Playing from the heart

Simone Richardson heard saxophonist Tashomi Balfour playing outside Brixton Tube. She asked him about himself and his music

Tashomi Balfour outside Brixton Tube

Hearing live music is a definite uplift in these tough times, and Tashomi Balfour playing his saxophone was exactly that in Brixton outside the Tube.

Tashomi is Brixton born and bred – his father is from Jamaica and his mother from Guyana – he was born into his Rastafarian family at King’s College Hospital – and lives in Brixton.

He was drawn to the saxophone and began learning to play it when he was 16. 

“Sixteen years ago, I began attending a Pentecostal church,” he says.

“Some friends and I in my youth group decided to start a band and I took up the sax. I saw a saxophonist perform at my church – Angella Christie.

“After seeing her perform I knew I wanted to play the sax. I was completely encapsulated by her sound and it was a wrap from then on!’’

Tashomi recalls how his mother and elders from the church put some money together to buy his first saxophone and pay for lessons.

“I was blessed to have the encouragement at that stage,” he says, “as it was something I wanted to do.

“I’d practise for hours every day. Some days I’d play for up to six hours, until what I played matched what I heard in my head.’’

Tashomi’s teacher – Michael Parlett – taught him back in the day for a year to ensure he learnt well.

Tashomi tells how it happened: “He got me using my ear and playing from my heart as opposed to just what was on paper.’’

Tashomi’s gift has taken him all over London and its many jazz venues – including Ronnie Scott’s, Piano Bar Soho, and Pizza Express Sloane Square. 

gig poster

Tashomi also hosted Jazz Genesis, a monthly Sunday gig at Brixton’s Market House, now postponed because of lockdown regulations.

“We aimed to really talk to the roots of jazz, free expression, free jazz without the ego.

“It was a massive part of my life as it gave me the opportunity to explore jazz without the stigma and ego that often comes of it.’’

After playing in many different bands, Tashomi currently plays as part of a trio, a “freedom jazz” band (if we are to put a genre to it).

The members of Evening In The Universe are Tashomi on tenor sax, JJ Stilwell on double bass and Filippo Galli, on drums.

three men in band publicity shot
Evening in the Universe: JJ Stilwell Filippo Galli, and Tashomi Balfour

Inspiration for Tashomi’s music has come from many sources – including Kirk Whalum – who toured with Whitney Houston for seven years and played a solo on her I Will Always Love You, the best-selling single ever by a female performer.

Another is the veteran Sonny Rollins, who Tashomi says, “is one of my great inspirations, a free and technically brilliant sound.’’

Anything jazz, and reggae tunes are among his faves. Lately Alice Coltrane has caught his ear – “she breeds enlightenment and is unmatched by any modern artist to date.’’

record cover

Tashomi’s own first EP, with keyboardist Nathan Britton, is just out on all platforms. All the Cruelty and all the Kindness is a tribute to Bill Withers

“Throughout lockdown, after the initial depression, I invested in a home studio in Brixton and recorded my debut EP, as Bill Withers passed this year,” says Tashomi.

“I wanted to pay homage to a man who excelled in his music and creativity with pure honesty.

“His genuine lifestyle is a huge inspiration and I wanted to honour that.”

Tashomi says Brixton needs live music. “It has been through so much and needs an outlet for all its scars, and music was one way that the people let out all the heartache.”

Tashomi Balfour is available on all platforms, Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, etc.

To contact him to play at your wedding or any other event: