Boasting a distinctive African-inspired sound, Jinja Safari burst onto the scene in 2010 when they won triple j’s Unearthed competition. But after five years and a string of hit tracks, the Brisbane five-piece needed to take stock and take a break from music. But now they’re back in action, with new material and a tour in the works. I caught up with Jinja Safari frontman Marcus Azon about the past, taking time off and tipis.
In 2010, you won triple j’s Unearthed competition. Looking back now, how was that time? Your new video for ‘Find My Way’ seems to celebrate those years. How did winning unearthed change things for the band?
Well, to be honest, we weren’t really ‘a band’ before we won the triple j Unearthed comp. We had about 8 songs, and we had an idea about what we wanted to do but hadn’t really put much time or thought in how we were going to execute it. It was an amazing opportunity that we just had to run with, and the momentum didn’t slow down until the end of 2013 when we made the decision to take a second to reassess.
You’re releasing your first single in two years. You described needing to take a step back from music in a Medium article. How important was that time? What did you learn – about the band or otherwise?
It was really important for our sanity, and allowed us to gain some perspective on the whole process. It’s very rare that any band is given the platform that triple j afforded us. I think we had eventually got so caught up in everything that the band WASN’T that we lost track of how much fun it is to just be in a touring band. Nothing is ever going to be completely perfect, and when you are dealing with 5 different creative minds in a group, the musical output isn’t going to be EXACTLY as you would want to to be — if it were, say, a solo project or something. But the break has allowed us to appreciate the collaboration a lot more.
Why have you decided to continue as a group? I mean, I’m sure fans are delighted by the news, but what changed in the band’s dynamic that allowed you to keep making music?
We were always writing, and for me that never stops, I want to be working as a writer in any capacity for the rest of my life if I can make it happen. So I think the fact that we had all these new songs was a big factor for us keeping going. Whether or not we hit out a single that gets flogged on the radio, we are coming at it from a more pure place than we have ever come from. There is no more of that hype from the early days, where we were just going along with the ride cause we were constantly on high rotation… Now we are independent, and any dollar we spend comes out of our pocket, and we are the only creative driving force behind what we are doing. There were many chances for each of the band members to leave over the past while, and a lot of talk went into that individually, because we all had things that were equally as exciting and demanding in our lives alongside the band. But getting back to full-time rehearsals, we have all become a lot closer and we have bonded more now that we don’t have managers/label pulling us along. The responsibility is solely on our shoulders now.
Is Jinja Safari different this time around? What are your aspirations for the band post-hiatus?
My aspirations are changing, as is everyone’s in the band. But I think personally, I just want to enjoy the touring process a lot more. I don’t drink, and haven’t for 7 years, so my experience of touring has been very different to that of my band mates. I’ve also been in a long term relationship the whole time that this band has been going, up until recently, so that creates a bit of a bubble around you on tour as well. I’ve been pretty focused on music as a career for the whole time, but I just want to be more present with the experience again, and not worry about the future of the band or any of that.
Is it true you tried to write one song a day last year? Did that process work? It sounds creatively exhausting. Will any of those tracks make it to the stage for your tour in a few weeks?
Yeah, it works for sure, some days you come up with nothing, but some days you come up with the full backbone for a song. I try to approach my writing like a 9-5 sort of job, so I’m in the studio from that time each day and then maybe go to a buddy’s bar afterwards, (s/o to my boi Dan Oleary at The Dock in Redfern) gotta try and keep a bit of social intercourse for the sanity.
With the rise of social media networking sites, how important is social media in music now?
I have no idea, I’m not completely sure… Of course, it’s an invaluable way to promote yourself, and reach new fans online. It is really great to help create the ‘narrative’ behind who you are as a group and it’s a nice way to stay in touch with fans — I try to write back to everyone. But I honestly have no idea if it helps build the career of a group long term. I suppose having an online presence and finding a reason to pop up in peoples news feeds is a good reminder that we’re still a group. But does it make the guys buy your album or come to your shows? Only time will tell I guess…
Your Instagram shows some pics of Pepa’s tipi studio. Why did you record in a tipi – was it as comfortable as it looks?
No, it is either really cold or really hot, completely impractical — but it makes a nice picture for Instagram doesn’t it?
What can fans expect from your upcoming shows? How many instruments do you need to take on the road for a sound as colorful and vibrant as yours?
There are a lot, Pepa is now bringing a whole bunch more — sitar, lute, resonator, harmonium, flute etc… Then we have all his bongos and djembes, and glock and samples. its a pretty hectic set up situation, but we are finding a way to make it tour worthy.
And what does the future look like for Jinja Safari? When can we expect some new music?
The future is bright for the boys, lots more shows, many more good vibrations. We have a new single we are about to release in a couple weeks and an album that’s pretty much ready, hopefully towards the end of the year.
JINJA SAFARI ‘FIND MY WAY’ TOUR
Friday July 31
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Saturday August 1
Woolly Mammoth, Brisbane
Friday August 7
Tickets available at jinjasafari.com/shows/