Welcome to Nu-Note: "We're Bringing the Sauce"
(Photo taken by Benjamin Hayes ‘20)
Nu-Note, the new band on campus — which combines soulful melodies, jazz and 90s R&B influences — formed with the intention of filling a gap in Skidmore’s music scene: a space for musicians of color. Destiny Donelson ‘20 (vocals), Kelven Polite ‘22 (bass), Jonathan Canales ‘20 (drums), and David Ayisi Gyampo ‘19 (piano) make up the group. With a few live performances under their belt and an unmatchable passion for music, Nu-Note seems destined for success.
Nu-Note’s conception is humbly awarded to Canales, who came up with the idea to form a band of color early on in his Skidmore career. After initially meeting Donelson, the rest of the group seemed to fall into place.
“I remember freshman year, first semester, I met Donelson through a friend of mine that was her roommate,” explained Canales. “I was immediately intrigued and saw a lot of parallels with the way we think musically. We were always talking about making a band, but freshman year nothing really happens. I remember Donelson saying let's make it happen, and it finally is.”
Canales then met Polite through Skidmore’s jazz combos. After showing up with a six string bass — quite unusual for jazz playing — he immediately caught Canales’ eye.
“Jonathan looks at me like ‘Woah, you play a six string?’ And I said ‘Hell yeah,’” explained Polite. “He was like, ‘You listen to Thundercat?’ And I was like ‘Hell yeah.’ Then we started talking, and he was trying to start an R&B band. He asked if I would be interested in playing with them, and I said ‘Hell yeah.”
Finding a pianist was a bit more tricky. After their original player, Ajani Otieno-Rudek ’20 went abroad, Donelson remembered Gyampo from a previous Cafe con Leche event on campus; one where they spontaneously played together. Gyampo, in his final semester at Skidmore, finds himself rather lucky that Rudek had to leave.
“Personally, this is a huge blessing. This is the first time I’ve been part of a band with people who look like me, and people who vibe at the same level. It’s been a long time in the making. I mean, I’ve been on this campus for four years and haven’t really had the chance to musically interact with people of color who play the instruments I normally associate with having come from church. This was great, considering this is literally my last semester here.”
Like the rest of Nu-Note, Gyampo had an interest in music since he was a kid, taking piano lessons through his school after watching people play in church. As for Polite, who began as a guitarist, the only reason he picked up the instrument in the first place was the promise he could play in church. Similarly, Canales, who was born into a musical family, also started in church, explaining “that’s where my roots are.”
And this sentiment is shared throughout the band. There seems to be a beautiful connection between their shared church experiences and forming this group, which offers new sound to Skidmore’s campus. It seems as if their individual respect for their instrumentalism is so heavily connected to their initial musical relationships.
Donelson, who has a bounding soul voice (which captured the entire Tang audience at a recent gig), has been singing for as long as she can remember. “My grandmother tells me stories about how I would be at her house and when I was two she would have me sing for company and give me a dollar if I would sing for them.” It’s no exaggeration for Donelson to say “it’s just in my blood. It never stops. Music is there.”
Now together, the group still shares their initial fascination and respect for music, finally building an outlet for their style on campus. When it comes to making music, Nu-Note tries not to be too limiting with how they define their sound, once having a half hour jam session where they played about seven different styles all at once. They are very strict, however, about making something that is new.
“I want us to sound different from all the other groups on campus,” explained Polite. “And that’s not just a pride or ego thing, I more want us to stand out. If we’re going to be a band of color, I want us to be the band of color.”
For Gyampo, who came to Skidmore with neither an instrument nor the intention to play music anymore, Nu-Note provides a space he never imagined would exist on campus. He “never felt comfortable playing my own music. I am predominately 90s R&B style, which is as far away from indie-white boy music that you can get. I physically thought that if I came to Skidmore, the only thing I would be doing was listening to other music, I wouldn’t be playing my own.”
There’s a certain level of comfortability, the group explained, with making music alongside people who look like you and vibe the same way you do — which was the genesis behind Nu-Note from the beginning. For Canales, “The point of the group was to showcase art from students of color, to showcase the creativity behind students of color, because I truly feel like in this PWI (predominately white institution), we hardly have the opportunity to do so.”
According to Samantha Garcia ‘19, who was behind inviting the group to perform at the Tang, “Nu-Note being the only band of color on campus and the only band that plays a variety of music students of color can listen and resonate to, like Erykah Badu, made it more important for me to invite them into that space. I wanted my community to know that and feel invited to share that moment with Nu-Note.”
While Nu-Note has no official releases yet, songs are on their way and more performances are already scheduled. Their presence on campus is becoming undeniable in more ways than one.
Nu-Note may be the only band of color on campus right now, but their conception indicates something much bigger than themselves. The group hopes to build a legacy so that more people of color who are talented can “do other things than just study,” as Gyampo said, and “get into different ventures, not just music but art and theatre, anything to show who we actually are on this campus.”
Nu-Note will be performing this Thurs. Feb. 28 at Falstaff’s. To keep up with them and their upcoming shows follow them @welcometo_nunote on Instagram or Nu-Note on Facebook.