Meet Sammy Sarfas, the energetic frontman of the Casablancas band
Sammy has been at Casablancas for 13 years
You have never experienced an incredible night out in Brighton until you pay a visit to Casablancas and watch the live band create an electric atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else. Fronted by the always energetic Sammy Sarfas, the seven-piece band perform every week to a lively crowd who can’t help but dance to the funk and soul that erupts from the musicians.
Born in Peru and brought up in Brighton, Sammy joined the Casablancas band 13 years ago when he was 18. Since then, his nights have ended at 6am and he gets heckled by drunks on a weekly basis.
We caught up with the 30-year-old to find out what he loves most about Casas and how he deals with the hoards of drunkards.
What do you like most about performing at Casablancas every week?
The audience are so great, everyone’s there to have fun. I have to say Casas is my favourite gig – that’s why I do it. We have the freedom to do what we want as a band. With the music that we play, people are generally dancing so people are having a good time. You really have the audience on your side, so I don’t fear anymore.
When I was younger I used to be terrified to get on stage and put a foot wrong. Then you start making loads of mistakes and you start realising that sometimes you get good things out of mistakes and even if nothing good comes out of it, at least you learn something from those mistakes. You forget about the fear. It’s a good thing for everyone to learn; to not fear. You’re there for a reason. I know the audience are there to protect me.
On Thursdays you get people coming up and jamming with you. What is the best and worst things people could do while performing?
It depends on the person, how they deliver it and what the audience like. If you get someone coming up and doing an indie rock song, I think “oh no the band won’t be able to play that”, but then they pull it out the bag, and it goes down really well. Sometimes you hear people sing that make you think they should be doing it professionally.
Generally those people that come up and sing like that are either professional or they’re aspiring. You do get a few people that aren’t studying music that come up, that used to play drums or something like that, and they can be really good but they’re not hungry for it. You need that drive to keep on getting better. The worst performances for the jam nights are the musicians that get up and don’t know what they’re doing or people that think it’s a karaoke night and have the lyrics on their phone and they don’t actually know it. It’s good to be prepared before you go on. The Thursday night jam thing is just fun. The audience are really forgiving for the people that get up so it’s not about their standard it’s about having fun.
What do you do other than Casablancas?
We do lots of different gigs, corporate gigs, weddings, pub gigs, original bands, pop gigs – all of the players in the band are full time musicians so none of us have a “day job”. I’m not in an original band myself but last year I did some backing vocals for Adele. There’s a band called PB Underground; they do lots of underground, funky soul kind of stuff. I’ve jumped on with them for a few things. However, when you jump on board with other things you have to do what they say.
I’m not one of those kinds of people. I would prefer having the creative control. No-one in the commercial side of things has got any integrity at the moment. I like how Jamariqui kind of kept his integrity and made great music. There are a lot of people that would do well doing that as backing vocals in the background but I like being up front, I don’t like being constrained.
If you could perform with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Stevie Wonder. 100%. I’ve seen him live three times – he’s a genius. Roberta Flack, she had a beautiful voice, I would’ve loved to sing for her. Nina Simone who was just an incredible woman. James Brown – I wouldn’t have lasted a second in his band because he fired people and he was a slave-driver. I love so many different types of music. Growing up, I was inspired by Michael Jackson.
How come the members of the Casas band alternate?
It’s pretty much because everyone has different schedules. It never used to be like this. The band formed in Chichester Jazz College, then they got a gig in Casablancas and that was the same eight-piece band every week. It got to the point where it was getting a bit stagnant and a lot of the band were a bit older and a bit out of touch with the students.
We needed to change the band a lot because the age range gradually became more student orientated. So we got in younger musicians who knew the modern stuff. If I have a friend in town and they want to get up, we’ll put them on the gig. I feel quite privileged to have the band we do. I’m just a singer but these guys, they can play anything. They follow me really well which is great as a front man. They’re really talented. The keyboard player, Johnny, he knows every song in the world. You feel so safe next to someone like that. And the drummer Luke, he knows every song as well so you feel really supported by the band. If someone comes up and the band know the song and I don’t, I just do backing vocals or get off stage and have a break.
If Casas closed down, what would you want to do instead?
That’s a good question because I don’t know if I’d want to replace it. But actually it might be a good push for me to do my original stuff. The thing about Casas is, it’s a great gig and it’s really rewarding but it’s mid-week and it’s late. So the majority of the week I’m going to bed at five or six in the morning and it’s been like that for years now. I’m like a vampire, but I think most musicians are. But if it shut? Maybe I’d just call it a day with that and get something else happening with the same musicians but do a completely different thing.
Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
Still alive. Still performing. I’ve got a lot of energy myself; I never stop moving and dancing. I just think that I’ll be a little bit out of touch with the younger audience of that age. So I’d have to change it a bit. I’d like to be touring my own music with a great band. That’s where I’d like to be.
If you had one piece of advice for aspiring musicians, what would it be?
Play with as many people and as much as you can. Continuously. Don’t be scared of the consequences. Keep practicing, keep playing and enjoy yourself. The main thing is is the support. In our society, we don’t actually support artists that much, so try not to fit into everyone else’s ideas of what you should be doing. If you’ve got something you want to express; just do it.
If you want to watch Sammy and the rest of the funk band, head down to Casablancas every week to get involved and have the night of your life.