Bobby Alu’s Café Breakfast Tour: Vibes Served Sunnyside Up

22 April 2024 | 12:12 pm | Christie Eliezer

Bobby Alu is currently on a Breakfast Tour of 60 regional cafés around the country ahead of the release of his fourth album, 'Keep It Tropical'.

Bobby Alu

Bobby Alu (Source: Supplied)

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To set up his May-due fourth album, Keep It Tropical, Byron-based reggae/roots singer-songwriter Bobby Alu is currently on a Breakfast Tour of 60 regional cafés around the country.

It must be said that Alu is not an early morning person, preferring to write and record in the late hours. But his music comes most alive at different timeslots.

“The music that I create is more attuned to daytime and sunsets,” points out the man born Charles Robert Fa'agalu Wall. “At times, venues want me to start at 11.30 pm. Sure, that’s OK with some musicians, but my music is different.

“My favourite time of the day is sunset; it’s free and magical. I describe my music as sunset music. Whenever we play a festival, I ask to play at sunset.”

The solo breakfast run has a simple setup. Alu travels with four bags, arriving at cafés with a basic PA, a ukulele and a microphone. Sometimes, there are two seatings, which can mean a 7 am start. He plays for 30 to 60 minutes. The audience can include kids, dogs and, on the day of this interview, a horse.

Occasionally, if a show looks like drawing 200 cereal crunchers, he brings in his band: drummer Declan Kelly and bassist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Paulie Bromley. Most café owners have since written to him to say they had the best weekday crowds in years. 

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A constant figure on the tour is the mysterious Breakfast Shirts, described only as a “hilarious influencer and coffee connoisseur.” Mr. Shirt’s role is to generate profile and revenue for regional cafés and put them in touch with brands.

Alu relays, “I’d wanted to do this breakfast tour for ages. It was different and promised to be a lot of fun. We went online and on socials, asking cafés if they wanted to get involved. 

“We got 150 responses and had to fit in 52 depending on the time we had on the road. The whole thing took three weeks to put together, and I probably had a bigger reach than if I’d played music venues.”

Oat Milk Goodness and Harris Farm Markets came in as sponsors, which meant the cafés did not have to fork out a cent. Breakfast Shirts videoed all the shows, and Oat Milk Goodness received 57 videos to post on their social media to reach younger consumers.

“It’s been really interesting. There are no stages, so you’re literally on the same level as the people eating breakfast. It encourages you to be in the moment. It’s about the café owners and how every single one of them had such a close relationship with their community. 

“It’s a great reminder of the power of the people around you, and it’s making a good situation than what’s happening there at the moment.”

Breakfast Shows

The breakfast shows have allowed Alu to play every single song on the new album.

“I’m heading overseas soon, and this is the start of two or three years of touring these songs. Songs take time to develop and get an identity as a live performance, so I’m seeing how they feel out in the open. You have to do a song at least a thousand times before you get to know it.”

The Breakfast Tour ends on May 5 in Brunswick Heads in NSW. On May 17, he’s in North America, doing 23 shows with Xavier Rudd until June 22, a follow-up to when they both hit the road together two years ago, doing 49 shows in 20 European countries.

Alu’s return to Europe includes a restaurant tour through Italy in September in conjunction with a chef from Sicily.

He remains focused on the international market, where he has a dedicated fan base with +60 million streams and over 450,000 Spotify monthly listeners. He’s signed to booking agents Madison House (North America), Rola Music (Germany, Switzerland, Austria) and Fibra Entertainment (Brazil).

It hasn’t always been an easy ride. Floating from the new album (complete with a guitar solo from Matt McHugh) was written in a tipi on a Southwest France beach at a festival called Enter The Wave.

It was at the end of an early European tour that was not so successful. The airline had lost all their luggage, and when they arrived at the festival, they didn’t feel they belonged because the crowd was full of high school kids.

However, what they chose to focus on was the joy and risk-taking the audience was feeling and how they genuinely felt bummed out when the event finished, and they tearfully had to part from new-found friends.

Keep It Tropical has some standout songs, including the title track, the slow-paced Usually An Avalanche about being engrossed in feelings, and the special Far Away inspired by the Samoan songs his mother used to sing to him and his brother.

There are tributes to ‘70s reggae like Pay Now Or Pay Later, Ready For Your Love, and Wouldn’t It Feel Nice and the percussion-driven grooves of Floating and Sunsets (With You).

Take Time To Take Time Out features the recently acquired Roland CompuRhythm CR-68 drum machine and Juno Synth, both from the 1970s.

Personal Mantra

The title track is Alu’s mantra about responding to stresses and freak-outs and finding the little joys in life. Part of it comes from his Polynesian background—his father is Australian and travelled extensively through the Pacific region, and his dancer mum is from Samoa—and part comes from his lengthy stays in Kenya in West Africa and the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

“I call it my rhythm quest. I head to countries whose music I really like and immerse myself in their culture to see what the appeal is.

“I played with some master drummers. I found them very spiritual, very deep and rooted. But at the same time, they were very cruisey and always joking around, totally at ease with who they were. That really inspired me.”

The Kenya/Cook Island experience (Brazil and Cumbria in Northern UK are on the wishlist) changed his approach to music. On his early records, he was businesslike, aiming for precision. But on Keep It Tropical, it was all about the feel and finding his voice through the instruments.

“It’s about your voice and your interpretation of this instrument, regardless of whether it’s perfect or not. It’s so freeing, and I can be just who I am and be the best version of me.”

That translated to the record: “We recorded live in the studio. We weren’t even sure if it was going to be on an album. We like this style of music. We love being in the moment, and we like playing music together to capture it.”

Keep It Tropical also sees him tie creativity with spirituality. Like all musicians, he has his own take on what the creative process is, how to capture it and if it’s about control or surrender.

He recalls going to a lecture by a prominent author whose mentor, an old poet, taught her that creativity was like a storm. “She was in her house, and a storm would go by, and during that storm was the only moment she could pool her creativity. 

“Sometimes, the storm would roll on, and she’d miss it, and the best moment was when she caught the tail of the storm, just grabbed it, and pulled it back.

“There are little threads in your creativity which lead to something. Spiritually, if you are connected with something, you’re not quite sure why. Why do some songs take ten minutes, and why do some take ten years?

“The only thing to find out is to pick that thread and go with it. My version of spirituality is following those threads. You need to be there, but you don’t know why. It’s something about that unexplainable space, which is really cool, and I really like that space because it’s like your subconscious or spirit is telling you something.”

Bobby Alu is wrapping up his National Breakfast Tour—60 Cafes In Five Weeks—this week. You can pre-order/pre-save ‘Keep It Tropical’ here.