Mafuba performs alongside Takuya Kuroda

Mafuba performs on stage at La Sala Rossa on April 3. Courtesy photo by Anthony Vicente-Pereira

Concordia-adjacent band, Mafuba, opened for renowned trumpeter Takuya Kuroda’s group in a show on April 3, 2024.

A line of people stretched out of La Sala Rossa onto St. Laurent Boulevard waiting to witness a sold-out show. Thankfully, I knew the doorman.

As I entered the packed room, Montreal-based band Mafuba, appearing as a quintet —of which all but one are students in the Concordia Jazz Studies program— was already on stage. Up next was the internationally renowned jazz trumpeter and composer Takuya Kuroda’s band.

Nerves, excitement and anticipation hung in the air as audience members swayed, cheered, and danced. On stage, Mafuba thrived in this energy. The thick sound of Sibtaen Humayun’s tenor saxophone blended with the melodic lyricism of Duncan Hunter Neale’s trumpet. Sometimes punchy, sometimes atmospheric, Prabir Sekhri laid harmony and melody across the keyboard. Tristan Sisti-Aubé on upright bass, and Seyjii Schultz on drums formed an exciting rhythm section.

Mafuba’s music treads the line between high energy and groovy, meditative and trance-like. Bandleader Sibtaen describes the group as “jazz-adjacent.” Indeed, listeners will notice many elements of jazz aesthetic and methodology in Mafuba’s sound. The songs often consist of predetermined melodies lead by the saxophone and trumpet, followed by improvised solo sections. A notable highlight was Seyjii’s drum solo over coordinated tutti punches. Cheers erupted as the drummer accented these hits and filled the spaces with ever-changing rhythmic ideas.

Schultz is also featured in another capacity during the one cover song which the band played during their set. The group’s version of “Haiku by Australian musician Nai Palm begins with Seyjii leaving the drums to grab a guitar at the back of the stage. Subtly accompanied by keys and bass, her singing and guitar-playing created the most intimate point in the night. After having looped the main hook of the tune, the dynamic arc dipped as Seyjii returned behind the kit, before swelling again as drums, sax and trumpet entered, reprising the melody of the song.

Besides this cover, the songs Mafuba performed were all originals. According to Sibtaen, band members often bring melodic ideas, or even fully fleshed out songs, to rehearsal but “the finished product of whatever people hear is always a collaborative effort.” This was certainly reflected by the group’s performance: each member shined both individually and as part of the collective.

After the first set, many audience members, including myself, stepped outside before the next act. I spoke with friends about the success of the first set and the anticipation for the upcoming one by Kuroda. Signed to the iconic Blue Note record label, Kuroda’s reputation and reach is international. For him to be sharing a bill with a band so closely linked to Concordia was highly exciting. Soon everyone went back inside and the band began their set.

The instrumentation of Takuya’s group was identical to Mafuba’s, but with electric instead of acoustic bass. Even though the musicians had commuted from New York City that morning, there was zero sign of fatigue in their playing. From the first to the last notes, an air of mastery presided over La Sala Rossa. 

The group’s sound fused jazz with elements of hip-hop, rock, anime and video game music. Soloists often opted for intervallic-based musical ideas or repeated melodic cells, varying in rhythm and transposition, over a strictly linear style of playing (although all elements were present). Despite the relative “busy-ness” of each player’s parts, the groove was airtight. The result was creative, ecstatic soloing over a rhythmic foundation which was at once complex and danceable. Members of Mafuba were now interspersed throughout the crowd, cheering, listening, and soaking in the feeling of having shared a bill with artists whom they look up to.

Sitting down to interview Sibtaen a few days after the show, I learnt how proud the band felt about the experience. At the same time, Mafuba is keeping an eye on the future. Wanting to treat this event as a stepping stone, the band remains ambitious about the music yet to come.

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