YolanDa Brown
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YolanDa Brown

London, England, United Kingdom | Established. Jan 01, 2007 | INDIE

London, England, United Kingdom | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2007
Solo Jazz Reggae





It’s merely a few days before YolanDa Brown’s performance at London’s Barbican, where she’ll officially close her Reggae Love Songs tour with a bang. As her social media will testify, the award-winning British saxophonist has been rather occupied in the past few weeks, featuring in major British newspapers and participating in a number of press and radio interviews alongside rehearsals.

Yet, she answers my questions as if it’s the first interview undertaken and takes it in her stride; being multifarious appears to be in her nature.

The British saxophonist, composer and double MOBO winner has been on an upward trajectory ever since she burst onto the scene and her label as the UK’s premier female saxophonist is no exaggeration. With a sound influenced primarily by jazz but comprised of a hybrid of genres, she describes her music as “reggae, jazz and soul mixed with emotion. It is music that moves you!”.

Born in East London and with an upbringing she describes as “amazing”, music was always present for the young YolanDa and in the form of an eclectic mix of genres, including reggae, classical, folk, latin, jazz and much more. Undoubtedly gifted, she mastered a wide range of instruments, not exclusively the saxophone, and was playing piano at the age of six. To have achieved so much so early on, where did her desire to play music stem from? “My Dad has an amazing record collection and I think always hearing music, especially on Saturday mornings, definitely inspired my love for music and later on my career in music” she muses.

For the accomplished artist, life could have taken a very different turn. Whilst studying a phD in Management Science at The University of Kent her music career and life on the road was beginning to take off, so she decided to put her degree on hold for four years. How did it feel to take the plunge and swap the scholarly world for the music one? “It was very difficult” she admits “but I knew in my heart that it was the right decision”. Not that YolanDa needed to have worried; she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of East London for her contribution to music and can claim an impressive list of career accomplishments to date.

In 2008 and 2009 respectively, YolanDa gained the endorsement she deserved by winning not one but two MOBO Awards for Best Jazz Act. How did it feel to win this accolade and have her work celebrated in this way? “It was surprising, emotional, rewarding, all jumbled into one. The second time round, I was more composed and just enjoyed the moment!” she laughs. “Being an award winner definitely gives you more credibility and confidence” she says thoughtfully when I ask her if winning the MOBO has enhanced her already successful career.

2012’s debut April Showers May Flowers was a global success and introduced audiences to her broad range of sounds ranging from funk through to classical, reggae and “everything in between”. It took considerable time to write and record, but the album evolved and grew on stage to such an extent that just a year later, YolanDa re-recorded it in just one take in a live session at London’s Under the Bridge in Chelsea. “I love how the special guests interpreted my lyrics and the live element of the songs. TokYo Sunset is my favourite”.

Speaking of guests, YolanDa is a great believer that music is about sharing and as a prolific collaborator, has worked with many notable musicians such as Jools Holland, Lemar, Julian Marley, Mica Paris, Omar Lye-Fook and Soweto Kinch. Given such a broad range of musical associates, were there any memorable moments she is willing to share? “Every artist brings a different energy and personality to the music” she says humbly. “Performing with Bob Marley‘s son Julian Marley was a moment I won’t forget. I love Bob and his music lives on, so to perform Stir It Up with his son was something special”.


Since early this year she has been on her Reggae Love Songs tour, her biggest and most extensive to date, which features music from her forthcoming album along with a number of special guests. “The first night at the sold out Hackney Empire was magical!” she reminisces. “The crowd kept asking for more, we ran 30 minutes over as a result!.” Which comes as no surprise; YolanDa is well known for her live performance, putting on an energetic and vivacious display. How does she manage to engage so well with her fans? “I try to take the audience on a journey of emotions. I want them to reminisce, dance, sing along, cry (but not too much!) all in one concert. Every show is different and I love that! A YolanDa Brown concert is a roller coaster of emotions is the best way to describe it.”

Not content with being certified jazz royalty, YolanDa also has philanthropic commitments and is helping to shape the future of the jazz genre as well as raise awareness. An Ambassador for the Prince’s Foundation for Children & The Arts, she also acts as an Ambassador for the Mayor’s Music Fund for Young Londoners and is inspired by young people and getting them to realise their limitless potential.

All of this, and also mother to a two year old daughter, I’m dazzled by all her achievements. How on earth does she manage to juggle so much and still remain composed and able to function? “I just do it is the simple answer!’” she says. “It helps to keep the analogy of “juggling” in mind and make sure to keep the balls in the air. It’s also important to catch them all, put them down and just have some ‘Me time’ every now and then. It gives me the chance to re-energise and go again!”.

