Marco Cafolla of Glasgow band Mama Terra on scoring a SXSW slot: 'That validation from an American booker is huge'

Glasgow’s Mama Tera are about to appear at one of the global music industry’s most prestigious showcases. The band’s pianist and composer Marco Cafolla tells Jim Gilchrist how they made it happen – and what comes next

It does seem like the proverbial transporting of coals to Newcastle, but Mama Terra, the lushly futuristic fusion of soul, R&B, disco, funk and jazz co-led by Glasgow pianist and composer Marco Cafolla and saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski, is set to fly to Austin, Texas, in March to appear at one of the global music industry’s most prestigious showcases, South By Southwest.

The invitation for Mama Terra – “Mother Earth” – to head for SXSW, as the massive media, film and music convention is known, follows on the enthusiastic reception given to the band’s debut album, The Summoned, released on the Acid Jazz label last summer. The green light came via the Scottish music industry convention Wide Days, explains Cafolla: “Wide Days came to me after we’d played a show in Dundee last year and showed me an e-mail from the booker for SXSW which stated, basically, that he’d listened to the album three times in a row and said, ‘They’re legit. Let’s bring them over.’

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Further enthusiasm for Mama Terra was evinced by another invitation, this time to showcase at jazzahead!, the major European jazz trade fair in Bremen at the end of April.

Cafolla had already established himself as a potent catalyst of soul-funk-disco infused jazz with his award-winning outfit Federation of the Disco Pimp and his eponymous Cafolla line-up. He describes The Summoned as “a conceptual journey through life and the universe”, with an ultimate warning to care for the planet. As its title suggests, “it came to me very quickly during lockdown. It was almost self-healing in a way. All these melodies and riffs and horn parts just kind of flooded in, and there’s definitely a kind of spiritual soul side of jazz for me, very much rooted in Alice Coltrane and people like [saxophonist] Kamasi Washington.

Tracks such as the closing Like Tears In the Rain, titled from Rutger Hauer’s immortal (and famously ad-libbed) monologue at the end of one of Cafolla's favourite films, Blade Runner, or the penultimate tune, Last Hour, combine crisp beats with muscular brass and reed lyricism against ethereal vocals from Rachel Lightbody and a veritably cosmic swirl of keyboards that reflects the spiritually questing music of Coltrane.

Cafolla has known the award-winning Wiszniewski – a familiar name around the Scottish jazz scene, including his New Focus collaboration with pianist Euan Stevenson and his presence in the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra – since their days at Strathclyde University and he says he wrote the music very much with the saxophonist in mind. Apart from Cafolla, Wiszniewski and Lightbody, the album features such other established Scottish jazz figures as trombonist Mikey Owers and Cameron Jay on flugelhorn.

Musicians’ commitments elsewhere, however, mean that the iteration of Mama Terra travelling to SXSW comprises Cafolla and Wiszniewski along with bassist Ross Saunders and drummer Ross White – both of whom have played with the Federation and Cafolla bands – and vocalist India Blue.

Mama TerraMama Terra
Mama Terra

Their travels have been enabled largely through funding from Creative Scotland through the PRS Foundation. Creative Scotland’s music officer, Clare Hewitt, regards showcasing at key events such as SXSW and jazzahead! as vital in enabling those working in Scotland’s music industry to develop career enhancing experience and international connections: “Our support for this activity, particularly through the PRS Foundation, is part of a long-term approach to strengthening the domestic scene with more international opportunities.”

Beyond the band’s American and German forays, Cafolla says he has another Mama Terra album written but yet to be recorded, and another Federation of the Disco Pimp album awaiting release, featuring guest trombonist Fred Wesley, of James Brown horns fame.

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In the meantime, he is understandably excited about taking Mama Terra’s largely American-inspired sounds back across the Atlantic: “That validation from an American booker is a huge sign that it’s the right place to take it.”

Mama Terra play a “Road to SXSW/jazzahead!” fundraiser gig at Glasgow’s Nice ‘N’ Sleazy bar on 27 February.