful. All the great jazz artists are here, but most of them are dead.”

Ayers readily admits he has an upbeat personality that “turns away” from some of the harsher realities of black lives (and the issues that have given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement in the US), as a survival mechanism.

“I turn away from it. It turns me off – I don’t look at it, because I don’t like to think about it.”

Ayers attributes his continual buoyancy and eternal hippy vibe that permeates a great deal of his music, to an incredibly happy childhood.

"I got a lot of energy and it comes from my upbringing. There was so much love and happiness and a gentleness growing-up, and I will never forget those days in my youth.

“The money was completely different then. My father was a jumpman – he did everything for me and my sister. Just to think what I had to go through to get to this point, it is an incredible story. My parents work hard. They worked hard.”

As it happens, the addictive Everybody Loves The Sunshine is not only one of the most sampled pieces in hip hop and R&B, but its influence has resurged into the dance music scene and transcended through to other genres. As Ball explains:

“Roy tours regularly, and a lot of people go to his UK shows which have a mix of people aged from 18 to 60 years old. GoGo Penguin are a modern jazz band who would cite Roy is as a major influence. He has a very broad span of audience, and he’s a great artist.”

Ayers’ ‘Sunshine’ has been covered, mimicked, sampled, looped, fried, scrambled and poached in the interests of 21st century music production and is by far one of the most used tracks in music history. What is it about that track that has made it subject to so many uses across so many genres?

“It is in the groove of the song. It has such a good groove,” Ayers simply said.

“It is a fantastic feeling when you hear people sampling your music. To write a song and record it and put it out and then to see all of a sudden that people are sampling it, just feels wonderful.”

Sampling aside, Ayers was also featured on the enigmatic Tyler, The Creator’s album Cherry Bomb. I wondered what insight he could offer on that collaboration and how it happened?

“He was very quiet and he called me. He was very mysterious. He said, ‘I sent my music to you and you can improvise on both songs, I like the way you play’. I just knew him by telephone.


“He was working with people at Sony records. He grew-up on my sounds – he didn’t really want to talk to me too much.

“But everything is cool. He just wanted to let me know that he was glad that he got to me, and he wanted to make sure I spoke to him, and he just said, ‘Play your a*s off’. Tyler was exciting all the way.”

Also in the Soundwave line-up is the cosmic jazz sound of south London duo Yuseef Kamaal. They provide another means of escapism alongside Ayers’, and I urge you, if you haven’t yet, to start with their 2016 album Black Focus.

Finally, The Pharcyde, added to this already impressive list, makes Soundwave a music lover’s feast. Originally supporting groups like De La Soul, LA-based The Pharcyde quickly found a spot on the West Coast hip hop scene in their own right, with an alternative jazzy sound. Away from Croatia for five long years, this will actually be The Pharcyde’s first year at Soundwave.

If you know Kendrick Lamar but you don’t know The Pharcyde, then you need to start getting to know, because there would be no Kendrick without The Pharcyde.

Unsurprisingly, the band’s easy West Coast vibe marries-up neatly with Soundwave – not huge and nestled in a deliciously sun-baked lyrical Croatian lagoon, it lends itself to being dreamy and happy, quite simply because of the stunning beauty of the island. These guys will be one of the most eagerly-anticipated acts this year.

However, even such a varied spread of talent is dwarfed by the chilled Mr Ayers, who again when he speaks just transports me right over to those Croatian waves for a big love of music.

“That place is lovely, it’s just wonderful. I love it,” he enthuses.

“I am happy. I’m just happy that I’ve done what I’ve done.

“I’ve got my share of record reviews, more than anything else I’m working – I work my little butt off.

“I love the energy and I love the flow of people enjoying the music. The young people and the older people come to see me all the time. I’m looking forward to seeing GoGo Penguin.

“I like to keep people dancing, Dance is a wonderful thing. Even if it’s slow dancing to Everybody Loves The Sunshine, people like to dance all the time – it’s sensory”.

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