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DJ Mag Podcast 101: Jazzuelle

DJ Mag Podcast 101: Jazzuelle

Johannesburg-based artist Jazzuelle is driven by intuition, experimentation and personal evolution. We speak to one of South Africa's most vital talents about his new album 'Rebirth', the country's scene and the importance of defying expectation. He also delivers an hour of cinematic, explorative techno that is as absorbing as it is danceable...

Cape Town born, Johannesburg-based Jazzuelle AKA Thando Tshoma has been one of the most prevalent artists in the South African dance music scene for some time now. Rising through both city’s ranks thanks to years of hard graft has turned him into an producer that takes nothing for granted and one for whom there can be no half measures. Last year, Tshoma released his debut LP ‘Circles’ on Get Physical Music, a powerful introduction that blended cinematic intent with a club ready verve. Now, as he readies his sophomore effort ‘Rebirth’, we caught up with him to talk origins, the ever-changing musical landscape of SA and the important difference between popularity and respect.

“I consider myself a sonic explorer,” he tells DJ Mag. “I exist to discover. My adolescent years in the music industry were spent listening to kwaito cassettes from my older siblings, a South African genre that consists of mostly slowed down house beats and artists rapping or singing mostly about the struggles of growing up during apartheid or the post apartheid era in South Africa or even todays socio economic issues affecting us as the youth or the country. I also had stages in my life where I loved trance music and psychedelic trance and I vividly remember the kids on the street were very confused at my choice of music. Imagine, where all the kids were listening to Kwaito or deep house compilations and I was listening to trance. We called it “Rave Music” back then. So my music pallette is a very colourful one.”

Read on and get to know one of South Africa’s most versatile and exciting house and techno producers...

How has the year been so far? What have been some highlights?

“The year’s been amazing. You know the goal is always progress and that’s what I always focus on and I carry that mindset with everything I do. Whatever I do, I have to keep moving forward. There needs to be an element of growth, you know, so the year has been steady and good to me.”

“I’ve written this album, ‘Rebirth’, which will probably be my last house album as I venture into uncharted territories and focus on more electronica and techno releases for next year. I’ve also have had a couple of remixes that have blown up all over the country and I also finished an ambient album while I was busy writing Rebirth and I’m planning to release that this year. I’ve also got music out now on the opening track of Pierre Johnson’s new album. Pierre is a young artist from South Africa who’s been the buzz in the scene so I'm pretty excited to help and push him. Apart from that, progress is always my highlight and it’s been a great year. I’ve played a few really amazing shows in the country too and cannot complain. The universe has been good to me.”

Tell us about the idea behind ‘Rebirth’? What would you say the concept is behind the album? How is it different to your debut?

“There was never a real hard concept for ‘Rebirth’, besides maybe some of the track names like ‘Proxima’, ‘Virgo’ and all named after exoplanets and distant moons. I did the whole project in a week. I sat down and wanted to see if I could write it in a week and a few days and I did.”

“In the instance of collaborating I would always speak to the guys a night before and luckily everyone sent me parts on time and I had everything on time and it just worked. It takes me a few hours to finish the structure and concept of a song, and I’d finish off with the mixdown later on in the day and I’d have a new son. I did that every day until I had an album.”

“The contrast with ‘Circles’ is that ‘Circles’ had a very strong concept, as with most of my original music on the past. ‘Circles’ was well thought out, it was centred around my fascination with sacred geometry to start with, especially. Spherical shapes; hence ‘Circles’. We changed circles almost three times, and I had a team advising me and so on. That was fun but with ‘Rebirth’ I finished the whole project at once and it relied mostly on my own gut feeling.”

There are some amazing collaborators on this album. What made you want to work with these artists? What do you think each of them brought to the table?

“The only artist I invited again this time around was my friend Lars Behrenroth. Everyone else was new. Jonny Miller and I had spoken about collaborating on something when we met in Croatia when we were playing Suncebeat Festival and I reminded him while was in the studio and it didn't take him long to send some parts over. It was the same with the collaboration with Shimza. We also met in Croatia. Even though we were also both part of the Red Bull Music Academy Bass Camp we never got the chance to meet back then.”

