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MELBOURNE SKA ORCHESTRA – A CONVERSATION WITH NICKY BOMBA

Legendary 25 piece outfit, Melbourne Ska Orchestra are about to funk up your day with their new offering Good Days Bad Days, a relatable and joyous new single about finding the balance of the “good days and bad days” that are all part of life, but doing so with a cheery and energetic disposition. 



Lifted from their 2019 ARIA winning “Best World Music Album”, One Year Of Ska which saw the band take on the epic task of creating, arranging, recording, mixing, mastering and releasing a brand new track every Friday at 9am for the whole year, yep, that’s 52 tracks – WOW!

Their vibin’ and seriously impressive video for Good Days Bad Days captures the raw energy and live spectacle of the orchestra performing on some of the many stages throughout their local and international touring, showcasing the wild intensity and fun that is Melbourne Ska Orchestra.

The album One Year Of Ska was an innovative undertaking for the seasoned group.  They set themselves the mammoth task of recording one new song per week for an entire year – that’s a lot of ska!  The band took on the challenge firstly as a way of embracing the idea of creating content for their fans, and also to mimick the old-school Jamaican practice of releasing new songs on a weekly basis to encourage punters to come to their weekly dancehall gigs.  It was an epic task for the Melbourne Ska Orchestra, to say the least, as Nicky Bomba reflects, “We had to move our studio from country Victoria to a studio in Collingwood to facilitate the whole process. It felt like a NASA mission, working around the clock to create, arrange, record, mix and master in time for each weekly launch, which would happen every Friday morning at 9am.”



The new single Good Days Bad Days is just one of the tracks borne of this intense year of work.  Bright, spunky and full of life, it’s everything audiences have come to love about the band.  The track reflects on exactly that – the good days and bad days that are all part and parcel of life – with geniuine happiness and wisdom, as Nicky says, “The Good Days Bad Days sentiment is universal and it covers all walks of life.  The second verse is particularly close to home, as it relates to putting our own gigs on – it’s always a risk, and things can turn on a dime.  Life is full of the extremes of the pendulum swing.  Finding the balance is the key, eh!” 

Showcasing the wild intensity and fun that is Melbourne Ska Orchestra in a live setting, Nicky speaks on the video for the song, Good Days Bad Days really kicks in with the crowd when we play it live. It’s a universal theme that has almost become colloquial.  I love how the film clip captures the raw energy of the live spectacle of the orchestra.”

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And after watching that super fun video, you’re probably thinking “man, these dudes better be hitting the road for a tour?” Well, the Melbourne Ska Orchestra kicked off their 2020 tour in early February, they played 7 shows and then, like many others around the globe that have been impacted by the current Covid-19 pandemic, they had to end their tour so they packed up their bags and headed home.

The Melbourne Ska Orchestra is yet to announce rescheduled tour dates and understandably so – with twenty five talented musicians belonging to this close-knit orchestral group, touring is an expensive investment and requires the kind of expert scheduling needed for a contiki tour! Never fear! The Melbourne Ska Orchestra shall return and in the meantime they are making the most of a difficult situation – experimenting with new ways of delivering their music to their loyal followers, they will undoubtedly be in every persons lounge room very soon and when that happens Ash Lee will be shouting “EXTRA, EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT!” from the top of her lungs because for her, The Melbourne Ska Orchestra define what it is that music does for humanity – they harness the universal language that is music and provide connectedness. Connectedness between you and I, connectedness between us and them, connectedness between cultures, and connectedness between the past and present.

For now, have a listen to Ash Lees favourite Melbourne Ska Orchestra tunes below, watch Ash Lee’s MUST VIEW LIVE MSO PERFORMANCES featured below and head over to their website here – show them some love – buy some merch and crank their quintessentially MSO renditions and originals, USE YOUR “SKA LOCATOR,” PLAY IT LOUD, GET ON YOUR FEET, GROOVE ALONG WITH THEM – because I promise you, this music will feed your soul!!




Ash Lee chats with Melbourne Ska Orchestra Band Leader, Nicky Bomba.

Ash: The Melbourne Ska Orchestra currently has 25 members, what is the touring experience like with so many people to account for?

Nicky: Touring with a band like this is a bit like a bit of a family vibe. It’s kind of half soccer team, family, contiki tour <both laugh> because it’s evolved around music and we all have a love for music, it’s a lot of fun actually and it’s a rare beast, I mean…it’s not often that you get to be in a band that has international accolades, that wins ARIA Awards and holds sell-out shows. You know, we’re a twenty-five piece orchestra and we feel pretty honoured that this exists in the first place and because of that there’s a great feeling around the band and there’s lots of people that want to join the band too. We have, constantly people ringing up saying “can I be part of that thing.” So yeah, it’s quite a good vibe and when we go on tour and play a venue or a gig…there’s this kind of…especially for people who haven’t seen us before, they go “wow what’s this, what’s going to go one here!?” Then when we go on and we let loose and there’s a lot of love, and a lot of mayhem, and joy and a lot of danger…um it’s…a pretty amazing experience, you know, I feel it on stage and you can see that the audience feel it as well.




Ash: I covered the Ska and British Music Festival here in Perth last year and their was a shared sentiment amongst many of the bands that the demographics of ska music fans is an issue…that in order for the scene to survive they need to start attracting a younger, contemporary audience. What is your opinion surrounding this and how the different waves of ska music have evolved?

Nicky: At the end of the day I think it comes down to the songs. What we try to do and the way that we see ourselves is that there are four waves of ska. You have your original Jamaican wave, you have your two-tone wave from the 80’s with bands such as ‘The Specials’ and ‘Madness’ and ah…yeah a lot of people are kind of stuck in that genre. Then you have the third wave with bands like, you know, ‘No Doubt’ and ‘Reel Big Fish” and then there was ‘Bosstones’but now in 2020, we’ve got what I consider to be international ska or global ska which is what we do, it’s like, a lot of different multicultural grooves. 

There’s about ten different nationalities in the band so we use that…that…wisdom I suppose, or…those resources to inform the songs and I think, as long as you’re not stuck in that kind of same sounding ska from the past and you do expand and you do try out different things, then you’ll survive. I think that’s why we won the World Music ARIA as well because we have expanded into those styles. I think that’s one way and I think that actually, you know, putting on a show that’s actually universal and that really connects with people on many different levels, not just hearing the grooves or hearing the songs but really having an interaction with the audience that is part of the ancient sacred ritual that a live performance is

As musicians and entertainers, we’re there to provide a sense of community and create a sense of unity with an audience for those two hours or however long the performance is, they’re being transported somewhere, to another dimension and that energy stays with them, it’s stays with people once they’ve left the performance, you know, and that’s our thing. We study it, we experiment… we try things out with the audience and we allow magic to happen. We’re very spontaneous, if somethings going on with an audience member, you know, something cools going down – we’ll stop proceedings and go there and follow that tangent because that’s really where the magic is and that happens a lot. 




Ash: That sounds like a lot of fun! The Melbourne Ska Orchestra performances are renowned for involving spontaneous, on the fly sets that feed off what their auidience is enjoying and I bet you’ve met some pretty interesting characters along the way or had some memorable touring experiences, is there anything that stands out for you?

Nicky: Yeah, we’ve met a lot of interesting people. We’re pretty lucky in that we’ve received accolades from some of the pioneer Jamaican performers from the fifties and sixties. There’s a guy called Stranger Cole <StrangeJah Cole> he travelled up to Melbourne with another band and did some recording with us. Another guy, Carlos Malcom, who did all of the horn arrangements for the James Bond in the sixties…we’ve performed with him and then there’s, Owen Gray, he had hits and he used to sing with Bob Marley and it was great to do a whole heap of shows with him. So, they’re the ones that stand out but we have had a lot of guest performers that sing with us too. The African Garunda Group, we’ve done stuff with them and the Kirov Russian Opera as well. We’ve also played some amazing gigs that stand out. Just recently we played in New Caledonia, on one of the islands there called Mare and we were the first a Anglo Saxon, non-New Calededonian band to play, on the island, ever. So we’ve had some great gigs and we’re pretty lucky really. 



