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April 21, 2021

Interview with Nikki Bomba, Melbourne Ska Orchestra

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Melbourne Ska Orchestra in Mullumbimby on the 28th Feb

Melbourne Ska Orchestra

Mullumbimby Civic Hall  |  Friday 28 Feb  |  7pm  |  $40

Last year, The Melbourne Ska Orchestra took home the 2019 ARIA for best World Music Album. They certainly earned it. Comprising up to 36 members, led by Nicky Bomba, this award came at the end of a year of ska – the band’s commitment to releasing one song a week.

The Melbourne Ska Orchestra are a lot of fun, but they also know how to work.

‘We adopted this hard work ethic a couple of years back, and it was obvious we were a fairly prolific band – and that a band this size gets recognition – and the project is sticking and people know there is something special about it. We dedicated one year of ska – one song per week. There was a lot of work involved, and passion, blood, sweat and tears. But to be recognised [with the ARIA award] that we are doing good work, and they are good songs, and we are a good team – it was great!’ says Nicky Bomba.

Melbourne Ska Orchestra operates like a family. It’s the key, Bomba believes, to the powerful unity within the band.

‘A lot of us come from big families and there is a sweet balance, certain attitudes and conversations and perspectives and perceptions you have to have to maintain the balance of the brood. There are a lot of dynamic options and a lot of talent – the hardest is filtering out, or putting in, the mechanisms so everyone’s voice can be heard – and that is important for me. The goal of the band is the multicultural mix and the characters and dynamic people. When you join the band, you get how it operates, and that ego has to be left behind. We are like this cruise liner and everyone is on it going “What is my role on this ship?” Naturally it fits into the scheme of things that you need a captain [that’s Bomba], and a tour manager, and someone doing the charts… there are different elements and roles in the band, and people have to step up. It’s a military operation – but you do it with the essence of joy and love for the music – and we know you don’t sweat the small stuff!’

So how do you get a band of such enormous proportions disciplined to produce a song every week?

‘At the start we had a bit of prep – we treated 52 songs like a card set – four lots of 13. On the first CD you were going to get an education of ska, so we did that first, the next batch were TV and movie themes which is a famous thing in the ska genre – so let’s do Game of Thrones and Curb your Enthusiasm and Family Guy – that was a task, to hold the integrity of the song but keep the danger and mystery of what ska music is. And then it got hairy and scary – we were composing on the spot for the last 26 songs. This is where the joy happened.’

Some of the magic of The Melbourne Ska Orchestra is its multiculturalism. Band members are Maltese, Venezualan, Italian, Trinidadian, Jamacian, Scottish, English and Greek.

‘It’s a really good reflection of Melbourne and the world of ska,’ says Nicky. ‘The type of ska we are doing is international, and apart from dropping songs that respect ska, we offer a global ska.’

Melbourne Ska Orchestra are coming to Mullumbimby. It’s a gig Nicky Bomba loves.

‘Mullum has a special spot for us. When you are on tour with the band, playing in the Northern Rivers is kind of like one of those things you have to do as a musician. Part of my musical adolescence was playing the Rails and Bluesfest. It’s a great place to start the tour – Mullumbimby Civic Hall. The town hall gigs are the ones about connection. We like to set up a harmonic electronic loop that creates a beautiful bubble that only exists for two hours. The Mullum Hall is the perfect place to do it. I feel it every time. Our goal is not just playing the songs for people, but having them leave elevated, with a smiles on their faces.’

The Melbourne Ska Orchestra play Mullumbimby Civic Hall on Friday 28 Feb, at 7pm. Tickets are $40 from melbourneskaorchestra.com

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