Present at the embryonic stage of the 2010s South London jazz scene, Yussef Dayes is a talented drummer whose expressive and characterful style was first heard by many as part of United Vibrations. Formed with his brothers Kareem and Ahmad, alongside their friend Wayne Francis II, the act fused Afro-beat stylings with forward-looking jazz and rock elements, gaining acclaim for their second LP, 2016's The Myth of the Golden Ratio. That same year brought the release of Black Focus, a collaboration with Kamaal Williams, under the name Yussef Kamaal, that saw them named Best Breakthrough Act at 2017's Jazz FM awards. In 2018, he released "Love Is the Message," his first solo single, before What Kinda Music, a collaborative Blue Note LP with local singer/songwriter Tom Misch, reached the Top Five of the U.K. album charts in May 2020.
Born in South East London, Dayes was given his first drum kit at age four by his bass-playing Jamaican father. While his mother played country music and '60s pop around the house, his father listened to reggae and jazz vinyl. This eclectic mix of genres wove into his rhythmic sensibility, but it was the opportunity to study, at ten years old, under the tutelage of fusion icon Billy Cobham that secured his interest in chasing professional musicianship. The grime and hip-hop loved by his friends at school, as well as the jungle produced by his elder brother Ahmad, additionally went on to inspire his playing style.
Even prior to Dayes reaching his teenage years, United Vibrations played gigs in areas of South London — such as Peckham and Camberwell — that would later become synonymous with the burgeoning jazz scene swooped upon by the U.K. press and beyond. In 2009, they set out their stall with the single "Ra!"; as its name suggests, the song was inspired by their spiritual jazz idol, Sun Ra. This eventually formed part of their 2011 debut album, Galaxies Not Ghettos, and further evidence of their influences could be found on the 2012 EP We Never Die. The release included tributes to both John Coltrane and Gil Scott-Heron and featured an appearance on the lead track by grime MC Conrad Kira.
In 2015, Dayes and Williams formed Yussef Kamaal and collaborated on funk-inspired sessions with Shabaka Hutchings, released as the Black Focus LP the following year. The record was soon certified silver, which led to an invite to play at South by Southwest in 2017; however, the performance was canceled when a travel ban prevented Dayes from entering the U.S. After the duo split, his career hit a slower pace, but over the next couple of years, he released a handful of tracks in collaboration with artists such as Alfa Mist, Charlie Stacey, and Rocco Palladino. When Dayes crossed paths with Misch at a session for the Loyle Carner single "Angel," the pair stayed on in the studio to jam. Unbeknownst to them at the time, these tracks would form the initial recordings for 2020's What Kinda Music, Dayes' first charting album. ~ James Wilkinson