Nicky Bomba is a self-described juggler. Normally with at least four balls up in the air simultaneously, when he’s not behind the drum kit for John Butler Trio, Bomba is recording solo material or fronting his own band Bomba. At this year’s Australasian World Music Expo, it’s his other project, the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, that will see Bomba on the stage with Jamaican reggae legend Stranger Cole.
“My role in the Orchestra is as a conductor,” he explains. “Sort of. A lot of it is made up on the spot so I’ll do things that even the band doesn’t quite know what I’m doing! We’ll just fly by the seat of our pants depending on the energy and something magical always happens! The good thing about this project is that I get a chance to be a bit more up the front as opposed to being behind the drums with The John Butler Trio. This is a bit more of a ‘ring leader’ or ‘master of ceremonies’ at a circus type of thing, and I love it because I get to sing and run around the stage and go anywhere I want! There’s a lot of freedom involved in this project, it’s very liberating – the only thing I have to worry about is running out of breath!”
It’s hard to believe that Bomba’s jaw-droppingly busy schedule doesn’t do that already… In 2010 alone, he spent six months of the year between Japan, Malta, Europe, the UK, Canada, the USA and Brazil. Currently he is back in Australia, but that’s only for now.
“I love it, I was born of the creative spirit to make and share with people!” announces Bomba. “Music is such an amazing unifier and communicator. To be able to stand in front of an audience and take them to another level, another world altogether, and to create a sense of community is a beautiful, powerful thing. But it’s all about balance as well, I’ve realised that – if you’re overdoing it, it actually has the opposite effect. For example, last year with The John Butler Trio we toured for 10 months and it was too much and the balance was too off and my soul and my music were suffering for it. I talked to John and he agreed with me and we wanted more time with family so this year we only did four months on the road. After this week, I’ll be back in my own studio doing my solo stuff and I’ve got the Orchestra gig coming up as well. Life is about being creative but finding the balance in doing that.”
Although Bomba claims it’s easy to overdo things and lose that balance, he also adds that the good news is that it’s possible to be productive without burning out. Every day is a universe in itself, as Bomba explains it, and making the most of your time is just as much key to happiness in life.
“If you really put your head down, there’s so much you can achieve in one day!” he enthuses. “But you’ve got to find time to hang with family as well, which for me is not so hard because John is my brother-in-law too. When we’re on tour, though, it’s hard to call that ‘family time’ exactly because you’re still working, you’re not spending that proper down time together… I’ve been playing professionally since I was 16 years old and it’s taken me this long to get to that beautiful, serene swing of things and to realise it’s all about balance and relationships. You have to stay positive and if nothing seems to work for you, just either change it for yourself or just step away from it altogether.”
Right now, it’s the Melbourne Ska Orchestra that’s getting Bomba excited the most. Featuring Jamaican legend Stranger Cole as special guest at the 2011 AWME, the Orchestra will cover just about everything from the early ska classics and two-tone of the ‘80s, to more contemporary tunes as well as Bomba’s own original material.
“This Orchestra is a very special collection of about 30 people who are really dedicated to putting on a great show every night and doing some great tunes! It came together as a bit of a labour of love but it’s blossomed into this amazing celebration of music. Having Stranger get on stage with us this year is such a privilege. He is one of the pioneers of reggae music and he’s been recording since the ‘50s and ‘60s in Jamaica. We’re looking at covering some material by The Skatalites who were the first real ska band, they really set the tone for the genre. We’ll also do some TV theme songs like the James Bond theme! We’ll do some Bomb Marley and we’ll cover that era quite a bit, we’ll do some of my stuff as well – we’ll basically cover everything up until 2011. We played the Blues And Roots Festival and we felt we hit a new high with that, so this will probably be another highlight for us.”
Nicky Bomba fronts the Melbourne Ska Orchestra as they perform as part of the opening night celebration of Australasian World Music Expo at The Hi-Fi on Thursday November 17. Head along to awme.com.au for more info.