David Mrakpor and Namali Kwaten of London jazztronica duo Blue Lab Beats write about the importance of keeping the music community thriving in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
We’re Blue Lab Beats and we’re a jazztronica duo from London. We were raised in north/north west London and met eight years ago when we were 13 and 18 years old at WAC youth centre. Mr DM (David Mrakpor) was doing music classes and NK-OK (Namali Kwaten) was taking production classes there. Our musical influences have always been global and varied including jazz, grime, hip hop and more. Mr DM loves Don Blackman, Bernard Wright and Herbie Hancock. NK-OK is influenced by Jay Dilla, Pete Rock and DJ Premier (just a few favourites of ours).
Because all our live gigs up to the end of September have been cancelled we are making an even bigger effort than normal to stay connected with fans and other musicians. On Instagram, we’ve had great responses to our challenges, with artists singing or jamming to our challenge tracks. They are from all around the world, which is always exciting to see. NK-OK did an Instagram live drum programming teaching session recently, which had never happened before. We've also been doing Q+As. Also, Mr DM joined NK-OK on Instagram live and somehow we managed to play together in time with no delay. The Blue Lab studio is in NK-OK's garden so Mr DM has been emailing over guitar and keyboard parts because we can't meet.
Music can really help some people with their anxiety and depression, and obviously many people are suffering during these times. If you put your all into a song, whether instrumental or with lyrics, listeners can relate to the energy that has gone into it; it's a universal language. A lot of our music is instrumental, which we think has made it more accessible (something we never thought about when writing). NK-OK has made over 30 beats in lockdown, only having a break when he was ill with the virus. He was very worried about his father, who was very ill in hospital (his sister and mother also contracted COVID-19).
Our experience of working with artists around the globe has been amazing. We've supported legends such as Roy Ayers, Kiefer, Thundercat and Mulatu Astatke. We've also been lucky enough to have collaborated with guembri player Saad Tiouly in Rabat, Morocco thanks to The British Council. We also recently had the opportunity to remix a track for an incredible Japanese soul artist Nao Yoshioka for a piece from her new album Undeniable, which has been spinning on UK radio and across Europe.
Watching, physically playing with, and being given advice by different artists shapes who we are and ultimately our sound, even though it's not always a direct influence.
It’s a difficult time for everyone at the moment and we find ourselves asking: how would we like the world to look after this crisis is over? We think that honestly, we just want people in general to be appreciative. We're hoping that audiences will be so happy to get to gigs in the future that they'll be fully engaged – less phone usage going on! Our fans are pretty amazing in that respect so we're not targeting them, but this is what we hope for the future.