‘We need to adapt to the times’: YolanDa Brown on music education and Tileyard arrival

YolanDa Brown, award-winning musician, broadcaster and philanthropist, spoke to Audio Media International about music education, the tracks she’s currently spinning, and her musical HQ at London’s Tileyard.

As a saxophonist, Brown has toured with The Temptations, Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, and Billy Ocean. She has released two jazz albums and her debut children’s album landed this year, based on the hugely successful CBeebies show YolanDa’s Band Jam. Brown also recently wrote a song for Sesame Street. 

What’s your favourite gear to use in the studio and why?
Firstly, my saxophones, which of course go everywhere with me. We have an amazing space but also a shared live room and capturing live music for me is really important. I have a Roland VAD306 drum kit, which I’m able to have in the control room with us, and that’s been amazing just to be able to get that live feel.

What attracted you to Tileyard?
It’s a lovely space. I’ve been going there I think since they opened and using their writing rooms, and going for meetings at the Vinyl Cafe so it’s a place that I’ve known really well. It’s also around the corner from John Henry’s [an audio equipment supplier]. Now that I’m at the stage of wanting to have my own studio, it was a no brainer and I was so glad that there was space. Now that I’m set up there and feeling at home, I’m overwhelmed and really enjoying the amazing community. I’m really sort of chuffed to be there and I’m looking forward to everyone being able to come back in normally again.

What albums are you in love with at the moment?

I’ve got a seven-year-old who is loving exploring all genres of music. K-pop is a favourite in our house so anything new from BTS always gets a good round on the the system downstairs. And I’m also loving Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars [super-duo Silk Sonic] right now, so I’m really waiting for the rest of the album. They’re two of my favourite artists, so the partnership is brilliant. 

Can you tell us about your new album?
The YolanDa’s Band Jam album from my CBeebies show has just been released this year so that’s been brilliant. Having to release within lockdown creates its challenges, but it’s been lovely because the audience are at home, so they’re able to listen and enjoy. Being able to release it on Sony Music UK’s Magic Start has been a great treat for an independent artist. And alongside that I was able to release a music education resource – five music lessons that had way over 30,000 downloads on music education site twinkl.

And now that I’ve got my studio, I’m writing music for an animation called Bea’s Block which is produced by Sesame Workshop who makes Sesame Street. I’m also working on my adult music, and another album to come out hopefully later on this year.

On your Cbeebies show, YolanDa’s Band Jam, how do you go about getting all those acts to join you on screen?
Many of the musicians in the house band I’ve worked with for a long time. But for our special guests we’ve got a great team over at CBeebies who reach out to different people. At the beginning of a series, I always give them my dream list of people that I’d like to get on board, and usually everybody just can’t wait to get onto the stage.

I think, for musicians that tour stadiums all around the world like The Lightning Seeds and Feeder, a lot of have young families so they love having the opportunity to play to an audience of their children’s age. They really understand the importance of the next generation.

Do we need to change the way we teach music in schools?
Everything evolves – people evolve and music trends evolve. And the younger audience have got so much more access through streaming platforms. I think we need to adapt to the times, and make sure that music education really envelops all the things that they’re interested in, as well as learning the history and the heritage of music throughout the years. So I think it should evolve with the generations.

Is the way that music education is evolving helping more children from different backgrounds to get involved?
Yeah I think so. We’ve got fantastic teachers out there but there are now more resources available to them to help them deliver these lessons on a wider scale. The internet is great for this. Also, children are becoming so much more resourceful and I think it’s allowing them to come up with ideas of things that they want to study as well. And just for the mere fact of people having different cultures and backgrounds, you’re bringing that all in and creating that new identity that children have.

Do you you think that live-streamed gigs are here to stay?
Yes. I work a lot with independent and upcoming artists, especially with my foundation the Drake YolanDa Award and I think live-streamed gigs will help them to spread the word about themselves more. Sometimes they have to wait for bookers to book them and then it’s about profile and how many people they can bring in. If they can film creative, artistic live concerts by themselves then that’s brilliant. 

How do you feel the UK government has acted with regards to supporting live music over the last year?
It’s a tough one. I hope that they’re doing the best that they can. I think what’s been wonderful is seeing the industry, supporters of the arts and culture and creatives step up. It’s been really refreshing to see great funds being created from bodies like PRS and youth music. As a musician, I’ve really felt the support from our industry.