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Rafiki Jazz: Nine-piece collective returns with new album

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Music collective Rafiki Jazz release their brand new album Saraba Sufiyana on 18 October and they're taking their #UpClose2019 tour around the UK, including a date at Yellow Arch Studios. We caught up with Rafikians Sarah Yaseen and Avital Raz to find out about their newest musical journey.

As a musical collective, Rafiki Jazz seems to be in a constant state of evolution. What changes have the band gone through since your last release?

Avital: I think we've created a more unified sound. More harmonies and counterpoint in the vocals rather than 'taking turns' to do our solos.

Sarah: Avital and Vijay both joined us around three years ago as we started on the new songs that became the Har Dam Sahara album. All nine of us have been steady Rafikians since then.

We've all dug deep into our roots

Your new album, Saraba Sufiyana, comes out in October. What have been the greatest sources of inspiration for this collection?

Sarah: My musical roots have been the inspiration for sharing the songs that I lead on here. I get energy and pleasure from joining the melodies, languages and musical journeys offered by the others in the band and our guest vocalists, too, as we worked on the other songs featured on this collection.

Avital: We've all dug deep into our roots. For me it was recording a traditional Jewish song that my grandparents used to sing before Friday night (Sabbath) dinner praising the woman of the house. I even learned to sing it with Yiddish pronunciation. It felt like going back in time and connecting with my dead ancestors.

Your new tour will bring an immersive stage show to audiences. What can people look forward to at the performances?

Avital: I'm not sure what is meant by immersive. We are nine musicians but most of us play a few instruments. At one performance we had a deaf person in the audience. He said he found it fascinating watching us all play so many different instruments, most of which he had never seen before.

Sarah: They can look forward to coming close to us in our performances, as we're mainly playing small to medium tour venues this time and in our short panel discussions with them immediately after some shows. The projected video loop from artist Zarah Hussain is really hypnotic to watch too, whilst we perform.

The penultimate stop of your tour will be at Yellow Arch on 7 November and we've heard that you'll be bringing some special guests with you. Who'll be joining you on stage?

Sarah: Yes, the Sheffield date brings us back up-close with some of the invited guest vocalists who recorded a couple of songs with us for the album last year. They're traditional folk singers bringing Gaelic and English voices to our music.

Avital: We have the best of British Folk music collaborating with us: Nancy Kerr, Sam Carter, James Fagan and Marilla Holmes. They join forces as The Sheffield Harmony Collective. We also have a brilliant young Scottish singer called Kaitlin Ross.

Rafiki Jazz play at Yellow Arch Studios on Thursday 7 November. Tickets available here.

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