Profile: Etuk Ubong

“Ubong’s playing approach offers irresistible reminders of Miles Davis in the late ’50s quartet recordings: a velvet tone and quiet inventiveness rather than brash grandstanding, but underpinned by quick fingers and an even quicker mind…But there’s clearly more…when the trumpet begins, the note sequence is distinctively Nigerian, not American, and it’s further in that African direction that Ubong’s intelligent improvisation takes it.” – Gwen Ansell

Etuk Ubong (born June 25, 1992) is an in-demand and prolific trumpeter, composer and bandleader. Hailing from Akwa Ibom State in southern Nigeria, but raised in Lagos, he started playing at the age of 14 thanks to his mother’s encouragement. He studied at the Peter King College of Music, Muson School of Music, and is currently enrolled for Jazz studies at the University of Cape Town.

He has performed professionally for close to a decade and it was on the bandstands of renowned musicians like Victor Olaiya, Femi Kuti and Buchi where he earned his stripes and developed a passion for music. Drawing inspiration from the jazz greats, afrobeat, highlife and ekombi, he adds that the sounds of the elements – water, wind and fire – also inspire him and he calls his music Earth Music. His compositions reflect his heritage and life philosophy of goodwill, peace, and love to humanity.

He started his tutelage under top Nigerian trumpeters Etop Adolphors and Victor Ademofe. When he was just 16, renowned highlife musician Victor Olaiya invited him to join his band and he played alongside the master for about four years. He then moved on to play with reggae sensation, Buchi for about two years.

In 2012, Ubong’s former teacher, Ademofe, invited him to play with him at the Lagos International Jazz Festival. Following that collaboration and aged just 21, Etuk was handpicked by Femi Kuti to join his band, and he played at the New Afrika Shrine in Ikeja for the next two years. Moving on from Kuti’s Band, he played with the Art Ensemble of Lagos and various other ensembles in and around Nigeria. He has also performed with Pat Harbison, Ansyn Banks, Nduduzo Makhathini and in the ‘On Mass’ project, headed by Jamie Cullum, as part of the London Jazz Festival 2015. He is a member of the International Trumpet Guild and represented Africa at its 2015 conference in Ohio. He was also selected as one of the 100 most influential people from Akwa Ibom State in 2016.

In 2014 he established his own quartet, the Etuk Ubong Quartet, which plays his original material. Etuk recalls that, “I’d played as a sideman for many years and felt I was ready to lead my own band. I wanted to play my own compositions because it is my passion, and I feel my duty, to share my message of peace and goodwill through my music. I believe there is something for everyone in what I have to say.”

hen in Nigeria, his quartet consists of himself on trumpet and flugelhorn, Timothy Ogunbiyi on piano/keyboard, Kingsley Okorie on bass and Benjamin James on drums. His quartet has played at the Lagos International Jazz Festival, Capital Jazz Festival Abuja, Felabration, Lagos Jazz Series and at various other top live Jazz venues in Nigeria.

In 2016, he relocated to South Africa to further his Jazz studies and has steadily made a name for himself in the local jazz scene. When in South Africa, he is joined by Ludwe Danxa on piano, Alex Mayers on bass and Keno Carelse on drums. They have performed at respected venues including The Orbit, The Crypt, Straight No Chaser, Masque Theatre, Jazz in the Native Yards, Afrikan Freedom Station and many more. Etuk was also featured as soloist in the Artscape Youth Jazz Festival 2016, and his quartet was selected as part of the Top 5 Finalists in the espAfrika Young Legends Competition in 2016.

Miracle (2016) His debut EP, Miracle, was recorded with his Nigerian quartet and released in June 2016. With himself on trumpet and flugelhorn, Timothy Ogunbiyi on piano/keyboard, Ita Samson on bass and Tombrapade Robert on drums, it features four of his original compositions that reflect his Nigerian heritage as well as his life philosophy of goodwill, peace and love to humanity. Miracle is available on iTunes, Deezer and Spotify.

His current and upcoming performances are focused on promoting Miracle and work on his debut album is underway. The album is set to be released in early 2017 and he hopes to take listeners on a journey through his life. Etuk notes that “It features one of my first compositions ever, which I wrote more than two years ago, as well as a song dedicated to my mother. I also explore the concept of what I call Earth Music.”

“Miracle offers a very attractive horn voice and enough that’s compositionally distinctive to whet audience appetites for Ubong’s future work.”