Nubya Garcia on jazz, Beyoncé and putting a killer look together

The saxophonist and band leader has been at the centre of London’s jazz renaissance. Now starring in Bottega Veneta’s latest campaign, she chats to THE FACE about her music and style inspirations.

Bottega Venetas latest campaign star Nubya Garcia was 10-years-old when she first got her hands on a saxophone. She’d played other instruments before – violin, piano – but nothing stuck. I think my mum just saw me hating it and wanted to find something that I enjoyed,” she says. So in came the sax. That was a surprise. It was just a parent’s kind of sixth sense.”

Two decades later, Garcia has played her saxophone on stages around the world, while continually collaborating with new-gen London jazz leaders like Moses Boyd and Joe-Armon Jones.

But Garcia doesn’t consider herself to be a jazz musician per se. Her influences are far-reaching, playing her sax to rhythms borrowed from reggae and cumbia, a folkloric genre from Columbia. Released last year, her debut album Source is a sonic journey across the African diaspora, exploring her Guyanese and British Trinidadian heritage through adventurous compositions that sound at once thoroughly modern and timeless.

Now starring in Bottega Veneta’s Wardrobe 02 campaign, she’s caught the attention of the fashion crowd, too. Donning a wet-weather-ready look of colour-blocked leather and bright green puddle boots, Garcia was one of 30 influential figures chosen for the campaign, alongside the likes of Skepta, Neneh Cherry and Little Simz.

Here, THE FACE catches up with Nubya Garcia over Zoom to find out more about her music and personal style, and why Beyoncé will always be a source of inspiration.

Hey Nubya, how are you doing?

I’m good, thank you. I’ve been looking at the rain this morning, pottering about. There’s some stuff I have to do, but we’re fine.

How would you describe your sound?

My style is a mixture of lots of different things, which is so vague, but it’s just true. I think people see a saxophone and they’re like, Oh, yeah, it’s jazz or it’s reggae”. No, it’s a mixture of lots of different things that me and my friends and my family have been exposed to over the years. It’s ever-changing as well, which is really exciting.

I’m honoured to be called a jazz musician [by others] – I longed for that for so long. But I’m [also] really wary of being called a jazz musician… I’ve just left the box of trying to please everyone in terms of, You’re not jazz because you don’t do this”. I wanted to be thought of as a jazz musician, but I’m also very different from other jazz musicians who are deep in the art form and uphold the tradition in a very different way than I do.

So what does jazz mean to you?

It means so much that I can’t articulate it properly. I don’t feel confident enough to stand by what I say, because it’s ever-changing and feels so powerful to me. And there’s such a history and rhetoric about jazz being miscommunicated that I don’t want to add to that story. I will say, for me, it’s just something that has helped me. It’s provided me with a space to be myself and learn who the fuck that is. The music just provides me with a space to be free and explore things that I can’t articulate in words.

What do you think about when putting together an outfit for a performance?

Often I go for clothes that I can move in, because I don’t like to be constricted on stage. You have to think about how hot then you might be, if there’s any AC. It’s so dumb, but I’ve done gigs where I’m wearing [a tight long sleeve top] like this and just got the biggest sweat patches. You feel really unattractive, you know? I’m not like I must be perfect all the time”, because God damn, playing music is really sweaty. But I have to be comfortable, I have to feel powerful.

These days, I like jeans and a T‑shirt, or a top with combat trousers and comfy Converse or big boots. I used to really try – I mean, I do still definitely try, but I feel like I have less to prove. Unfortunately, I also think about how I come across with what I wear, because I don’t want to be over-sexualized. Now, I think I’ve figured out what works for me and what I feel comfortable in. On a casual day, I have these yellow combat trousers that I wear with big boots and a small body top. I’ve also got this really amazing shirt from Nor Black Nor White, which is patterned. I wore that for my only show of 2020 at the Barbican.

How would you describe your day-to-day style?

Growing up, I was really interested in fashion and I thought about pursuing that before music. My personal style is mixed between being incredibly lazy and all or nothing. I love to dress up and look good, but the regularity of that is going down. I go for comfort and uniqueness now. I used to be all about the high street, but I think the high street used to be way more interesting, [more] colourful and bright. Over the last decade, it’s just become really bland.

I love one-off pieces. I love going away and meeting people who make clothes on all kinds of levels and popularities. I always end up coming home with something that feels like a story. That’s what I really love about fashion, remembering where you got something or who you were talking to when you bought a piece.

Who are your fashion heroes from the world of music?

Absolutely Beyoncé. I would never wear [her outfits], because nobody needs to see my legs. I think she’s incredible all round, but the outfits and the attention to detail… I was at her [2018] Coachella show and seeing that beginning outfit with the cape, I was like Yoo!’ She is an absolute style icon. So there’s her, and obviously Prince and Miles Davis, even though I’m personally quite understated.

Do other visual elements of music, like album covers and videos, influence you?

Definitely. I love designing artwork and working with artists on creative direction, because it can bring so much in. There’s so much in my last album cover. I spoke so much [to Claire Laura, the artist] and she just really got that what I was trying to create. I think all cover designs bring something to the music that can’t be articulated in words. You form these opinions about the music before you’ve even heard it, because you look at the cover. Sometimes they match and sometimes they don’t, and I love that kind of conversation between the two. Loads of old school dub albums have incredible covers. You can just see the journey.

In terms of music videos that have influenced me, they’re quite recent, but I really love the last two Little Simz videos. Those are just incredible – the detail, the representation and diversity, the story, the narrative. There’s obviously Beyoncé too – I should probably stop talking about her! I think she’s so inspiring. One day, I’d love to do a visual album, it’s just so difficult when you’re not a multimillionaire music icon.

One day! Imagine it’s not raining outside… What are your summer style essentials?

Well, I’m a new Birkenstock lover, so a good pair of Birkenstocks or other sandals, or my trusty white leather Converse for those rainy summer days. A pair of jean shorts, a simple colourful top and a nice summer dress that you can dress up or dress down. I love it when I see people walking down the street in beautiful colourful dresses or shirts. We really don’t wear enough colour! I also like a really stylish pair of sunglasses and I’m a cap lover. They make me feel contained and they’re not as casual as they used to be. I still feel like I’m showing up and showing out in a cap and a summer dress.

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