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Jahcoozi: BPitch, Berlin and ‘Fucking Pretentious Artists’ (interview)

Reported by JontySkrufff on April 16, 2010

“As much as I like our last two albums I don’t know if you can sit down and listen to either of them all in one go. Because there’s so much information included on each, there are so many fucking ideas and hyper-active beats.”

Holding forth in a virtually deserted Berlin café on a cold spring afternoon, Jahcoozi singer and lyricist Sasha Perera admits feeling ambiguous about the band’s provocatively titled first two albums ‘Pure Breed Mongrel’ and ‘Blitz ‘n’ Ass’ though is a lot more upbeat about new record ‘Barefoot Wanderer.’

“This is the first album we’ve made where you can stick it in the CD player, leave it on and not keep track-skipping,” Sasha smiles.

“I think that’s a major achievement for us, it would have been easier to do it the other way,” she says.

The ‘other way’ refers to Jahcoozi’s mix and match jumbled up fusion of hip hop, dubstep and baile funk which has brought the band a worldwide fan-base of fashion conscious hipsters and props and support from the likes of Diplo, Switch and Berlin DIY techno star Ellen Allien. It’s on Allien’s label BPitch that ‘Barefoot Wanderer’ comes out shortly, in what’s a canny connection for both label and  band.

“We’d already worked with BPitch before, I’m on one of their Modeselektor albums and Modeselektor did a remix for us back in 2003,” she explains.

“BPitch also not a typical techno label, and we’ve always preferred working with Berlin labels,” she continues, “We live in the city, we react to the city and we behave like we live in the city, which means being pretty chilled about our music, which is how they are too,” she says.

“When you work with labels in the UK and America I imagine there’s more of that attitude of time is money. Here time is money too of course but there’s just more time and less money,” she laughs.

Berliner Robert Koch programmes Jahcoozi’s beats and Israeli Oren Gerlitz plays the bass, leaving Sasha to handle vocals, lyrics and all round fronting activities. Extrovert and flamboyant by default she speaks with a distinctive London accent, despite having lived in Berlin since 2001 after leaving the UK following what amounted to a quarter life (or unusually premature mid-life)crisis.

“I was 22 when I graduated and I remember thinking ‘I’m not gonna’ go and become a fucking recruitment consultant’, which was exactly what every other politics graduate was doing’. Or they were going to work for the Guardian or Amnesty International or they were going to start in the queue by becoming an intern for that kind of job. I wasn’t interested, I wanted to express myself,” she says.

“When I lived in Brixton when I was 19, people would always say ‘are you an arts student?’ and I’d be like ‘no, I’m a politics student’.

“But I’m happy I wasn’t an arts student,” she confides, “It’s bad enough being an artist; how far up your ass, how fucking pretentious do you wanna’ be?” she laughs.

“I thought about doing a masters degree and all that shit. I was basically studying because I didn’t want to go and get a job, I preferred studying and having my student life and being able to do whatever I fucking wanted. So I thought about doing a masters degree just to waste more time,” she continues.

“But then I thought I’ll end up as an even more qualified graduate student who still doesn’t want one of those kind of (conventional) jobs. I’m really lucky because I’ve found what I want to do. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise, I would probably have just partied a lot, like all those other frustrated people in England.”

Not that she’s unaware of the temptations of Berlin’s 24/7 party lifestyle, she’s the first to admit.

“Actually Jahcoozi saved me from slipping into that lifestyle too much because Jahcoozi was the first thing I really wanted to do, first thing on Monday,” she smiles.

“Before that I didn’t care if I went to college or took exams being totally high. I still passed them, I got a 2-1 (degree), which is not that difficult to get in politics.”

“Education is very spoon-fed in the UK, doing a degree here in Germany is very different, it’s proper nerdism here,” she chuckles.

“Jahcoozi was the first thing that I really cared about where I thought ‘I don’t wanna’ get mashed up for the whole weekend’. When I get mashed up I will talk shit non-stop for three days and by the end of it I won’t be able to speak, which is no good when you’re a singer. The singing aspect makes me think more about my health than if I was just a DJ. Your body is your instrument and it shows what you do to it.”

