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Ife Ogunjobi on “Stay True”: Blending Heritage and Modernity in Jazz

by Madonna

For trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi, “Stay True” encapsulates a powerful message: embracing one’s unique experiences and recognizing the singular identity each person holds in the world. “If you do your own thing and find your own audience, you’ll be surprised at how many people will listen to your story—and how many people it’ll resonate with,” he reflects.

While Ogunjobi is renowned as the trumpeter for the Ezra Collective, his recent conversation with Hypebeast delves into his debut project as a bandleader, “Stay True.” Just a day after the band received the prestigious 2023 Mercury Prize for their album “Where I’m Meant to Be,” Ogunjobi discusses the release of his own EP, blending his Nigerian heritage with South London influences to create a refreshing and musically rich five-track project.

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Q: You’ve experienced significant success recently, with Ezra Collective winning the Mercury Prize, and now “Stay True,” your debut project as a leader, is set to release. How do you feel about it all?

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A: There’s a lot going on, man. But the main thing I’m feeling is gratitude. I’m really grateful for all the people that invested their time in supporting me and can now see all their support come to fruition. I’m proud of what I achieved, of course, but I’m just as proud about all the people that helped me achieve it.

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Q: Can you tell us about what inspired you to work on “Stay True” and when you began putting it together?

A: My band and I have been doing shows for about three or four years when I’m not on tour with Ezra Collective or working with other artists, but we started working on “Stay True” in 2021. The strictest COVID lockdowns in London were over by then, but the future was a bit uncertain. Combine that with January being the perfect time for musicians to record regardless because nobody’s really touring then. I had written some music I wanted to put out, and that just felt like the perfect time to record it.

Q: You’ve played countless live shows. How do you compare the headspace for touring and recording?

A: In my opinion, a live show is all about the interaction with people. It’s a beautiful experience to see so many different people together. They may not have that much in common, but they all come together for one purpose, which is the music. So when I’m playing live shows, my attention is focused on making sure the people are getting what they need to get in that moment. But when I’m making records in the studio, I’m trying to create something that’s timeless. I want to create a record that will resonate with people when they listen to it not just the first time, but the fifth time, the 50th time, the 100th time. It’s all about how music makes you feel in either circumstance; the main difference is that live the impact needs to be immediate while on record it needs to have more longevity.

Q: Do you have a trumpet “hero” or main influence? Dizzy? Clifford Brown? Miles?

A: Ah, man. There’s … there’s a few [laughs]. The reason I started playing the trumpet was because I got to see a Hugh Masekela concert in London when I was about 10 years old. That was my first time hearing the trumpet and flugelhorn being played, and something about the energy of the trumpet drew me in. Hugh was a really early hero for me, but I was also listening to a lot of Louis Armstrong when I was young because my dad had a couple of his CDs in the house. The first time I heard Freddie Hubbard, I was like “woah.” He’s a trumpet genius, man. He’s so fiery when he plays his trumpet and that’s had a massive influence on me. Wynton [Marsalis], Miles [Davis], Clifford Brown. I learned a lot about jazz from studying Clifford Brown.

Q: “Stay True” blends modern production values with old-school thematic structure, making the melodic themes really memorable. How did you arrive at this combination?

A: That’s quite an interesting question. I like that. I don’t think that combo was deliberate, but I do think it’s something that comes from how I am as a person and how I hear music, especially the trumpet. When I write a melody, especially for the trumpet, I want it to be quite triumphant and quite memorable. There needs to be a statement when the melody comes in, and it should be something that the audience can sing back to you. Especially because there are no lyrics in most of my music, it’s got to hit quickly. The melody can be a great tool to make something that’s recognizable to any listener. No matter if you’re listening to Stevie Wonder or a jazz standard, you can recognize a catchy melody even if you don’t know what’s going on [in a technical sense] with the rest of the song.

I’m a young man living in 2023, and I listen to loads of produced music from Afrobeats to hip-hop, grime, garage and R&B, so I understand the importance of the production side as well, getting those beats and rhythms matched up with the beautiful melodies and the live instrumentation of what we jazz artists do. The beat is the bedrock, the overall tone of the music, and the melody is the actual story on top. I love the beauty and intricacy of jazz music, but I also love going to a party and dancing my head off to beats.

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