Yussef Kamaal are shaped by the sound of London. Growing up in the capital, they frame jazz within the bass-saturated, pirate radio broadcasts of the UK capital. The pair, made up of Yussef Dayes and Kamaal Williams (aka Henry Wu), have had little in the way of formal training. Instead, their musical tastes – and approach to playing – are indebted to Thelonious Monk’s piano as much as the drum programming of Kaidi Tatham.
Both hail from South East London, crossing paths in 2007 as teenagers playing their first pub gigs around Peckham and Camberwell. Born out of a one-off live session to perform Williams’ solo material for Boiler Room, it soon became a project in its own right. “It’s all about the drums and the keys,” Williams says. “That’s where it all originates from: the chords, the rhythm of the chords and the drums.” Coming together as Yussef Kamaal, they played a series of live shows where little more than a chord progression would be planned before taking to the stage.
Drawing influence from all corners of London’s shapeshifting musical make-up, their debut album, titled Black Focus, has its sound distilled – or focused – down to the core interlock between drums and keys.