Psychedelic Soul Savant
Having travelled extensively, the list of places Indian-born musician Jitwam has called home continues to grow. And with that, a nomadic quality surrounds the musician as he taps into each new environment. For his latest record, Third, an extended stint in New York resulted in disco and house-orientated influences rising to the fore.
While the lyrics of Brooklyn Ballers are an explicit ode to the Big Apple’s diverse community, the opening track India is a homage to the musician’s native country; the lyrics, “I won’t forget where I’m coming from, where I really belong,” are spoken as a subconscious flow over a languid jazz riff. Dissecting histories of immigration and the diasporic experience throughout, Jitwam connects the dots between his own travels and the communities he immerses himself within. This outlook continually reflects itself in his eclectic sound, indulging in eras and genres that resonate with his creative ethos, ultimately forming an album rooted in the tapestry of humankind.
Currently gearing up for a UK and EU tour over the coming months, with a headline show at London’s Jazz Cafe, we caught up with the musician just before he hits the road.
Ella Joyce: Starting with the opening track India, it feels very connected to your roots. Can you tell us about the significance of opening the album with that song?
Jitwam: India for me is a mantra for the album, honestly that whole song was just a bunch of subconscious freestyle. I really connected to the lyrics and it sums up my life at that point in time for that album, I’m sure I’ll come up with a new mantra for the next one. It was really important for me to call it India because I feel like this album was really trying to connect the dots between cultures and rhythms from all over the world, but I think more so for me personally. It’s really trying to sum up all of my experiences and connect the dots to who I am based on all the different places, experiences and cultures I’ve encountered.
EJ: As someone who has spent time in so many different places, how does your environment affect your sound?
J: I like to be an open vessel so anything going on always tends to seep in. Especially when it comes to food, rhythms or language, a lot of people tell me my accent changes all the time, but it’s just me picking up on things. I really enjoy picking up on people’s different sounds and finding ways to integrate that into my own language, I don’t think music is dissimilar.
EJ: New York really seems to stand out as a point of reference with tracks like Brooklyn Ballers and Stranger Danger (In The Streets Of Life). What is it about the city that resonates with you?
J: A lot of the album was written in New York so it is definitely a reflection of that, and at the time there was a lot of political stuff going on too. I really wanted to show how sometimes we think of New York in a certain idealised way, but it’s made up of all these people who aren’t actually from there – that is what makes it beautiful. That’s what I’m really trying to show with this album as well, the different rhythms and genres are what make life so vibrant, so exciting and so worth living. So New York was definitely a big inspiration for this record, not only as a metaphor but also due to me spending time there just soaking up everything the city has to offer.
Photography by Vivek Vadoliya
“The different rhythms and genres are what make life so vibrant, so exciting and so worth living.”
EJ: Your sound is quite different this time around, how would you describe that evolution?
J: The music creation process is still the same, but I think it’s just me getting better at my craft and I feel the production reflects that. This one is a lot more disco and groove orientated than the last couple of records, but that’s probably because I’ve been soaking up so much of the house music and disco culture in New York. It’s all just evolving, and that’s still happening with the stuff I’m making now as well.
EJ: It feels like there’s a real culmination of styles in this record from funk to jazz to house, have you always had that appetite for mixing different genres?
J: I think I have. It’s the tradition of Indian composers. India has always been a melting pot, the trade hub for all the spice routes back in the day and since the dawn of time Indian music has always been a reflection of the different things coming in. I feel like unconsciously that is my path, to be the mixologist, finding different ways to incorporate aspects and make something new out of it. That’s what I really enjoy and what excites me about music. When I first heard Juke music from Chicago, I had no idea where it came from. It’s 160bpm, a frenetic sort of dance music and what excited me about it was wondering where it came from, how they made it, who did it. Then you find out it’s a bunch of seventeen-year-old kids living in the suburbs and that just makes it even more magical.
