As one of London’s most prolific drummers and musicians, Yussef Dayes often makes a habit of working late into the night. And today? Well, his daughter woke him up just a little too early.
“I always go to bed super late, so it’s a terrible combination,” he says over Zoom. This morning, Dayes was on daddy-duty with a 9am nursery drop-off, followed by pull-ups in the park. Now, he’s settled back at his home in Lewisham, southeast London, with a fresh coconut on the go. All in all, a wholesome start to the day.
Dayes is currently in the middle of promoting his upcoming album, Black Classical Music; his first foray into solo music, having previously collaborated with musicians such as Kamaal Williams and Tom Misch. First picking up drumsticks when he was four, Dayes has been making it professionally for over a decade.
“I’ve always released collaborative albums,” he says. “It just felt like it was finally time for me to put my own debut out there. I wanted to really take my time, which adds beauty to the kind of music I make.”
Collaboration is still an integral part of Black Classical Music, though. The album’s opening track features saxophonist Venna (who also jumped on J Hus and Naira Marley’s recent single Militerian), while standout single Rust features frequent collaborator Misch.
“There are lots of different vibes, you know?” Dayes continues of a record that combines sprawling, epic jazz with sonic influences from around the world. “Some tracks are more for listening and chilling, others you can dance and rock out to. It’s open to interpretation, this album can be anything for anyone. I don’t want it to be set in stone. That’s what’s so good about instrumental music.”
Most importantly, it’s also a family affair: Dayes sampled his daughter’s voice on the album and it was heavily inspired by his mum, who died from breast cancer in 2015. “If you see me at a show, I’m always dedicating my tunes to my mum. Whether I’m feeling sad or happy, music has been a vessel for me to express myself.
“The last track has my mum’s voice in it. She taught yoga in the house we grew up in; you can hear the birds, the chimes. She’s got that kind of voice where you feel everything’s going to be bless. Making this record was about giving my family a bit of healing, for my brothers, for my daughter to hear grandma’s voice.”
It’s a touching tribute and time capsule for Dayes, who’s been building up to this moment for a long time. Following the release of Black Classical Music in September, he’ll play at the Royal Albert Hall in October. Pretty momentous, right?
“I just want people to know there’s been a whole story to get to this point. Seeing my daughter’s energy when she wakes up, ready to go, that feeling of life. That’s what this is about for me… Just sharing that.”
10% What’s a bad habit you wish you could kick?
I do way too many graveyard shifts. I go to bed too late every night. I’m trying to work on that for the sake of waking up at six in the morning to get things done.
20% What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Be yourself, man. You can’t always people please. People will like you or they won’t. It is what it is – even with the drums. There’s a drummer called Tony Allen; I remember he said something to me like you can be inspired and learn from other musicians, but at the same time, what’s your voice? What are you gonna say? Make your own style. That’s always what I tell other musicians. It means you’ll be original. You need to find out who you are.
30% If you ruled the world for a day, what would go down?
Street party vibes. Bringing cultures together and catching a vibe. I came back the other day from a show and had one on my street, it was wicked. Kids were playing. Lockdown was kind of like that, even though it was stressful, having stuff like that was important. London is so fast-paced. It’s nice to step back and appreciate the earth. I’m very into nature. Maybe I’d organise a gardening day! Everyone’s gotta plant a tree or something.
40% What’s your number one nature spot?
In the UK, it’s Dartmoor. I went there a lot as a kid. There are wild horses, mad trees. The air is nicer. I have some wicked memories, Devon is a beautiful place. Then Yosemite in California. It’s mind-blowing. There are crazy mountains, lakes, waterfalls. It’s so surreal. That was a life-changing trip.
50% What’s the most memorable DM you’ve ever received?
I got one the other day. Someone said I threw a stick out after the show and it hit them on the head! They were thankful, though. That was pretty funny. I always get DMs from people’s girlfriends asking me to send them videos for their boyfriend’s birthdays. That’s quite jokes.
60% Get on Cameo, perhaps?
You know what… Maybe I need to do that.
80% Staring is rude, isn’t it?
If you know me, I’ll usually just say, “What are you looking at?” But I’m learning now to try and cool down my hot head. I sound like a proper South Londoner right now. My bredrin was like, just wear shades. Avoid eye contact.
90% If you could travel back in time to watch an iconic music act perform, who would it be?
Bob Marley and the Wailers. I know they’re making a film about them. I’m a big fan of the bassist and the drummer, Aston and Carlton Barrett. To even be a fly on the wall during one of their studio sessions… I’d love that.
100% What can artists do to help save the world?
Not get on a plane every other day! And making others understand that we’re just people as well, you know? We’re not on this crazy pedestal. Sometimes even I have a certain perception of others, but we’re all just human in this experience.