Jus Now’s music is made up of an unlikely fusion— traditional Trinidadian Soca rhythms, and culture, with the sub heavy sound of the Bristol Underground. This mix stems from the duo that is Jus Now themselves: LAZAbeam (Keshav Singh), percussionist and producer from Trinidad and Sam Interface (Sam Chadburn), a producer and DJ from Bristol, UK. Sam Interface is a Drum and Bass producer who has collaborated with DJ Die, TC and DJ Eddie K, on releases and remixes for labels like Shogun Audio, Clear Skyz, Hospital and Metalheadz. LAZAbeam is a well-known percussionist and producer in Trinidad who established himself as a producer by remixing the likes of L-Vis 1990 and Major Lazer.
A chance meeting through a mutual friend brought them together in Bristol in 2010. They describe themselves as: “Two Riddim obsessives… separated by 4,500 miles and brought together by a shared love of bass, rum and parties.” Jus Now have worked between both Trinidad and Bristol to create their debut ‘One Time EP’. As we settle down in the dining room of the scholar’s retreat at the Mehrangarh fort, LAZAbeam, who is recovering from an upset stomach, eyes a glass of water he’s been handed very suspiciously. The interview begins.
What does ‘roots music’ mean to each of you respectively? LAZAbeam, you are from Trinidad which has a strong musical history of different genres, or different ‘roots’, so to speak: soca, reggae, riddim. And you also have roots in India.
LAZAbeam: To me it means the source, but the source is ever changing. It all depends on when you look, at what eras you are looking at. But I think folk music is basically the music of the people. No matter what country you are from, the folk music is what drives the passion and soul of the people. Jus Now is very much an appreciator and utilizer of folk and traditional music. It’s very much the basis of what we do. We put it in a context that is palatable to a wider range of people, simply because it makes people dance. And folk music can make people dance. That’s basically our modus operandi.
Sam, you were part of the UK underground electronic music scene, which also comes from an urban sub culture, but which still is very neighbourhood, area specific. How do you see it fitting in with roots culture that is seen as evolving from a more traditional, less urban setting?
Sam Interface: Yeah there’s a different sound in Bristol and Manchester, London, Berlin. It’s very city specific. And that comes from the different kinds of ethnic groups. Bristol for example is very much a big Jamaican… Bristol has a sound which is very well known for (trip hop and electronic) bands like Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky. And then they have the drum and bass scene with Roni Size and Reprazent. The dubstep scene came out of Croyden in London and the first place it went to is Bristol and they evolved their own separate style of the dubstep sound. When you look at all these different sounds that have come out of Bristol in these past 20 years, they’ll always be very bass heavy and that comes from the Jamaican sound system heritage. The Bristol carnival is a big thing there. Bristol’s thing is this weighty sub sound. I think most of the music that comes out of Bristol has got a slight dub, reggae, Caribbean feel to it.
Your last EP One Time had a distinctly dark mood, through it. How did you achieve that feel? Especially since Sam has spoken about the happy, party atmosphere that’s part of carnival music of Trinidad as what drew you to it and what drew you to collaborate with LAZAbeam and work on this EP…
LAZAbeam: The question of whether or not music is dark is quite a relative thing. And I think Western music and perception views certain chords and melodies as dark music whereas Eastern music and culture views certain chords and melodies in a different light. Like shlokas, Sanskrit singing, can be construed as very dark to a Western person. To us, we sort of gravitate to that kind of thing, because it seems very real, rooted. Also that was the first instance of our material and we kind of went— Wham! Straight into that stuff, whatever felt good, whatever came naturally.
Sam Interface: I think the weather had something to do with it as well. One way I would describe our music would be Caribbean music, but for the cold winters in England. We have a bit of rain and thunder and darkness, because that’s what I grew up with. The summers in England aren’t very bright. It’s still quite a happy song though but…
LAZAbeam: Chordally it sounds dark…
Both of you live on separate continents. How did you manage to work together? Could you take us through the process? Do you send across samples? Does a lot of your collaboration take place online? How does this affect your work? And what are the pros and cons of this vis-a-vis working from the same physical space?
LAZAbeam: We kind of came up with it as we went along. Sam invited me to the studio when I was in Bristol. We met through some mutual friends. I put on some drum tracks for him. And later I invited him to Trinidad. He came directly to Trinidad because you need to see the culture to understand the culture. He immersed himself in the culture, hung out, drank the rum, partied with the people, did the wining, dancing, understood the Trini vibe and we started working there.
Sam Interface: When I was visiting him, we had our own projects which were our main focus, we were doing this as fun. We played the tracks we were making in his bedroom in Trinidad to a few people in England and they were really interested. They said, ‘You should keep doing this’. And then he visited me in summer 2011, and we worked for 2 months in England. After that we didn’t think about it for a little while. Then we did a little bit more work over Skype.
LAZAbeam: That was a key element of our collaboration during the winter but we try to do most of our work in the same room to hash it out. We spend 10 to 15 hours in the studio everyday.
Sam Interface: Skype does come into play when we can’t be in the same continent. Skype and Dropbox. But we prefer to be in the same room.
Will you be collaborating with any Rajasthani artists?
LAZAbeam: We’ve started already. In preparation for this gig we sampled a couple of Rajasthani songs and sang certain things in the Rajasthani style.
Sam Interface: One of the main things we are excited about, about coming to (Jodhpur) Riff, is the opportunity to collaborate with some Rajasthani musicians. It’s one thing to sample it, it’s another thing when you can actually work with a musician and maybe try to take them slightly out of their comfort zone and try something that is still traditional but done in a different way which might open them up to a wider audience.
What Rajasthani songs or instruments did you try?
LAZAbeam: We did a few things like Ghoomar and Kesariya Balam and a couple of the wedding songs of the Langas and Manganiyars. Basically we focused on instruments. So khartal, very percussive and also it’s the root of the castanet which is something we use in our music a lot as well. The khartal, the morchang, the ghara. It doesn’t really matter what the song is, as long as it’s not anything that we’re blaspheming.
Do you see this kind of music as being adaptable to a bass heavy style (that is characteristic of your kind of music)? What do you see as the biggest challenges in melding these 2 forms?
LAZAbeam: There are wide chasms between Western and Indian music. But because of the simple fact that Jus Now is related to Rajasthan, by blood. My father’s ancestry is from Rajasthan. I don’t believe that there’s a chasm. I think it’s a joyful meeting. A little while earlier we met one of the khartal players and we just clicked. I remembered him from when I was a child and had visited Jodhpur.
Sam Interface: I suppose there’s a time signature thing where modern dance music is very much 4/4 (four beats in a bar, common time) and obviously a lot of folk signatures will explore a lot of time signatures and tempos throughout one song. But that’s something we’re interested in experimenting with. That doesn’t mean you can’t add interesting production and bass just because it’s got a time signature a DJ might have to struggle to mix. A lot of our tracks will be DJ friendly but we’re also interested in doing stuff that a folk listener could appreciate, while still sounding totally alien and futuristic at the same time.
(Image: Jus Now. By Shantenu Tilwanker/ Jodhpur Riff/ Oijo)