EJ: That’s really cool. It’s now so rare to hear something you’ve never heard before.
J: Totally. A lot of Indian music is like that, when you hear stuff from back in the day in the late 60s, the use of synthesisers and what they were creating was so forward-thinking. It’s a huge inspiration for me, a lot of the great Indian composers are.
EJ: I wanted to ask you about the name of the album Third, it’s obviously the third album you’ve released but it feels like there’s a more significant meaning there.
J: The album was actually released coincidently on the day of my grandfather’s funeral and in Indian culture, the number three is a metaphor for many things, especially our life being split into thirds: life, death and rebirth. I’m not sure which phase I’m in at the moment, but I definitely feel like I’m in a new moon. This one signifies a lot for me, I really put my all into this record and I feel like a new man coming out of it.
EJ: The record is lyrically very rich, as a songwriter where does that process begin for you?
J: A lot of my songs are just improvisation into oblivion, whatever words or sounds come out at that time will then mould into something. It’s more so like a sculpture and the sculptor is just chipping away until it reveals its final form and I think that’s definitely the process I take with a lot of things in life for better or worse.
EJ: I like that metaphor of a sculptor. Your collaboration with Melanie Charles on Equanimity is brilliant, how did that come about and what do you look for in a collaborator?
J: I saw her perform whilst I was in New York and I definitely wanted a different voice for that beat in particular. I had come up with a bunch of song ideas, I think I kept my chorus but I reached out to Melanie just to give a new spin on what I was talking about and to give it a different tone. I think it works really well in the flow of the album, hearing her voice come through is like a beam of light shining in. I’m happy that all worked out and she’s such a brilliant artist, musician and community leader. The conversations we had about the record were really deep, just reflecting on our thoughts on stuff going on – it was all really natural.
“Different rhythms and genres are what make life so vibrant, so exciting and so worth living.”
EJ: The visuals for the music videos are really cool, they have this psychedelic, kitsch quality to them. Can you tell us a bit about the concept behind them?
J: I definitely wanted to reference Bollywood psychedelia. With the creative director, Vivek [Vadoliya], we ran through a bunch of old-time clippings from when people were first experimenting with LSD and the art coming out of that was a big reference. There are a lot of kaleidoscopes, it’s all done on camera using lenses, he’s really good at synthesising the sounds into visuals. He also killed it with the album cover, having the three different photos opening into and within each other, I couldn’t be happier. But it was definitely in homage to a lot of the late 60s psychedelia Bollywood and a whole lot of acid as well. [laughs]
EJ: What are you into at the minute? What are you listening to?
J: A lot of girls have been getting me onto Reggaeton so that’s been huge at the moment. There is this one artist from London called Jim Legxacy, he has really been blowing my mind because he sounds like an alien. I really don’t know how he makes his beats and his vocal processing really confounds me. Besides that, a lot of African drums. I’ve been playing loads of drums in my DJ sets and it’s so powerful having ten people do the same thing and scream the same thing at the same time, there’s magic kinetic energy in the air that sends me off. The drum isn’t just limited to congas or percussion either, there are a lot of African and even Indian instruments where the percussion actually has a melody. There are a lot of Zimbabwean records I’ve been listening to and all the percussion has notes, it’s really angelic. There’s this one percussionist called Béliz I’ve really been getting into, whenever I’m anxious this one track called Armelance really calms me down – it’s beautiful.
EJ: I know you’re in Berlin currently, but what’s coming up next for you?
J: I’m in Berlin for the next couple of months, we’ve got the UK and European tour in November so we’re doing a bunch of dates. I’m doing the London Jazz Festival at the Jazz Cafe which should be a good one, I’ve got a nice outfit so I’m just prepping all the songs for that run. I’m ready for more life, you know what I mean? That’s what I’m on at the moment, just more life. I made a toast with my friend the other day to being aggressively more authentic and I feel like that’s going to be my thing going forward.
Jitwam’s album, Third, is out now.