Melbourne SKA Orchestra

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Born into a musically gifted and passionate family, Nicky Bomba has enjoyed an amazing career, including playing with the John Butler Trio and many others. Appearing soon on the Coffs Coast with the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Focus caught up with the intrepid artist to find out more …

When did you first become interested in music?

I was lucky enough to be born into a musical family and actually joined my brother’s band when I was six years old. However, it wasn’t until I was around 14 when I got into Reggae and Ska.

Like most of the MSO, I felt a sense of belonging with this music, styling up to suit and dancing the steps. Madness, The Specials and the British Beat were some of the bands …

What instruments do you play?

I started off playing drums, then learnt the guitar for songwriting mainly. In the orchestra I share singing duties with Pat Powell, Steve Montgomery and Sally Ford. Sometimes I might hit some drums, but only when Dean Hilson (sax) lets me.

Where do you find inspiration?

A good drum groove can set me off, but generally having a great band to write for is a big catalyst for getting disciplined about songwriting. It’s great to be surrounded by great musical minds, and this new album is a testimony to our collective inspirations.

Tell us more about your musical family …

We had a band called The Fugitives and had a number one hit in Malta when I was 14. We recorded a song with a singing priest (Fr David), and it stayed at the top of the Maltese charts for 13 weeks! (Actually knocked ABBA off the top!) Most weekends we would play at dances, weddings, balls etc. Carried in our own PA, lights – we even had costume changes in the middle of the set. Yo!

My Brother Michael and I played Sunday morning masses, which was usually a tough feat when the Saturday night gig was kinda loose. I think a lot of our sins were forgiven.

If you could play with the musician of your choice, whom would you choose?

This is kinda like a trick question, because of the scope of brilliance out there and, I have to say, I’m surrounded by fantastic musicians who understand this adventure of life and music.

I remember seeing a doco where Keith Richards had the opportunity to play with his hero, Chuck Berry. It wasn’t all wine and roses!

You have a love for world music. Where is your favourite destination and why?

There is something special where the music created has a tangible human story spanning hundreds of years. It’s like you can hear the essence of a people in the attitude, setting, sound, rhythm and melody of a song. A far as destination – that’s another trick question. Hearing Ethiopian Music in context on my first visit was amazing, as was hearing a Mento band for the first time in Jamaica.

Melbourne is great for experiencing many different musical cultures, to the point where you can get a real sense of the country without travelling far. Food is a big part of that experience.

I was executive producer for MAV’s VISIBLE programme for around five years, which teamed up master players from varied countries (now living in Australia) with contemporary artists from Melbourne.

The recording and writing experience included food, costumes, exotic languages etc. It felt like a United Nations musical camp.

You often work as a teacher and mentor. What is the most important thing you try to teach your students?

To believe in yourself, get disciplined about developing your skills, relax on stage, and don’t take the industry too seriously. Life is about how we interact with others and what we contribute to society.

Leave a good legacy that will inspire others. Do good work.

Working in a group environment has its own set of dynamics that I’ve had to learn over the years. Embracing other ideas and keeping an open door in creativity always seems to result in better ideas. Jah – in every moment.

Don’t believe everything Dean Hilson (sax) says.

When did you work with the John Butler Trio, and can you tell us a bit about that experience?

It was a natural organic union where we shared our musical journeys for three albums and around five years. It was great to be part of an international touring team that rolled out like a fine tuned space mission. I had loads of fun and we were a tight unit, playing really well together and performing at some truly magical places. I’m proud of all the work we did and still feel like part of the family.

 It was getting obvious that the orchestra was growing in demand and lots of clashes were happening with dates, so it was time to take care of my own boat. We have a solid friendship and deep respect for each other, and it was quite an easy decision to embrace. Part of the greater journey.

What do you find addictive about performing live music?

There is real sense of elation when the audience and band are connected on that other level. We are playing all the new tunes from SIERRA KILO ALPHA now, and seeing the crowd tap into what we’re transmitting is a great feeling. Music can truly lift the vibrations of the audience and musicians alike.

How would you describe the experience of performing to a great audience to those of us who have never set foot on a stage?

 Well, primarily there is a real sense of fun. We want to have a good a time, as we want our crowd to have. There is an electric energy when you are on the stage with 25 plus peeps and the song drops. You can almost see the wave of sound expanding across the crowd. The great thing about the orchestra is that at any given moment we can go off on any tangent to lift the vibe of the moment. That’s when some extra magic happens.

If you are looking for onstage tuition, Dean Hilson (sax) offers a wonderful course with costume recommendations.

Do you find connecting with an audience one of the greatest pleasures?

Absolutely. The real essence of any performance is that ultimate transfer and transmission of celebration. The ancient rite of performing music is intrinsically linked to your ideas and intentions reaching the heat and soul of each person. In many ways we are storytellers with a massive musical landscape to embellish the theme. Being immersed in the sonic palette of the band and seeing the effect on the crowd is forever inspiring.

Favourite performance?

So many to think of … and so many yet to come. Our tours overseas have been pretty spesh (Montreal, Istanbul, UK, USA) … Playing in the Grand Arch, Jenolan Caves (Blue Mountains) will be a once in a lifetime shindig. We had a special moment when we played to 50,000 in Canada. We were smiling from ear to ear, pinching ourselves that our music had brought us here.

Favourite location?

Where we are all happy … Outdoor venues do have a natural edge. We all have a real love for the music we make, so just playing the tunes has its own rewards.

You will be performing with the Melbourne Ska Orchestra when you visit the Coffs Coast. Can you tell us a bit about the band?

The orchestra is one of the most exciting bands I’ve ever been in. Expect dancing, fun, hope, danger! We are so dedicated to sharing this explosive dynamic story of this music we love, that there is almost a guarantee you will walk away smiling.

Dean Hilson (sax) will make sure of that.

What style of music does the group perform?

Well, being a Ska Orchestra, there is a fat chance we’ll be playing Ska … and Reggae, Funk, Latin, Cumbia, Afro Cuban. All dance-worthy!

Dean Hilson (sax) sometimes plays different tunes from the band, but no one says anything, because he handles all the money.

 Plans for the future?

We have just started promoting the new album, and at last count it was #5 on the Australian Independent Album Charts. Woohoo! Playing in the UK around August; Splendour is booked. We’d love to hit the West Coast at some point, but we need someone to give us a return flight gift voucher for 25 musicians! Anybody? Dean?

Where can people find out more about you and your music? is the best spot … Facebook … Carrier Pigeons …?

Dean’s number is 1800 SAX.

Thanks Nicky.


Don’t miss out on catching the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Friday 24 June 2016 (opening 7:30pm) at Sawtell RSL, 38-40 First Avenue, Sawtell.

18+ $34.70

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