Formed in the mid-nineties, Berlin ensemble Jazzanova have since been delivering their diverse amalgam of electronic and traditional Jazz music. One of the spearheads of the Nu-Jazz genre in the late 90s, their sound is an all consuming chimera, fusing the almost contrasting values of down-tempo lounge with the vibrant rhythms of Funk and Dub, and continues to expand thanks to the multiplicity of their sonic palette. They’ve also formed their own record label, Sonar Kollektiv, and have been touring internationally, twice visiting South Africa; playing at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival a year ago and The Drumbeat Festival earlier this year. We caught up with Stefan Leisering to talk about collecting records, the necessity of starting your own label and how Nu-Jazz means different things to different people.
By now everybody knows that Jazzanova is comprised of five members, each a producer or DJ in his own right. What would you consider as some of the pros and cons of constantly working with that many people?
We don’t always do all the work together, we split the jobs between each other. Some are working on the label, some are on tour and some make music. We don’t force it so much, so there is no fight between us. We all have opinions and we talk about them.
You guys are famed for being one of the pioneers, along with the likes of DJ Takemura and Perry Hemus, of the Nu-Jazz genre in late the 90’s. What motivated you to paint traditional Jazz with the colours and tones of Funk, Hip-Hop, Dub and Electronica?
I would say each of us has a different background, we all enjoy listening to old Jazz records and we also enjoy a lot of the same kinds of modern music too. In the mid-nineties there was a lack of really good tunes, there was a need so we tried it out. Not all the tracks we started out making were that good but we kept at it. We always try to find new ways of making Jazz with rhythmic elements and we aren’t even trained musicians. We like to write songs now that are less complex in harmony and more complex in rhythm. Our sound is growing, especially if you listen to our latest album.
We have good reception and the internet is tough, people pick and hack and generally speak their minds. Our style has changed slightly over three or four times and there have been people who like it and those who don’t. The criticism is welcome because we only get better from it. I will read some good reactions, then I will also read how people reject it, in a positive way.
How has Nu-Jazz changed for you since the turn of the millennium?
Nu-Jazz means a lot of different things to different people. It has a slight dance floor/ electronic influence to it. Yet, it’s still a pretty open term. I’m not really able to say where it developed from, many people also confuse it with Lounge music. I often feel like people talk more about the style of music that the band is playing versus the actual style of the band. An independent sound is what a lot of bands are growing towards.
You’re also the founders of independent record label Sonar Kollektiv, churning out more than 200 releases since its inception. What was the idea behind starting a label?
It was pure necessity in order to release our own music, over the years we met similar musicians. Also, lots of Soul and Club music artists were released on our label. At this point it feels like a small major label, releasing a wide variety of music.
Last year you played the Cape Town International Jazz Festival and this year you were back to play at the Drumbeat Festival. Have you enjoyed what you’ve seen and experienced in South Africa, and what’s your favourite memory of this place?
Ninety percent of the time I was in urban surroundings. I really enjoyed being there though, I met a lot of interesting people. I also found two really nice old record stores that I bought some nice vinyl records from. The one shop was called the ‘Collectors Treasury‘ in down town Joburg and the other one’s name I cant really remember. Visiting South Africa and coming from East Germany, I was truly amazed at the level of change and progress in the country. Years back I remember reading about the problems caused by Apartheid in South Africa, and then just to visit and see the growth from all that, was and is amazing.
If the members of Jazzanova somehow gained the power to completely alter the course of time and make the future anything you want it to be, what would you guys do with the rest of 2012?
That’s easy. For me, I would love to travel the world and just collect rare and vintage records! Collecting records is not like collecting stamps, which you collect and then just store away in a book. When you collect records you listen to them and that way you get inspired by something different and new to you. Besides music, I don’t think there is anything else I could see myself doing, I absolutely live for this.
INTERVIEW: Jayson Geland