Ash: Have you ever had any embarrassing moments on stage?

Nicky: Yeah….<hesitates> …ah….<laughing>

Ash: <laughing> ok, I’ll reframe that question…has there ever been any embarrassing moments on stage, that you want to elaborate on?<both laughing>

Nicky: Well….<pauses>….. probably when we played Glastonbury, half way through our first song we realised we had a trumpet player missing <both laughing> and we thought, we’ll, “what’s going on?” You know, so, we sent….the trombone player out, ah, looking for him and he found him in the tent, half asleep…well…he was really asleep and he had to wake him up, you know, with cold water and he was already dressed so we got him on the stage but in the meantime, the trombone player had his trombone with him but it wasn’t his trombone because his trombone got left, oh, in baggage services so he was loaning somebody else’s trombone and anyway, on the ramp, he slipped…hit his face, bent the trombone that wasn’t even his and got on stage and tried to bend it back! <both laughing> That was all in the first five minutes of our performance at Glastonbury so that was hilarious!

Ash: I bet you would’ve improvised your whole way through that though, make it seem like it was part of the performance somehow…

Nicky: Yeah, exactly, we made something of it…it was a sort of serendipitous moment that we shared with the crowd.



Ash: With so many band members, what is it like in rehearsal spaces for you?

Nicky: We don’t have a lot of chances to rehearse, only before we do tours. It’s actually pretty…it’s fun but, it’s always very serious because we have so much stuff to get through and a lot of people to organise so we have a whistle and when the whistle goes everyone has to shut up but everyone gets its…a band like that, it’s not easy to run so there has to be some kind of discipline that has to be adhered to. And egos, no egos as well, that’s a big thing too but, you know, everyone kind of gets that. 



Ash: If you could change one thing about the music industry on Australia, what would would you do?

Nicky: I think there’s nowhere near enough original content on radio. I think it’s gotten worse, atleast, in the early days radios like triple j would play anybody, you know, from like Madonna and then the next band would be an Australian band doing the independent thing and I think that’s kind of closed rank and it’s become a smaller demographic and all of the big radio stations that should be playing some home grown talent don’t so I don’t that’s enough encouragement. Overseas, like in France, the percentage of French music that gets played on the radio is massive. I think that’s a big thing and funding, the music industry has been decimated because of the fact that you can’t really make any music from selling records anymore. It’s all streaming and Spotify and everything so the money that used to come to the artists has been reduced. 

Ash: I share that sentiment. The government needs to spend more money on cultivating the arts industries to provide a fairer platform, at the moment these issues are systemic and there are too many people within the industry that are taking advantage of these systemic problems in opportunistic ways that make it even harder for the musicians and creative industry workers to have their voices heard.
I don’t if you’ve ever read or heard about the Australian Council For The Arts paper;  Do you really expect to get paid? An economic study of professional artists in Australia? It’s a research paper published by David Throsby and Anita Zednik from Macquarie University in Sydney and if you haven’t read it, it’s definitely something that you should read…that everyone should read – some people outside of the creative industries could use a little perspective….that’s my opinion at least.

Nicky: Yeah, that’d be what I would change.

Ash: Do you have any advice for any young people in Australia that want to make a career for themselves in the music industry?

Nicky: The landscape now means that anything is possible, you can have pour own tv channel or YouTube channel and these are quite powerful these days but I think you have to be as original as you can be and don’t be trying to copy other people or other genres. Just do your own thing, be original and believe in yourself. 

