Soul Saturday: The evolution of Yussef Dayes, from pots and pans to global beats

The South London-raised producer, composer and drummer will perform at El Club in Detroit on Tuesday, Nov. 21.

South London-raised producer, composer and drummer Yussef Dayes spoke with WDET's Nick Austin about his new debut solo album, "Black Classical Music," ahead of his Nov. 21 show at El Club in Detroit.

Yussef Dayes is a tour-de-force behind the drums. The South London-raised producer, composer and drummer performs with an exhilarating combo of technical prowess, intensity and emotion.

Growing up with three brothers in a home where musical experimentation was fully embraced, he began banging on pots and pans at age four; was tutored at age 10 by Miles Davis’ drummer, Billy Cobham; and quickly developed an ear for a wide range of musical styles — from the influence of East/West African rhythms and its journey through the Caribbean and South America, to the sound system-heavy impact of grime and jungle.

Ahead of his show Tuesday night at El Club, he spoke with WDET to discuss his musical inspirations — including African drumming and drums as a melodic instrument — his debut solo LP “Black Classical Music,” and working with Masego.

Listen: Yussef Dayes talks with WDET about his musical inspirations and his new album

Though the drums aren’t his only creating outlet, Dayes said playing the drums is most definitely his calling.

“It was always ordained for me, I don’t remember my time before playing the drums,” he said. “Even I think before my dad got me a drum kit, when I was four I was banging on pots and pans, trying to jam with my brothers… so I think it was just one of them things where yeah, this is what you’re meant to be doing you know.”

Drums are often viewed as a necessary part of a musical group, and less often showcased as the lead instrument — a notion that Dayes rejects with his commanding style and African-inspired sound.

“In African traditions, drum is the original talking, you know, talking drum tama, that was how tribes [communicate],” he said. “Whether there was a threat happening or a ceremony happening, that was how they let you know what’s going on.”

His musical inspirations span much farther than the African continent, however, shouting out Detroit’s own J Dilla, as well as drumming legends Max Roach, Shiela E., Cindy Blackman, Tony Allen and more.

Listen to the entire interview using the media player above.

Yussef Dayes will perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21, at El Club in Detroit.

Support the shows you love.

WDET’s unique music programs are dedicated to exploring the music and culture of our region and the world.

Keep the music going. Please make a gift today.

Give now »


  • Nick Austin
    Nick Austin hosts Soul Saturday, merging genres like soul and hip-hop with electronica and funk into a rich tapestry of sound that is uniquely Detroit.