For Etoroma, the world is his stage. (Evan Shay / Courtesy of Etoroma)
For Etoroma, the world is his stage. (Evan Shay / Courtesy of Etoroma)

McGill alumnus, marching to the beat of his own drum

a/Arts & Entertainment by

You live in Upper Rez. You have an 8:30 a.m. class at the bottom of the hill and you’re just rolling out of bed at 8:15. You throw on your shoes, dash outside, and sprint down the steep, slippery, slush-covered University Street. As you slide into your seat in the nick of time, you realize you forgot your homework. Sounds like a pretty standard morning for a first year.

But imagine—in addition to this—that you had spent the preivous night, from midnight to 4 a.m., in the recording studio. Later that day you’d be practicing with both of your music groups and then at night you’d have a gig at a well-known jazz venue in Montreal. Juggling school and a professional music career? Not so standard. But just five years ago, this was the life of drummer, composer, and now McGill alumnus, Efa Etoroma Jr., who is set to appear on the cover of the upcoming issue of Muzik Etc./Drums Etc. magazine.

Raised mainly in Edmonton, Etoroma came from a musical family that first noticed his talent at age three, when he started banging out rhythms on his father’s head. By the end of high school, he had received numerous music awards, traveled throughout Canada and the United States to perform and study, and was on his way to McGill’s prestigious Schulich School of Music.

Etoroma looks back at his years at McGill as a time of great inspiration. Joining fellow jazz students, Dan Reynolds (piano) and Conrad Good (bass), Etoroma started the Efa Etoroma Jr. Jazz Trio, which eventually went on to play at the Montreal Jazz Festival main stage in 2011.

“Within the first few months of being at McGill, we just kind of made a connection,” Etoroma says about the trio.

Focusing on acoustic jazz, the group recorded an album called Before and After, a compilation of traditional, smooth jazz with a hint of modern flair.

Etoroma is “always looking for new sounds,” which led to the establishment of his second music group—an experimental hip-hop collaboration called Ruckus. Their album, Round One, is an upbeat blend of hip-hop, jazz, funk, soul, electronica, and Latin music.

“It was a fusion of different styles into this contemporary version of hip-hop,” Etoroma explains.

The members of the group would incorporate different sounds that were inspiring them at the time into their compositions to form an unique amalgamation. One unceasing source of excitement for Etoroma was Montreal itself.

“It was a challenge, you know, to stay focused in a really exciting city,” Etoroma sighs. “But it was inspiring at the same time.”

He recalls fondly some of his favourite places in the city to hear music, including Upstairs Jazz, Jello Martini Lounge, Brutopia, and of course, the many stages of the Montreal Jazz Festival.

The past few years have been a whirlwind of success for Etoroma. Two years ago, he played for the Montreal Drum Fest, a prestigious annual festival that showcases some of the best percussionists in the world. For Etoroma, playing for this specific community consisting solely of drummers was a challenging, but extremely important moment in his career.

“It was a big step for me,” he chuckles, recalling that the members of the drum community “are super-critical … because they know what’s up.”

Due to this exposure, Etoroma just signed an endorsement with Yamaha Drums Canada. In doing so, he has joined an incredible rank of drummers—several of whom are internationally famed. Being a part of this group will, without a doubt, open a number of doors for the young artist.

Today, Etoroma is based in Edmonton, where he leads a new group—the Etoroma Trio. Along with his brother on vocals and guitar and a bassist, Edwin Alvarado, Efa is exploring a more pop-oriented sound than he has before. Keep an ear out—for you’ll undoubtedly hear from from Etoroma in the future.