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Inspiring Conversations with Mark Kavuma of The Banger Factory

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mark Kavuma.

Hi Mark, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
My musical journey began at 13 years of age, during my second year of secondary school, at St Thomas the Apostle, South London. I was very fortunate to have an incredible music teacher who instilled in me an immense passion for music that has led me to where I am today. I didn’t come from a musical background or family by any means but my life changed when I met Mr. Joe Morgan. It was he who encouraged me to have a go, experiment and explore music. I tried a couple of different instruments but as soon as I picked up the trumpet, I knew that was it for me. I still remember the day I got home with my beaten-up trumpet case, buzzing and excited to tell my mum that I was now a trumpet player. Soon after that, I joined a carnival band called Kinetika Bloco, where I met Matt Fox, Andy Grappy and my first trumpet hero, Claude Deppa. I was captivated by his sound. Man, Claude played with so much fire and always with a great deal of feeling. It just knocked me out. It seemed like he could do just about anything on the trumpet and on top of that, he was just a hip cat to be around. Wherever Claude was in the trumpet section or in the building for that matter, I would be close by. I was hooked and all I wanted to do was play and learn as much as I could. 

I went on to join an organization named The Tomorrow’s Warriors, led by the incredible bass player Gary Crosby. I was still very shy at this stage of my life but Tomorrow’s Warriors provided a safe space for me to develop and my first professional playing opportunities and experiences. In Gary, I found another key mentor, someone who believed in my ability and encouraged me to go for it. What is more, it was around this time, at 15 years of age, that I discovered Miles Davis and Clifford Brown. This was a whole new world for me. I was obsessed with the four classic Miles Albums, Cookin’- Workin’ -Steamin’ and Relaxin’. I was also dumbfounded by The Max Roach/Clifford Brown quintet. I spent two years studying with one of Britain’s finest trumpet players, Quentin Collins, who taught me the art of practice and helped me develop and build my chops before attending Trinity College of Music. It was during this time that I started frequenting many of the jam sessions around town. My main hang was the late session at Ronnie Scott’s hosted by Michael Mwenso. This is where I got to meet, hang and play with many of the musicians on the scene. Michael became another mentor of mine. Always pairing me with older musicians, recommending albums to check out and offering advice and guidance on my playing. Through these sessions, I developed my performance chops and grew confidence in my ability. 

In 2012, when I was 19, Tomorrow’s warriors entered into the very first Essentially Ellington competition in the UK. I knew Wynton Marsalis was going to be there and I was determined to meet him. By this stage, I was a huge admirer of his, he was one of my idols. There were a lot of performers in the competition and I figured, well if he doesn’t get to hear me, he was certainly going to see me. I came out in a bright orange blazer, black shorts, a pair of funky socks and the baddest shoes I could source in town. Man, you should have seen me. You could spot me a mile amongst the sea of black blazers and white shirts. We did well in the competition and I was voted best soloist. As a result, I was featured as a guest soloist with Mr. Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra for two of their shows in the UK. This was a dream come true. Not only did I get to spend time with the band on the tour bus and in-between gigs, I also got to spend some invaluable time with Wynton. He was very supportive and generous with his time and wisdom. This experience marked a significant point in my development, for it generated in me a burning desire to get better and pursue my dreams. It was around this time that I joined my partner in crime, Ruben Fox, in developing a weekly residency at the Prince of Wales, Brixton. ‘Fox’s Late Night Hang’ provided a simultaneously safe and challenging space to grow, develop our skills, experiment new songs and arrangements, play with older musicians and, crucially, gauge the reaction of fans. The residency seemed to be going from strength to strength.

Ruben and I were really getting our thing together as a frontline to be reckoned with and we were having an absolute ball. Halfway through my studies at Trinity College of Music, I was asked to tour the world and feature in Peter Brookes Production of ‘The Suit’. The Tour was going around America and the first stop for rehearsals was New York. I didn’t hesitate in joining the production. In-between rehearsals, I got the opportunity to frequent jam sessions and by this time, Michael Mwenso had moved to New York and was running the late-night Sessions at Dizzy’s. Through him, I got to meet many of the young titans on the scene and have since developed strong connections and friendships with some of the musicians. After my return from the four-month tour, Ruben decided to move to New York and pursue his studies at Juilliard. This left me solely in charge of our weekly residency and this was the point at which ‘The Banger Factory’ was born. I set out to expand on what we had started but I made the crucial decision to stick with the same personnel and develop a group sound. The band featured Artie Zaitz (guitar), Dario Di Lecce (double bass), William Cleasby (drums), Mussinghi Brian Edwards (Saxophone) and myself On trumpet. Michael Shrimpling soon took over from Dario on double bass and that has been the core unit since. It wasn’t long before we started to develop and nourish a truly unique and unmistakable sound. My next tour was with Salif Keita and Les Ambassadeurs. I was by far the youngest member of the band and felt truly blessed to be amongst such masterful musicians. Furthermore, I was venturing into a whole different musical universe and was eager to soak it all up.