Given her own unique sound has so many layers and elements, I’m curious to know which artists have influenced her. “The list is so long!” she admits. “In terms of saxophone, Kirk Whalum, Kenny Garret and Sonny Rollins. With my interest in reggae, jazz and soul I love the work of Monty Alexander, Ernest Ranglin and Bob Marley” she says thoughtfully as I make a mental note to check out these artists. Could she enlighten me on what she is listening to now (in the hope an iota of her coolness will rub off on me)? It’s Snarky Puppy’s album Culcha Vulcha and the track Semente is on repeat, she reveals.

So what’s in the pipeline for the industrious YolanDa? Her highly anticipated sophomore album is due for release in early 2017 and I ask what we can expect from the new album in terms of sound and musical direction? “My new album is my best piece of work so far. I have had a lot more time to work on it and this has allowed me to take my time in carving it out. I love the fusion of reggae, jazz and soul. I call it vinyl music, music with a crackle, music that moves you!”

For now, the Barbican gig, part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, is looming ever closer and YolanDa is excited. Alongside her ten-piece band and special guest Shingai Shoniwa, London rapper, singer, songwriter and producer Tiggs Da Author and singer-songwriter and guitarist Shan Smile will be joining her on stage which promises to be a very special denouement. What is she looking forward to most about the final date? “It’s the end of the tour, so the songs are second nature to us all on stage!” she reflects. “It’s been a long tour, so I’m looking forward to ending it with a big bang!” I am keen to know what it feels like to play alongside the illuminating Shingai? “She’s such a natural performer and we have such chemistry on stage. We had such an amazing time on stage in Liverpool and can’t wait to do it again!”.

As the interview draws to a close, I ask what influences her presuming that such a rich and varied life would offer many subjects? “Life in general is what influences me and gives me a basis for my expression. Hearing other people’s experiences and finding empathy with them is also influential, that can come from anywhere” she says.

Philanthropist. Mother. Charity Patron and of course, musician. Phew. Having an insight into YolanDa’s world has been fascinating and her polymathic approach and natural gift is inspiring.

RockShot wish her all the best for her show at the Barbican and if you are fortunate enough to be in attendance, prepare to be moved.

YolanDa is playing at London’s Barbican Centre with special guests on 15 November 2016.

Interview by Nicola Greenbrook. - Rock shot

"Da, Mr Medvedev – I’ll play your roubles away"

Anna Mikhailova
November 13 2016
The Sunday Times

The saxophonist YolanDa Brown has performed for the former Russian president. It’s a far cry from flogging furniture in Harrods

Before Yolanda Brown found she could make music pay, she hoped to be a management consultant
The jazz saxophonist Yolanda Brown says she earns most of her money from giving private concerts, which have included playing for a Russian president. Born in Barking, east London, she was playing the piano by the age of six and moved on to the violin, drums and other instruments before teaching herself the saxophone when she was 13.

However, she had planned to follow a very different career path. She gained a first-class degree in European operations management at Kent University and then spent four years working on a PhD, only to abandon it when her career took off. - The Times

"YolanDa Brown - Sax appeal"

Ever since she was small, YolanDa Brown has been fascinated with music, and racing driving, and speaking different languages, and travelling. So when she grew up, the natural choice was to become a management consultant.

The 30-year-old has two master's degrees, speaks fluent Spanish and, in 2009, while she was diligently working on her PhD thesis in management science, she started to believe that maybe her childhood passion for music could be a reality. That year Brown became the first person ever to win at the Jazz category of the Mobo awards two years running. But management consultancy “was always the plan”, so she stuck with it.

“I didn't know that music was going to be a career. I used to just play for myself and I was always very shy about it and people were saying, ”you could make some money from this you know“ and I was like, ”I don't really want to,“ she exclaims in an east-London accent. ”I found music very therapeutic. To process my feelings, instead of writing in a diary, I would play my saxophone. So for me music was very personal, the idea of taking that personal thing onto a stage was strange to me. Then, one day in summer, I had the windows open and I was playing and I was very hot and sweaty and I heard applause. It was my neighbour, and he asked if I could play it again. Then I realised music was about sharing and, even though the sax doesn't have words, it's an incredibly powerful instrument and people want to share in the emotion you're expressing with it – so I shouldn't be so shy!“

Even now, Brown encounters some prejudice around her chosen career path. “Early on in my career as a saxophonist, a lot of my interviewers were like ”so you're a female...“ Her response was, ”so what?“

“There are only so many notes on a keyboard and I don't think a composition would change according to your gender.”

She then played a series of game-changing concerts, including a UK tour with The Temptations, a concert on the beach for the president of Jamaica, and a reception at The Winter Palace for the then Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

“There was no way to plug things in, they had a string quartet to back me, and I thought, this is nice, but it's not exactly gonna rock the house!” she laughs. Instead of the lilting strings, she taught the band a reggae number, “the room changed, suddenly everyone was more relaxed and the guy on bass was putting so much effort in he broke a string.”

