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Between a Rock and a Psychedelic Place: Getting to Know London's Sabatta

17 January 2024

Revolving around Essex-raised guitarist and songwriter Yinka Oyewole, who is of Nigerian lineage, London alternative-psychedelic rock trio Sabatta has had a busy year with loads of attention for their new 12-track album_How To Get Even_. With support from Clash Magazine, AfroPunk and The Big Takeover, they most recently featured in Rolling Stone France. With their stock riding high, I sat down with Yinka to find out more.

Let’s start with a bit of background. How did you get into music, and what path brought you to where you are today?

I’ve always loved music; in fact, I always had little tunes and melodies playing in my head as a kid. At first, I thought it was strange, but then I just accepted it. I have a couple of older brothers; the eldest got me into rock – classic bands like ACDC, Motorhead, and Thin Lizzy; both were into hip-hop, so I got that from both initially and gravitated to artists like 2pac, Wu-Tang, and 50 Cent but then I discovered people like Hendrix for myself, although later I realized that my Dad has some classic old records by him. My Dad also played a lot of Nigerian high life on Sundays, so I heard the psychedelic vibes of King Sunny Ade at an early age. I also like some reggae, some classical, some Simon and Garfunkel – I just like a lot of music.

I’ve experimented with making various genres, but rock is what grabbed me and what I’ve always come back to; it’s what I’m comfortable with. So that’s what I do.

There are some classic reference points in your music – Lenny Kravitz, Hendrix, Chili Peppers, maybe even a touch of Thin Lizzy – are these conscious sonic touchstones, or is this just how the music comes out?

That’s a great question! I know many artists take the approach of ‘I like a bit of this song by such and such a band; let me try to emulate it.’ That’s never been my approach. In fact, a lot of the time, if I’ve written something and I realize it sounds like something else, I scrap it. But I also recognize that the artists I really like have a major effect on me, so it’s inevitable that a little of what they do will filter through into my music – to me, that’s what an influence is. So, the short answer, it just comes out. LOL

There is also defiance in your music, a sense of standing your ground, something a bit rabble-rousing, and of getting even (hence the name of the new title); where does that come from?

It comes from a couple of things. One thing is that I am the son of immigrants, so there’s the innate sense of being an outsider and having to work twice as hard to achieve the same as others. It was instilled in me that no matter what, I am as good as anyone. But also, I think I’m just different; I see things differently, and I have a tendency to go against the grain. For me, it’s natural and normal; for others, it seems like rebellion, but really, I am just a champion of the individual – I hope. The ‘getting even’ source is from the concept – ‘don’t get mad, get even.’ If you allow frustration to overwhelm you, ‘they’ win; if you carry on and create in spite of obstacles put in front of you – you win.

You could argue that rock music has lost its way a bit. Could you ever see yourself as the touchstone to a return to something more aligned with rock’s past whilst moving everything forward?

When I read this question, I felt a little strange because, in a way, that is actually exactly how I feel. But I don’t feel like I am or should necessarily be that touchstone on my own.

Also, I don’t necessarily see myself as returning to the past but more just drawing from the essence, which I see as timeless. One thing I am definitely trying to achieve with this album is to make rock music that’s grounded, free, and grounded. Rock and Roll, to me, is all about groove; that’s literally the rocking and the rolling: push and pull, ebb and flow, it can’t be stiff (which a lot of it has become). Hopefully, you should be able to dance to it in whatever way you dance. But I also see it as non-conformist, in the sense that you say whatever you want in your music – you express yourself freely.

It can’t be all just ‘on trend’ cliches. To me, for the music an artist creates to be truly called rock n roll, it can’t be sanitized, over-produced, or just outright corporate. It has to be a little raucous and have a little bit of dirt under the fingernails. That doesn’t mean it can’t make money, but it makes money in spite of itself because it touches people rather than that being the only end. I think it can never be too acceptable and feel like part of the establishment and retain its power.

I’ve stated that I like hip-hop, so I am very familiar with click tracks and sequencing, but when recording rock music, I don’t use a click; I want the raw live energy of people playing to come across.

About your new album, How To Get Even, what is in store for the listener – more spiky rock anthems or something slightly different

For sure, more spiky rock anthems, as you call them (I like that), are on the album, but also slower, darker, and lighter tracks for different moods. The guitar is mainly filthy, dirty throughout but there are a couple of songs like ‘Here I go Again’ and ‘Small Victories’ where there’s some nice clean mellow guitar that’s in keeping with the more laidback and contemplative nature of those tracks, or at least parts of them.

I do sing about defiance, but also resilience, hope, love, loss, redemption – life basically – from my perspective in South London.

“Get Your Shit Together,” in particular, reminds me of the sort of things that those conscious soul singers of the seventies advocated. Is it time to storm the barricades, or is it just a song?

I’m a big fan of Curtis Mayfield, I always loved his falsetto, and he made a lot of conscious tunes, so his style and substance are certainly a major influence on me. This song can be interpreted in many ways. On the macro level, yes, it’s about us all getting our shit together because things are as fucked up as they ever were. On a micro level, it’s partly about the battle within, between so-called good and evil, the angel and devil on our shoulders, and making sense of that.

Then, in a literal sense, it’s about an individual trying to deal with self-indulgence but also questioning whether it is self-indulgence because it makes them feel good, but ultimately, they still need to get on an even keel – immediately. Ultimately, I think the personal and the public often have parallels, so the listener can interpret it as any or all of the above or however they want to.

What does the future hold for you musically and otherwise?

Well I hope the future holds playing this music all over the world and bringing joy and fun to people in the process. Musically, I’ve got loads of material; I’m always jamming and working on ideas. This album actually comes from a batch of almost 30 songs. So there’s loads more where that came from. But one thing about me is that often music marks time, so the next offering won’t be exactly the same – hopefully, it will be moving forward, not necessarily in a linear fashion.

Thanks for your questions; they were pretty thoughtful; I appreciate that! ~ Yinka

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