“I invited my favourites too: Fka Mash and Dwson, who both have had a brilliant year in the scene as well. It was also an opportunity for me to bring some new fresh blood, you know. They all added their unique sounds to the album, and it all ended up blending in well and I was content with it.”

For those who don’t know, tell us about your history in music. What was your introduction to DJing and production?

“Oh man, everything that I have ever done has been self taught. The only form of schooling in a music institution was in Cape Town at Soul Candi. I did a music business course that I failed because I spent all of the time at a record store called Syndicate Records. I was more focused on discovering new shipments than learning in school. But I did learn a few things about the music business.”

“When I was younger I had an uncle who used to be a guitarist and who used to play shows around Cape Town. He always played when next to me you know, and i think that’s when I started being curious. This is like when I was seven or eight. At school I actually never understood the piano. I looked at that thing and it confused me so I have no idea when the shift happened or why. It might have happened because I have always been alone, you know. I never had friends. so music became my home, my universe, my life. When I needed someone to speak to, it was there. When I needed to be understood, it was there. So when I made the conscious decision that I was going to follow this forever I knew I had a deeper relationship with it. I spoke through music and I still do today. I use it to communicate and it communicates through me.”

“Getting into the DJ world was different than how it was for me getting into writing music. It was my way to sort ov find friends and fit in, you know. I saw it as an opportunity to be accepted by the people around me. I started small and befriended the guys around the area I was staying in that were throwing parties and slowly got them to teach me how to DJ. I became better than them because I spent more time practising, and then slowly I played bigger and bigger shows and kept moving from crew to crew around Cape Town. In some sort of way it felt like I was moving up a hierarchy. I did that until I hit a ceiling in Cape Town and I decided to move to Johannesburg where I pretty much did the same thing. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. In Joburg though, I had the help of legendary South African DJ, Vinny Da Vinci too who played my music on hix show on Metro FM, a national radio station with millions of people tuning in daily and The Urban Beat, which had an almost cult following every Friday evening. This slowly introduced people to my music, and slowly my story grew and I built a name for myself as a DJ and Producer.”

"I'd definitely like to see more artists come out and break through around the world, and for there to be less generalisation that every artist from South Africa, or Africa for that matter, plays Afro house or wears a tribal mask and paints their face..."

How do you see the house music scene in South Africa evolving? Do you feel it is changing? If so, has more global recognition and respect for the scene and style coming out of SA been a positive thing overall?

“Oh man its evolved a lot, but it’s split up. There is commercial music, which is the Afro house “bang the drum” sound, and there is guys like me focusing on electronica. Not to start any genre war or build on comparisons, but the media here – and I think mostly in europe too and abroad – focuses on South Africa being the motherland of Afro house. And yes, I understand that since there are superstars like Black Coffee who push that narrative and play a lot of Afro house and it is a relatively new thing in europe. Cool, I have no problem with that. But there is a huge electronica scene here that is focused on deep house and techno as well, you know. I could even say Afro house is bigger outside of South Africa now than it is here in the underground scene. But that’s debatable too.”

“So I’d definitely like to see more artists coming out and breaking through around the world and for there to be less generalisation that every artist from South Africa, or Africa for that matter, plays Afro house or wears a tribal mask and paints their face to up at the ante and look more like a tribal warrior. A little more research into the scene and you will find a wealth of talent here that hasn't been unearthed yet, waiting to be discovered.”

“The current climate of the electronic music scene in South Africa is changing, but still the same. There is still a lot more education to be done to move forward and steer the scene into new frontiers. With that said, the quality of music coming out of South Africa is world class at the moment too and it will only get better. Producers and DJs here are hungry for success and ready to be discovered. It’s only a matter of time.”

Who are some emerging artists in SA we should know about?

