Orii Jam: The music sanctuary at the heart of London’s concrete jungle

2 Mins read

As you disembark from Hackney Wick station, the colourful graffiti on the building’s walls welcomes you to a world of sound and freedom.

Following a left turn into a dimly lit alley, a distant muffled trumpet guides me towards an eclectic queue, giving me a sense of warmth on one of the coldest nights of the year. Just a few denim jackets and worn-out Onitsuka Tigers away, a bright sign reads:

 ‘Colour Factory – Orii Jam.’

As I walk in, jazzy chord progressions, a tenor sax punctuating the melody, while the bassist plays to the ‘drunk drummer’ groove, and ‘Erykah Badu-like’ vocals add an extra layer of soulful charm, automatically making me leave all my worries to be picked up later at the door.

Colour Factory is a modern-day cultural epicentre hosting everything from ground-breaking DJ sets to intimate nights with black-owned record labels and LGBTQ+ Drum & Bass movements.

Every Monday musicians and creatives commute to this musical church in the wilderness of East London’s streets, taking part in the generation reinventing the sound of the city’s ‘African Diaspora’ at the Hip-Hop, Jazz, and Soul night brought by Jazz/Hip-Hop producer Fred aka NEUE GRAFIK’S_Orii Jam.

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Neue Grafik on stage [Rafael Bonito Chiera Xavier De Pina]

“Sometimes people forget that the key element of art is just having fun and that’s what we do every Monday at Orii. This is the place where I grew up musically, sonically my ears developed there, I learned a lot,” says Max McKenzie, a host, comedian and musician at Orii Jam.

Derived from Yoruba the word “Orii” means “Soul” and draws inspiration from NEUE GRAFIK’s connection to Nigerian Ifa religion.

The evening begins with one of the hosts opening the ‘prayer’, interacting with the crowd, and calling out daring musicians to join, and even when black music dominates people from all musical styles and backgrounds jump on stage to play.

Performers freestyling in the Corner
Performers freestyling in the Corner [Rafael Bonito Chiera Xavier De Pina]

Amidst the vibrant atmosphere, the event takes a brief intermission as the crowd heads to ‘The Corner’, an open space at the back of the venue. MCs take centre stage, freestyling over beatbox and improvised percussions often played by the enthusiastic crowd with whatever they can get their hands on.

Meanwhile, the trains passing overhead muffle the rest of the city sounds, creating a unique urban symphony.

“Nothing beats the first time you touch the Orii stage, it’s such a warm experience, and you feel that first bit of embrace from both the audience and the people around you on stage,” Max McKenzie told us.

Music lovers commute to East London to soak up the creativity [Rafael Bonito Chiera Xavier De Pina]

London has been the incubator of the current jazz renaissance with household names such as Ezra Collective and Tara Lily – an active member of Orii leading the charge.

Therefore, in a world where 86% of black musicians still face barriers to their progression, particularly black women and those with disabilities, Orii Jam is not just a musical sanctuary but a beacon of hope for the next generation of influential artists.

Will Orii Jam rewrite the history of contemporary black music, pushing its definition and boundaries through experimentation and inclusivity?

Featured image by Rafael Bonito Chiera Xavier De Pina.

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