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Lauded Irish producer David Lyttle on working with Talib Kweli and his new album, Faces

MusicBy Jamie McDowell
David Lyttle
David Lyttle

Not many musicians can say they’ve collaborated with a world-famous rapper... and their own mum on the same record.

 But jazz percussionist and hip hop producer David Lyttle, holds no respect for boundaries when it comes to his music.

 It’s a trait he’s learnt while skipping genres from his early days performing folk music with his family in Armagh to his current sound.

 Now the musician has turned mentor and is currently the Moving On Music's Artist In Residence at the MAC in Belfast, passing on his wisdom on to a younger generation.

 David spoke to the Sunday World from the comfort of his homely studio space in the MAC, on the success of his new album Faces, and the new status quo of survival in the music industry for established artists like himself, and the up-and-coming artists trying to break through today.

“I’ve been mentoring some musicians who were playing at the Brilliant Corners jazz festival in Belfast over the last few weeks” smiled the 31-year-old.

“Now that that’s over, I intend to do a bit more writing with people and some listening sessions while I’m in residency here. 

“This residency is about trying to find a connection for me with Belfast. I’m not really connected with the jazz scene here. I play in Belfast a few times a year, but jazz-wise, we [Belfast] still don’t really have a real jazz club, and we don’t have a really big scene.”

 Building a jazz-influenced landscape in Northern Ireland is something David’s passionate about, but within the confines of small city, he is aware that it’s a task which may require time rather than tenacity.

 He added: “In terms of one-off gigs, touring groups stopping by, we’re pretty well represented by that type of stuff, but we don’t really have a core jazz scene.

 “It’s important to get younger people involved. We have about six guys who come here to the MAC every week to rehearse, and I’m hoping that some of them will invest a bit of time in getting a more established scene and getting their friends involved.”

 David’s first foray into jazz was in his late teens, having entered his life in the unlikely guise of a Charlie Brown cartoon.

 He explained: “I got into jazz when I was about 18, watching a Charlie Brown Christmas special that came on one year. They had jazz in it and the music really grabbed me, so I checked out the music a bit more and began getting into Miles Davis, and before I knew it I had decided that this is what I wanted to do.

“Jazz drumming is a life-long thing, so I got tunnel vision and threw myself into it. About five years down the line and I found I was also really getting into hip hop, so things began to cross over for me.”

 Jazz and hip hop are two genres that are intrinsically connected, so for David, it was a natural progression as he was drawn to hip hop artists synonymous with sampling jazz music.

 “With acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Common and Q-Tip, they all have jazz and soul at their core, using a lot of jazz samples, there’s a natural kind of connection there.”

 David’s passion still lies in live performance however. He performs both in a trio and in a larger group depending on the type of music each gig demands.

 “As a jazz drummer, I have two different personas in a way. I perform in a trio, playing smaller jazz clubs, then there’s my bigger group, and we veer more into the hip hop stuff, working with the likes of Talib Kweli and Soweto Kinch. I think a lot of rappers really like working with live percussion as opposed to computer generated beats.

 “At the same time I love listening to hip hop that’s sampled and programmed.”

 Getting a world-famous artist such as Talib Kweli to write a few verses for your new album may sound like a difficult feat, but David is remarkably relaxed in his attitude towards getting artists to contribute to his work.

 “When it came to working with Talib, I simply just asked. I got in touch with him and told him what I was doing and he was into it. It was pretty straight forward. The hardest part was just waiting for him to do it because he’s so busy. He’s an independent guy as well.”

 Not to be outdone by Talib, David’s mother, Anne Lyttle, with whom he has recorded with in the past, also features on Faces.

 “Was really nice to record a track with my mum because we’re not really doing too much as a family. My mum’s  been really supportive and she did sing a bit of backing vocals on my second album, Interlude. Then she ended up doing some gigs with us like the London Jazz Festival…

 “It was really cool and people connect with that. My sister, Rhea, is also on a couple of tracks. I hadn’t thought of my sister Rhea in that sort of hip hop/soul setting, but it worked really well. Most of the good things I do happen by accident…”

 As a self-made independent artist, with his own record label, Lyte Records, David is concerned about the role of the musician being eroded in the current climate.

 He said: "When it comes to streaming, the artist is getting exploited, as usual. A lot of money is being made from advertising and subscriptions but the artist is still making a fraction of a penny per play, and that's if you're like me and you own the label.

 “It's not a sustainable model because it's killing sales. Albums cost money to make and publicise and I'm fed up being told this is the future of recorded music. It would be like a mainstream drinks company having major stock losses due to theft from its warehouses and hijackings.

 “Imagine a higher power in the drinks world then turning around and creating an all-you-can-drink scenario for the cost of one drink per month - or free drinks if you can tolerate adverts on the packaging. And then imagine them saying this will drive sales to drinks related merchandise, like those novelty drinking hats with the straws. It's like something from a Family Guy sketch.

“We're being told that the future of recorded music is really in the peripheries of the music. I'm not the sort of dude who'll get a perfume deal or have an action figure made, and this kind of thinking is really damaging long term, especially to independent artists who only care about making music and who do it for a living.”

 Last year, David was nominated for Best New Jazz Act at the Music Of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards.

 It was a moment which thrust David into the spotlight, giving him national recognition.

Internationally, music bible Rolling Stone described his latest album as ‘one of the best, robust listening experiences you’re likely to have all year’.

 Yet David remains modest about his huge achievements so far.

“Going to the MOBO Awards was a great experience for me, being able to meet these great jazz artists and getting that recognition.

“I’ve had a Rolling Stone review and a MOBO nomination, and people are able to connect with that and it’s a huge boost.”

 David Lyttle’s Faces is out now, available on CD or for download. For more information visit www.davidlyttle.com