“The list wouldn't end, so I’ll mention a few of favourites right now. Fka Mash, whom I've worked with on the ‘Rebirth’ album is a young producer under Stay True sounds right now, a label owned by my mate, Allan. His eye is on the prize at the moment. I’m really looking forward to what he can do in the next few years. Pierre Johnson too. I also worked with him on his debut album for House Africa on a song called ‘Like Home’ which opened the album as the interlude. He’s a bright young brother too, hungry for success and ready to take on the world. He’s one of my favourites at the moment from Cape Town.

“There is also another Cape Townian, Dwson, also on my ‘Rebirth’ album. This cat’s going places. One of the breakthrough artists of 2017 in my eyes and has recently also released his debut album on House Afrika and Stay True Sounds. Consistent is an understatement! Sooks is also one of my favourite artists right now, all the way from Swaziland who I discovered on Deepstitched Records! These are my top 4 at the moment deserving more recognition in the scene. But there are many artists that I haven't mentioned. Some of the artists on the Deepstitched label owned by 2lani The Warrior are also coming out with some viciousness at the moment. That whole squad is talented! The artists on Stay True Sounds too. These labels have been pushing the status quo in the underground and delivering nothing but quality electronic music.

What have you got coming up for the rest of the year?

“At the moment I have this album coming out with the team at Get Physical, a remix project for DM Recordings, a remix for Canada’s Jaedene Veda and Luka. All deep house projects. And then the ambient album that I want to release soon as well as soon as I find a suitable label to release it.

“Needless to mention but this might also be the last year where I focus only on deep house. I’ll be releasing my first electronica and techno records from next year going forward or even later in this year. Time will tell. I’ll be venturing more into that. Writing house beats has been fun and I've learned a lot and met a lot of amazing human beings but I want to explore the broader elements of electronic music and challenge myself even more you know. I want to grow more, meet more people around the world. At the end of the day change is the constant and we need to trust it and trust the path. With that said I am just happy and lucky to still make music in its entirety and I hope I can make more music for many many more years to come.”

Tell us about this mix! What should we do while listening to it?

“Well I'm not sure I can tell you what to do! But the mix paints a picture of my techno sets at the moment, which are darker, percussive based and cinematic. I've also included one of the songs that I have done focusing on the sound that I will be pushing next year. It’s the opening tune called ‘Birth Of A Sparrow’ and it also featured one of the remixes from my ‘Circles’ debut from last year that is out now on Get Physical. The rest of the mix takes a cinematic journey and has a beautiful cinematic crescendo.  

Anything else we should know?

“Well I am also involved with scoring and film as well. I've scored two short films at the moment and am working on a third film with a crew called theblakmarket based in Johannesburg. Basically they are films that portray a more melancholic side of downtown JHB. You can check them out online. Apart from this I am also looking at moving to Berlin and looking at a longer stay to focus more on what I want to do next year. So I’ll probably come back the end of the year as soon as everything is in order and begin the new year in Berlin going forward. But everything will take time and I'm patient as long as there’s progress.” 

'Rebirth' is out on 24th August via Get Physical Records.

1. Jazzuelle - Birth Of A Sparrow (Unreleased)
2. Jazzuelle feat. Fred Everything - Adaptations (Wayne Duggan Remix) [Get Physical]
3. Marino Canal - Men Of No Purpose [Siamese]
4. Novakov - The Upside Down [Balkan Connection]
5. M.A.N.D.Y feat. Nonku Phiri, Frencesco Tristano - Hi End (Rework) [Get Physical]
6. Artbat - Planeta [Diynamic]
7. Enerav 52 - Cafe Del Mar (Tale Of Us Renaissance Mix) [Renaissance Records]
8. Oliver Koletzki - Through The Darkness (Township Rebellion Second Mix) [Stil Von Talent]
9. Klunsh  - Imoana [Moblack Records]
10. Adriarique - Voices From The Dawn [Afterlife]

Photo credit:  Mpumelelo Macu

Want more? Check out our recent podcasts with Noncompliant and K-Hand

Eoin Murray is DJ Mag's digital staff writer. You can find him on Twitter @eoin_murraye