On stage and in the spotlight she’s a natural leader, commanding audience attention through her sheer presence and physical intensity, which means she’s as likely to leap off the stage and clamber on someone’s shoulders as lead the crowd in a chant. On Barefoot Wanderer though, she’s tuneful and reflective, singing sad songs sweetly over Oren and Robert’s dub-heavy beats.

“If you see our live show you’ll think Jahcoozi are only high energy,” she concedes, “But if you listen to our first album there’s a track on there called Ally McBeal which could be on this album easily, it’s dubby with deep ethereal vocals.”

“People are asking us ‘so how come you’ve slowed down?’ Actually that element has always been there. We’ve definitely put more process towards the dubbier side though. We were at a point about a year ago when we had more than enough for two albums. One would have been high energy, hysterical, exactly what everyone expected from us, the other one was more melancholic, down and deeper. We started calling them red and blue tracks. 

It was a headache.

“I said ‘let’s do a double album’ but then it’s difficult enough finding a label to put out one bloody album. We did a few EPs, got rid of that stuff and we reached the point where we thought ‘do we wanna’ do a typical Jahcoozi album which shows we can do a bit of everything’- which was how our last two albums were, and we thought ‘no, we want to do something different and make a properly coherent album’.” 

Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): You’ve been doing Jahcoozi for 8 years now, does it get easier over time?

Jahcoozi: “You have ups and downs. Usually straight after an album you feel that classic anti-climax of ‘what are we gonna’ do now?’ but I think we’re at a really good stage now. Robert does a lot of his solo stuff, which is good for him. He doesn’t always come on tour with us, he got a bit fed up of touring the world and prefers staying in the studio. Which is great, as we don’t have to drag somebody on tour who doesn’t want to come. Oran is this stable Zen kind of person in the middle whereas me and Robert are more at the other extremes, it’s a very triangular system going on.”

Skrufff: Your lyrics are packed with ideas and statements, how conscious are you of influencing others?

Jahcoozi: “I’m not that conscious of my voice influencing people but I’m also a music fan and I can be blown away by other people’s lyrics. I remember when I heard this track by DJ Vadim featuring Sarah Jones. It’s a brilliant track she just rips up the whole hip-hop scene in one song and says ‘fuck off, you ghetto twats’. Dissing down ghetto fabulous. The name of the song is ‘the revolution will not happen between these thighs’, I remember hearing that before I made music and being blown away. Though you never rate your own stuff as much as others, if you did that you’d be a twat wouldn’t you.” (DJ Vadim: Your Revolution: http://tinyurl.com/yf8zjxy 

Skrufff: Is there a mega- promotion plan for the next six months?

Jahcoozi: “Mega plan, I dunno (don’t know), we’re bringing out the album in April. I’ve started making tunes on the guitar, just myself, which are really stoner blues. Writing songs with an instrument is really different. I played piano when I was a kid but I’d never really written songs on an instrument. I play the trumpet as well. I’ve written four songs already.”

Skrufff: Do you get many obsessive fans, or people writing to you?

Jahcoozi: “Yeah, a few not that many. I think people are a bit intimidated by me sometimes.” 

Skrufff: How do you feel about people imitating and copying you?

Jahcoozi: “There’s a very fine line between imitation and inspiration and I’m open to that. God, it’s a compliment if people are imitating you.” 

Skrufff: How long did it take you to find your direction in Berlin?

Jahcoozi: “I got a job here, in the city of the unemployed. It was during the multi-media bubble, someone said ‘oh, we’re gonna’ give you a laptop and a phone’. I managed to talk them down into doing it for three days a week. I did that for a while then buggered off to India for a few months. Then I worked in bars, I worked at Club de Visionaires for four years of my life. I also modelled for a while. I’d finished my degree and was being offered good money for modelling jobs so did that for a year and was in Milan for a while. 

I did something with Vivian Westwood once, which was really the only nice thing I did. Because I was black, had a shaved head, some of the stuff I got booked for was relatively interesting, it wasn’t like doing stuff for the Shopping Channel because I didn’t look right for them. But what you look like is what your parents gave you, it doesn’t build up any self-confidence. It’s genetic, it’s chance. You need to generate content to become fulfilled as a person. I’m a bit of a Buddhist.”

Jahcoozi’s Barefoot Wanderer is out shortly on BPitch Records.

http://www.discogs.com/artist/Jahcoozi

Jonty Skrufff (http://skrufff.com): Follow Jonty on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jontyskrufff