Believe that anything’s possible because the old model of having to be signed to a record label to get played has gone out of the window but also, as a result, it means that anyone and his dog can put up a channel out their so be ready to enter a competitive market. We’re experiencing it now, it’s a relentless marketing expedition but you have just got to try different thimgs and stay positive. It’s a little bit like a game…you just have to try and work out what the rules of the game are and then adapt to the rules, bend the rules, break the rules and start new pathways.

Ash: I like that, switch up the game plan – invite your players, bring the audience to you…get the industry to log in to your account. So what’s the game plan for the MSO going to involve over the next five years then?

Nicky: We’ve got an awesome game plan that we’re already working on now yeah. We’re doing a film at the moments, we are going to do a live album, we have lots of overseas adventures that are on the cards….we’re just considering the time for that at the moment though because we don’t want to lose money – it’s a big Orchestra so it’s quite expensive for us to tour and so…yeah…we are looking for a benevolent benefactor that can, ah, that can fund the band for the next five years so there’s any millionaires out there with some spare cash that want to invest in an amazing orchestra, we can guarantee you an adventure of joy, mayhem, laughter and a reasonable return on your investment.



🎼 Ash and Nicky continued to chat for another 15 minutes however this content was for our ears only but I can tell you, we discussed some really interesting conecepts that we had planned to act on when the Melbourne Ska Orchestra visited Perth for their Freo Social gig on April 17 as well as for their performance at The Fairbridge Festival on April 18. As soon as I found out that these events had been cancelled, I got in touch with Nicky to see how everyone in the Melbourne Ska Orchestra was coping, to check if they needed anything and to offer the solidarity that comes from being a part of the Around The Sound Family of Musicians and Creatives 🎼


Ash: Hi Nicky, thanks for chatting with me again, I just wanted to touch base and see how everyone is? 

Nicky: Hi Ash, we’re ok…we did seven dates of tour and they were fantastic but then, you know, obviously we had to pull the plug on everything. The general consensus is, from a musicians perspective….we’re all creative souls and this is kind of like, atleast from my perspective, this is an enforced creativity because you’re always looking for time to just destill your ideas and work out all of your little sketches and to just find time to work on those ideas, to allow things to percolate a bit. 

You know, anytime that we’ve had off, whether its four days or five days or something like that…that’s sort of the normal thing so to now have a couple of weeks of the whole world being on pause, from my perspective, it’s kind of like “here’s a couple of weeks to catch up” and I, personally, live in the mountains so I am lucky to be surrounded by nature and not cooped up in a room so yeah, it’s a little bit of a welcomed thing for me but for many of the people, who are in the city….I know a lot of the members of the band are teachers and they’re teaching from home via zoom and doing online teaching but the main source of income for most of us is playing live so that’s just completely dried up. So, that’s kind of where we’re sitting at the moment. We’re trying to work out a way of doing something as an orchestra, together, online….maybe, with everyone doing a little bit of a thing that we can put up as a multifunction video but yeah….



Ash: I actually live up in the hills as well, in Perth, and even though I am still extremely busy because I’m doing whatever I possibly can to help provide musicians with a platform to keep engaging with their audiences, I am still lucky to be living on several acres surrounded by nature and yeah, I still have that sense of serenity and I really feel for the people who are confined to their houses or units and “down on the flats.” 

Nicky: Have you had a lot of people reaching out for help?

Ash: Yeah, I have…probably around 200 people a day and not just people from Perth either, people from all over Australia have been reaching out to me to find out what kind of services Around The Sound can provide them and most of the people who work for Around The Sound are employed in other creative industries areas or other roles like nursing. They work with us because they love music, they enjoy being a part of the music scene and the culture of community that goes with engaging their creative skills ….it’s an outlet for them and so our small team is definitely feeling the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic – not being able to immerse creatively and feed that passion has left a gap in some people’s lives but we are trying to provide as many opportunities as we can and help as many people as we can too.