On top of this, I was touring with my biggest mentor in the horn section, the Songbird, Mr. Mussinghi Brian Edwards. I had met Mussinghi at the legendary Sunday night Jazz Sessions at ‘The Haggerston’, East London, in my late teens. I instantly fell in love with his playing, style and infectious character and he took me under his wing. Mussinghi has such a sweet sound on the saxophone, hence why we call him the songbird. His sound also has the depth of human feeling. It touches listeners and you simply can’t forget that sound. We had a gas on tour and I also got the chance to reconnect with Wynton in Marciac, where he was also performing with his septet. After the tour, Mussinghi persuaded Alan Weekes, leader of the band at ‘The Haggerston’ to expand the quartet into a quintet. I was honoured as they had been running as quartet for almost as long as I had been alive, 22 years. I have been a permanent fixture in the house band since. Soon after the Salif Keita tour, I recorded my debut album, ‘Kavuma’. It featured some of my New York family: Kyle Poole (drums), Michela Marino Lerman (tap) and my man, Ruben Fox on Tenor Saxophone. In addition to some of my London family: Reuben James (piano), Conor Chaplin (bass) and Mussinghi Brian Edwards (Saxophone). The album was released in July 2018 and voted amongst the best albums of the year by downbeat magazine. After ‘Kavuma’, I immediately set my eyes on advancing and recording “The Banger Factory’ which had by now grown in size. Also featuring: David Mrakpor (vibraphone) Kaidi Akinnibi (saxophone) Reuben James (Hammond Organ) and Dechanel Gordon (piano). We went into the studio at the back end of 2018 and recorded my second album, which was to be titled: ‘The Banger Factory’.

An introduction of the project I had been tirelessly working on and developing with the band at our weekly residency in Brixton, South London since 2016. The Album, featuring all my compositions, featured the different members of the unit. It’s all driven through emotion and story and the residency had become the perfect place to test new material. The Banger Factory was released on Ubuntu records in July 2019. After the release of the album and launch show at the Jazz café, we began to gather momentum and were going from strength to strength. Performing regularly at many of London’s top venues and evolving as a unit. Sadly the pandemic put a halt to our live shows but has given me the opportunity to reflect and time to examine and evaluate where we are. I am truly excited about what the future holds in store for ‘The Banger Factory’. Through organizations like Kinetika Bloco and Tomorrow’s Warriors and the mentors that have shaped the musician I’ve become, I have grown to fully understand the power of music. I have also grown up with many of the musicians on the scene today and have witnessed the impact music has had on all our lives. I see ‘The Banger Factory’ as more than just a band and see it as an institution that will affect the lives of many, young and old, over the coming years. My ultimate goal is for ‘The Banger Factory’ to flourish as a mecca for learning as well as a hub for performance.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I have to say, I am blessed to be doing what I love with the people I love. Of course, like anything in life, there have been challenges but I view them as part of the process. I believe that in order to thrive in this business, you have to adopt a total willingness to fail and learn. Once you adopt this mentality, then I believe you have the serenity not to worry about the things you can not control but also the strength and right mindset to take on the challenges that come your way. You’ve got to keep on keepin on.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
The Banger Factory is an organization contingent upon bringing the people a good time. Born in the heart of Brixton, south London, the band has developed and nourished a truly unique and unmistakable sound. Featuring some of the most gifted, engaging and masterful musicians on the scene today. Artie Zaitz (guitar), Will Cleasby (drums), Michael Shrimpling (bass), Mussinghi Brian Edwards (saxophone), David Mrakpor (vibraphone), Deschanel Gordon (Piano), Reuben James (Hammond Organ), Ruben Fox (saxophone), Trevor Edwards (trombone) and myself on trumpet. I am expanding “The Banger Factory’ into a record label and have recorded our first offerings on the label to be released later on this year (2021). Kavuma & The Banger Factory: Arashi No Ato (which means; After The Storm) and my debut piano record, Zaitz and Kavuma. Featuring my man Artie Zaitz on Hammond Organ and William Cleasby on Drums. Watch out now! Check out ‘The Banger Factory” on all streaming platforms. Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Deezer, etc…

Do you any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
Favorite childhood memory has to be experiencing the joy and happiness at the Kinetika summer schools. Twas a dream.

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Image Credits:

Joe Hart

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