By Naomi Harris

When they started out they would first cook food together as a group and then start their jam sessions. Now the band Humbalaya is beyond t jam sessions as they have performed in festivals, a wedding and venues.  

Humbalaya, a jazz funk band, has been selected to perform in the Battle of the Bands to compete for the opening slot of SEE’s Art Attack.

The band consists of seven members: Brandon Mediate, senior and environmental science and the keyboardist, Ben Laurenson, junior government and politics minor in French woodwinds, James Lord, communications and entrepreneurship minor vocalist and guitarist, Kyle Pett, accounting and Chinese minor drummer, Connor Milam, percussion, Sam Cook, Maryland alumni guitarist and vocalist, and Jack Cantilli, bassist.

Humabalaya is one of six other bands set to compete Monday for the opportunity. They discussed their history together, their evolution as a band and what it would mean to win the competition.

How did you guys meet?

Cook: Me and Connor worked at the co-op for a couple of years together. I used to see James all the time because of his big hair. One day he came in and he had a guitar on his back and we started talking. I bought a really nice guitar at the same time Brando (Mediate) bought a really nice keyboard. We all just started jamming together.

Lord: There were two open mic nights. For one, Jam for the Kids, whoever jammed the hardest got the strawberry jam. These guys (Milam and Cook) in steel pajamas, came up with no set list and just jammed. They got the jelly. Then we had an open mic at the co-op. That was the time we were going to play and we found out there was a sax player there.

Laurenson: We started playing at the Void for many nights. And now here we are.

Why did you choose the name Humbalaya?

Lord: I woke up one morning, around the same time we started jamming, the first thing that popped out of my head was Humbalaya. We were thinking of names. I love the idea of many different flavors that would be the main aspect of our band.

Laurenson: There are two parts — humble, humility and then jambalaya; a stew of many things.

How would you describe your sound?

Lord: We are constantly pushing the envelope through different sounds. We want different pictures to paint our sound while not being confined to one genre. Tasty jam is the foundation.

What is it like to perform live?

Milam: When you practice, and practice, and practice to the point that you feel there is something wrong and then you get up there and play it for people – -they don’t even notice what you have been stressing out about. You lose yourself in the moment and play something completely different. It doesn’t matter which show it is — it is always different.

What are your musical influences?

Pett: I like a lot of blues. Ragtime also has a lot of flavor because you can get Afro-Cuban influence and blues. The funk genre is kind of cool because there is a really kind of heavy feeling — that you can dance to. Anything we play is stuff we are listening to, stuff we pick up and stuff we create.

What has been the evolution of your music from when you started untill now?

Cook: When I started playing music with Connor, that was years ago. We played in a blues band. We played in a lot of basements for little parties — it was really dirty and really raw. I was playing bass at the time. It was awesome. We have a seven-piece jazz funk band now. The music we play is a little more complicated. There are more nuances.

Lord: We strive to be a democracy and that is one of the most challenging things for our band. Everyone has something to say and they should say it. So what I’ve noticed is our growth with each other.

What would it mean for your band if you were selected?

Cantilli: I don’t really play music for other people. If we win that is cool but I am going to have a good time with myself and everyone else here.

Mediate: Maryland is home to insanely good musicians and if we were given this opportunity it would be quite the gift. In the case of Humbalaya, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts so we are better together than individually. It would be great.

Featured Photo Credit: Humbalaya of College Park interviews with Writer’s Bloc. The band is set to compete in Battle of the Bands in the Baltimore Room of Stamp. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)

Naomi Harris is a senior multi-platform journalism and sociocultural anthropology double major and can be reached at

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