Nicky: Yeah, it’s difficult…we have been thinking of doing something with some of our songs…we’ve got a lot of songs that kind of relate to what’s happening at the moment. The song called ‘Perfect Storm’ for instance…the lyrics really resonate with these kinds of times that we’re facing. On a personal level I think it’s good for humanity to take a step back and get off the unsustainable treadmill that we got ourselves on…you know, that trajectory…I think in some ways there will be positive outcomes of people having to press the pause the button…it’ll have an impact on demonstrating that it doesn’t all evolve around economy…



Ash: That’s true, yes, I agree…I feel like…that this is shining the spotlight on a lot of different issues, it’s providing people with perspective about what it is that really matters in our lives and it’s highlighting what some of the systemic problems are, both nationally and internationally….surely this will have an impact on the governmental policies and strategic directions that are benchmarked or highlighted as being fundamental towards ensuring that we don’t see the millions of people who are suffering from this crisis continuing to suffer for many years into the future. So, hopefully, something positive will come from the tragedies…I hope that everyone in the Melbourne Ska Orchestra and that people overeast are doing ok and I hope that you all know that everyone here at Around The Sound has been thinking of you…

Nicky: Yeah, thank you, you know…we were all on the road together, all 25 of us and when we got back I wasn’t feeling well so I actually got the test done just in case and I am all clear so that’s good. Everyone seems to be ok health wise but the hard thing is going to be what happens next, obviously financially….what they’re doing in Italy and in New Zealand is great where all payments stop, you know, all bank payments…all rent..all mortgage payments…you know, everything’s stopped. It should be happening here but they seem to be slow off the mark here and the funny thing with the hairdressers too…like, it’s hilarious you know how..like, stuff everybody but you can still get your haircut.

Ash: Oh gosh, yeah, that’s just so weird isn’t it…

Nicky: Yeah! There’s no logic in it..you try to get logic out of them but they just can’t justify it, it’s quite funny <both laughing> It doesn’t help the government when being taking seriously.

Ash: I’ve set up a fundraising campaign and we’re trying to raise money so that we can help the creative industries workers in Western Australia because there are thousands of people who urgently need financial assistance and don’t “fit” in the assistance categories…I mean, I am not able to earn any money at the moment because of the situation we’re in but I am lucky enough to have no debt and to have family members that can help me out a little bit – so many others aren’t that fortunate and it’s taking too long for people to be provided with help….

Nicky: That is the difficult thing, totally, and it’s just like..they are way too slow off the mark because a lot of people live hand to mouth where it is literally; paycheck – rent –  food; paycheck – rent – food; paycheck – rent – food and that’s it. So…the paycheck stops and then you need food…how do you pay for basic costs of living….you know? What are you going to do about that and the first payments as far as the JobSearch initiative is not til April and not only that, trying to actually get online or trying to get in touch to have a conversation or to register is not an easy procedure and you can’t be going down to their office right now, you shouldn’t be because of the social distancing and the risks…and there were some grant pplications, quick turn around grants but they’re quite convoluted and they just don’t make it easy enough, it needs to be easier.



Ash: It is difficult to understand too, it shouldn’t be so hard to figure out if you’re eligible to receive assistance and it’s really disappointing that the people who have consistently proven themselves to be charitable, to actively raise funds for other Australians in their times of need are now not receiving the same level of charitable support…

Nicky: Hopefully that changes soon, hopefully we’ll get that benevolent benefactor and hopefully you’ll get one to support your fundraiser too.

Ash: Yes, hopefully – They would be remembered in history as having played a vital role in ensuring that the culture of arts in Western Australia continues to thrive throughout the pandemic as well as afterwards.







Around The Sound is currently fundraising to raise money for musicians and music industry workers who have been impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. Please show your support by donating here and by encouraging others to also donate and stand in solidarity with this cause.

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