Interview: Mista Savona
Something that people might not realise from hearing your music is the fact its spearheaded by a man from Melbourne. Can you tell us how you came to form a relationship with this style of music?
Yeah sure! I started making music when I was pretty young and ended up moving to London later on to finish my degree, which is where started to hear all the bass driven sound system culture, especially the Jamaican influence on it all. Living in Brixton meant I was very close to all these amazing sounds! So, I moved back to Australia in my early 20’s very inspired and started making beats, more sample based hip-hop, reggae dub sorta stuff. I eventually realised that to understand this music in the way I needed to, I needed to go to Jamaica itself, the homeland of reggae and dub music. So, I finally went over for the first time in 2004, had an amazing trip and kept going back at least once a year after that to record and work with artists. Over that time I built these great connections with artists so that by the time I finally made it to Cuba in 2014, I had enough experience and connections to make me believe I could start to put together something like this.
Your new album ‘Havana Meets Kingston’ features the blend of both Cuban and Jamaican feel into one record. What did you feel made these sounds so fitting for each other to make an album?
These two islands are right door to each other, and they have this amazing but very different histories and very different styles of music, and yet they have this common ancestry. But with the history of the African Slave Trade and the way music evolved once it got to the Caribbean, this meant those two places have always had this slight separation musically. Once I left Cuba I was inspired to create this project, but I thought surely something like this would have already happened somewhere in the world. However, once I got back to Australia and did my research, I realized nothing was there. I couldn’t find anything of a project that brought both Jamaican and Cuban musicians together on recording project. So yeah, I suppose that’s the whole premise of this record. There was so much respect between the musicians and curiosity about the different styles that just made it work really well, and I’m glad I was able to help direct the project in a way that held the faith and groove securely within the music.
How do feel the album has been received by audiences since its release?
It’s been incredible, and I’ve been very lucky to have 3 record labels working on the release. The ABC handled the distribution in Australia, and Baco Records in France handling European distribution, and finally VP Records handling America and the rest of the world. They’re the biggest reggae label in the world which was very exciting the get them on board. Between those three labels, the exposure has been overwhelming and just receiving positive messages from absolutely everywhere has been fantastic. It also helped that our introductory video we posted last year went viral. It got a million and a half views in a day without us doing anything which was staggering. I just pressed post on a little Facebook page and in almost a week we had 2 million views and over 40,000 likes. Because it’s one thing to make a great album, but it’s another problem getting it out there for audiences to hear so that viral video certainly made things a lot easier for us and we’re extremely thankful for that.
As an artist touring such a classic style of music and culture, do you feel your music is well recognised in a western contemporary market like Australia?
I find that Australia has always been pretty disconnected from Caribbean music because there weren’t many Cuban or Jamaican people here when I was growing up. Thankfully there has been a big influx of African culture in Australia as of late which I think will definitely help spread the appeal of Reggae and dub style music into the future. People here who love Reggae here really do love this music but on the other hand it’s a very small community, and artists touring this music have always suffered from slow ticket sales and interaction in Australia, sometimes to the point where they can’t break even off a tour which is really sad to see. Guys like Sly and Robbie and some of the original Buena Vista Social Club and classic musicians you might not ever get to see here again. It’s the first time we’ve ever had this mix of Jamaican and Cuban musicians sharing a stage together and Australia is the first to experience it, so I really hope people take this chance to participate in something so unique for the Australian music scene.
The inclusive nature of this music is obviously showcased in this amazing band you’ve put together for the tour. Can you tell us a little about how you came about piecing the band together?
Again, I have been very lucky. It all happened very synchronistically over a long period time. Harking back to my first trip to Jamaica in 2004, and each year I’d make new connections without fail. By the time I’d made it to Cuba I’d already met Sly from Sly and Robbie where we’d had some great studio sessions. When I came up with the idea for the album I asked if they were keen to come to Cuba, and they were super into it and put me in touch with their manager. Once we had the funding secured to head to Cuba, a friend of mine from Melbourne, Javier Fredes, started putting together a massive bunch of Cuban musicians as he’s well connected over there. But once the sessions actually began in Havana, word had spread about our project which meant we had countless other musicians coming into the studio which opened a lot of doors for what we wanted to achieve from the project.
Melbourne has always been renowned as Australia’s premier city for music. Bringing the historic sounds of these two nations on tour to this city is something very exciting and interesting. What do you hope audiences can take away from your shows?
Well the goal for this project was to be a big celebration of Caribbean culture, and that’ll be the vibe on stage as a very danceable set. It’s going to be a show that will highlight all the individual skills and talents that sit in this 15-piece band and honour the history of these amazing musicians. I hope that people will be tremendously uplifted and be inspired to dig deeper into the culture of these two nations and listen to the album more, or even give it a spin if they haven’t heard it yet.
Finally, I read that part two of Havana Meets Kingston will be released this year at some point. Do you have plans to tour the album with this group into the future, especially in Cuba and Jamaica?
Yeah, that is true and we’re hoping that it’ll be ready for a release early this year if not late next year. During the recording sessions in Havana I was hoping to record 1 to 2 songs a day, but we ended up being really productive and doing about 3-4 tunes a day which means I’ve got 3 albums worth of material out of those sessions. I feel the second album is as strong as the first, and it also features less covers and more original material, so it should be very appealing for people looking for some new sounds. And in terms of touring yes! We definitely have a European tour booked for the middle of the year! We’re playing places like The Boomtown Fair and Royal Albert Hall in London as part of The Proms, where we’re the first non-classical act ever to be booked as part of that show. It’s been going since 1895 so for us to be included now is something very special to us. And in terms of Jamaica and Cuba I’d love to tour the album over there, as I feel it’s a very natural thing for us to do as a band. We did have talks with the Jamaican tourism board over playing there but unfortunately things just haven’t worked out yet. We’re still very keen to honour the homelands of this music with our show sometime in the future.
Well thanks for your time Jake and looking forward to catching your show here in Melbourne!
Yeah! Thank you so much, can’t wait to be there and have this amazing band play for you guys!
Interviewed by Harry Bradley