In the Groove with Goya Gumbani
Goya Gumbani doesn’t like recording music in a studio. Too rigid. His style: smoky, sultry, expansive, cerebral, with a deep and distinctive sound of Brooklyn is — he believes —best created within the intimate setting of home. His 2022 EP ‘Face In The Storm’ started in a friend’s house in Catford, South East London. Writing and recording sessions with his long-time producer and creative partner Kiina that stretched long into the night, before moving through houses in Peckham and then Hackney. “In a studio you’re against the clock,” says Goya, whereas when you’re at home you’re cruising through it. Cruising through life.”
“It changed a little bit as we moved,” he says, stood in a changing room in a Shoreditch photography studio on a cold winter morning, fresh off a red eye flight from New York, upbeat in a Klein-blue puffer jacket, a suitcase full of vinyl records left by the door. “In Catford, we had a big ass house. It felt like we were away from the world. Peckham was a bit more built up, and Hackney… that was Partyville. All of those things are influential.”
“I’ll show Goya a sound,” says Kiina from across the room. “An idea I have. He’ll sit and write with me in the same space, then I’ll work a bit more on the beat. It’s super collaborative.” “I had things to write about,” says Goya, “and Kiina had the canvas.”
“I think the music is conscious, truthful, a reflection of reality,” he adds. “I also think it’s a good time.”
Born in Brooklyn, Goya, whose mother is British, moved to London as a teenager. Before he got to this point, a decade in the making: Album releases, live shows, and the conviction that you’re making music that people want to hear (one particularly resonant comment under a 2020 video for the influential music platform COLORS reads: “Flow is like mama's hot chocolate milk after a day out in the cold,”), Goya worked in retail and in construction, the harsh realities of chasing a pay check.
“I worked on sites in London. It was crazy. It was hard. It was terrible, but I think it makes you more resilient as an artist. It made me realise that you either work, work, work for someone else, or you work, work, work for yourself.”
He recalls the moment when, a couple of years ago, he went all in on his music. “It felt great, like a whole new chapter. I was definitely a bit… fearful at the beginning, but nothing is easy. Anything that’s worth it isn’t going to be a walk in the park.”
"Goya feels like a generational type artist,” says Sam Valenti IV, the founder of indie music label Ghostly, who has worked with Goya recently. “He’s between a few different nodes of hip-hop, jazz, and more. It's all very fluid and alive. The songs I heard were really intentionally rough sounding, and on his SoundCloud he had a note like, ‘Don’t hit me up about mixing/mastering, I'm good,’ which gave me a sense of his artistry and vision.”
“I met up with him when he was in NYC recently,” adds Sam. “I got to the restaurant first to (understandably) little-to-no fanfare. When Goya arrived, the place sort of lit up. We were offered free drinks and the table became a focal point. He just has it like that.”
Rather than a traditional album launch: here’s some music, see you later, he takes a holistic approach. On a recent evening at Jumbi, a new and very ‘in’ music venue in Peckham, Goya and Kiina took a close-knit crowd through a free-flowing set/listening session, adjusting on the fly. They’ve pressed a vinyl and collaborated with London fragrance brand Cremate on a special edition ‘Face In The Storm’ incense. “We want there to be a little more direction,” says Goya. “The music is just one element of the project. We want to create a world around it.”
“Style back then was STYLE,” says Goya, fixing his tie and adjusting his crochet beanie, a glint of gold flashing from a front tooth. “It’s not really about that anymore. It’s about logos, or maybe it just doesn’t matter. Back in the day, the whole band was dressed up. I want to get back to that. I guess it’s money? Maybe it comes down to that?”
“I’m thinking I need a suit for the stage,” he adds, “like Prince. One suit just to perform in. I want to feel like James brown, Miles Davis, Prince, with a bit of Anita baker, too.”
Is there anything he won’t wear? Anywhere the line is drawn? He ponders the question. Gives it some proper thought. Index finger to chin and eyes cast to floor. Pondering.
“I don’t like leather pants, and I don’t wear all black,” he says after a period of contemplation. "That’s probably it.”
“Otherwise, do your thing. I don’t want to play it safe.”