Eventually, she somewhat reluctantly put the PhD on hold and made an album, April Showers May Flowers, which shot straight to No1 in the UK jazz charts.

Brown's parents are Jamaican, and she grew up in Barking listening to her father's record collection, which contained “all different genres of music” including classical, rock, soul and reggae. Her parents indulged all her childhood passions, including a whole orchestra's worth of instruments, and her joining the Army Cadets and Cub Scouts (“I loved going out and shooting rifles... I loved the idea of the camping in the outdoors!”) but it wasn't until the age of 13 that she picked up the saxophone.

“I told my parents I wanted to play the saxophone and they said: ”Oh no! Here she goes again!“ but it just shows, you really need to encourage those childhood passions – because it might lead to a career”. Another of Brown's passions is encouraging young people to follow theirs. “Young people seem to be seeing the fame, but they don't understand the joy of just making music” she muses.

This week she was at the O2 Arena in support of the Spirit of London Awards, which celebrate the achievements of young Londoners, and she's also part of Plan UK, the Mayor of London's fund for young musicians. She is about to set up her own foundation for talented young musicians. She sees it as social responsibility.

“It's part and parcel of the job. When you're chasing record sales, young people look up to you, and you need their parents to approve of you so they can buy your music.” There are other aspects to being in the limelight that Brown, as a self-confessed tomboy, hasn't taken so easily to.

“I think glamming up is part of what the music industry requires. I have been to meetings where they say, 'what about this look?' and show me a picture of Grace Jones... well, I'd rather look like me. I have dresses made that I think are still appealing but quite modest. My skirts won't be getting any shorter any time soon.”

In fact, Brown is planning on spending a substantial part of next year devoid of glamour, as there's one more childhood dream she hasn't yet fulfilled. “I met Ron Dennis, the boss of the McLaren Formula 1 team, and I shot a music video in a Formula 3 car. We got talking and I'll be racing Minis next year and making a documentary about it and following my dream.”

Just like when she was a child, variety still attracts Brown. “They tour the races just like I tour my music, so one day I might be at an awards show and the next day I'll be on the track not having to do my make-up or my hair because I'll have my helmet on!” she says gleefully. But what about the PhD? “In the future I'd definitely like to finish it off,” she says. Let's hope she sticks with the sax long enough to make the next album.

YolanDa Brown's album, 'April Showers, May Flowers', is out now - Independent

"Time Out"

“Bright young saxophone talent – sounding somewhere between Stan Getz and Courtney Pine (minus the showboating chops) –
Brown's music is an accessible mix of classic jazz tones with a twist of R&B and funk.
Something of an unusual 'crossover' star in the making (she's not a singer for starters)”
- Time Out

"BBC London"

“A name you are going to hear you are going to hear lots and tonnes and loads about in the not too distant future”
- BBC London


A Step Closer EP (August 2008)

April Showers May Flowers (February 2012)

Live Sessions (June 2013)

Love Politics War (June 2017)



For some, mastery of a musical instrument and a hit album would be satisfaction enough. Not for YolanDa Brown. This British musician, who’s garnered praise for her singular mix of jazz, soul and reggae, is fascinated by all manner of pursuits. It seems whatever she puts her hand to… she excels in.

Double MOBO award-winning YolanDa Brown is the premier female saxophonist in the UK and her Debut Album “April Showers May Flowers” was No1 on the iTunes and Amazon Jazz charts. She has toured with The Temptations, Diana Krall, Courtney Pine and Billy Ocean and collaborated with artists such as Mica Paris, Lemar, Matt Cardle, Reggae Legend Bob Marley’s son Julian Marley and as part of Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra.

She loves to race cars, fast cars! You can usually find her driving at a racing track on her days off. A broadcaster - working on TV and Radio, a Foodie and can complete a Rubik's cube in under 5 minutes… on a good day! YolanDa has just had a radio show commissioned for British Airways starting in Nov 2016 called “Inflight Live Sessions”, where she interviews both established and emerging artists, followed by a performance and she is also currently writing her series of children's books.

YolanDa graduated with a first class degree in Operations management from the University of Kent. She has 2 Masters and had been studying a PhD for four years at the University of Kent, before taking a hiatus from her thesis to pursue her music career. Brown was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts by the University of East London and also invited to meet the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace. YolanDa Brown has played to Presidents and Heads of States and she is a celebrity ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, Children and the Arts, as well as the Mayor’s Music Fund.

2016 has seen YolanDa Brown on her biggest ever nationwide UK tour ‘Reggae Love Songs”, performing at her first BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall and headlining at the Barbican for the London Jazz Festival.

YolanDa Brown is currently recording her sophomore album, "Love Politics War" due for release in 2017, which she says will be her best piece of work yet...

Looks like downtime is not on this lady’s agenda.