Jinja Safari vocalist Marcus Azon chats with TWL’s Sarah about cultural appropriation, the crappy government, and the weather in the lead up to Jinja Safari’s Find My Way Tour.
Marcus Azon is a lovely dude. We opened with the weather, because that is a polite and neutral topic you can talk about with a stranger, and because it’s fucking cold right now. “I’m inside, in my Kathmandu jacket, ” Obviously Jinja Safari’s co-vocalist makes good clothing choices, and good music. I wanted to know how Jinja Safari makes such feel-good, summery music in these kind of chilly temperatures. Do they jam in denial with the heater on? Do they have a kind of collective happy place? “That’s exactly what it is, ” Marcus enthuses, “This has always been a kind of escapism for me”. Escapism is definitely what it is, whether you’re escaping the cold or a cultural wasteland, Jinja Safari’s sound takes you to a place firmly described as some else; whether it be the shoulder poppin’South Asian vibes of their legendary Ignition (Remix), or the Key of the Sea collaboration Silence of the Gun, to the decidedly more oriental vibes in the recent single Find My Way.
There is unmistakable tang of cultural influence here, a topic that is keenly significant to Azon. How does a band of 5 white guys navigate the difficult terrain of cultural appropriation? How do you not ‘pull a Paul Simon’, so to speak? Partly due to their previous label (though their subsequent parting was amicable, Azon insists), Jinja Safari swerved dangerously close to this. “There is an image of us – our first image that comes up on google that just makes me cringe,” he says, “but we’re trying so hard to avoid any kind of appropriation.” In the current climate of native headdresses being banned at festivals, it must be a tricky genre to pull off without attracting criticism, and Azon agrees, they have dealt with their fair share of anonymous internet commentary on the issue. “I think that if you are really aware of the cultures that you are referencing … you know music genres crossover and feed off each other throughout history – rock and roll, blues have all influenced where we are today and I am totally fine with that. But it’s the same thing, you have to have an awareness of who and what you are being influenced by”.
Jinja Safari back this ethos up by action as well, involving themselves in Melbourne’s Key of the Sea in 2012 and releasing the song Silence of the Gun with guest vocalist Kinfe Geshu. Geshu’s story as a refugee resonated with Jinja Safari, as well as an introduction to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Melbourne’s thriving social activist scene. This of course got us into a deep and heated discussion about the current government and their role in the treatment of asylum seekers and even settled refugees who have made it here to Melbourne. “How is the government not supporting this [resources and aid such as ASRC] … if not funding it, at least supporting it?”.The Key of the Sea gig itself was a career highlight for Azon: “We were the final act in the show … we were singing the line ‘go back to where you came from’ and we looked around and all the performers were behind us singing along … it was a euphoric moment”. With such powerful line that echoes throughout the song asking us to remember our not so distant landing as white settlers, it is clear that Kinfe heavily influenced the song, lyrically as well as melodically. “We had a beat we wanted to work with .. and Kinfe has a different melodic key to what we are used to working with in western genres, so we were able to work it around that”. Do yourselves a favour and have a listen here.
With such a learning curve of a past, an album ready to launch after an 18 month hiatus, what is next for Jinja Safari? For starters, there is an East-Coast tour to introduce their new material to fans. Azon has mentioned in previous interviews that this can be a nerve-racking experience, however he is pretty confident that Melbourne fans will like what they have to offer; “Melbourne fans don’t get into it as much, they are more reserved than other cities like Sydney. But they are loyal, I love playing for them.” It’s also great to hear that fans get into the spirit of Jinja Safari, interpreting the shimmery, tropical vibes rather than misconstruing the cultural influences into costume. “People come dressed up, but not in a cringey way, and it’s fantastic.”
As for Azon himself, the last 18 months have been productive, if not a step in solidifying his future in the Australian music scene. While fellow bandmate Pepa Knight has released solo work, Azon has been writing – feverishly, it seems -with others in the industry. Azon lists country, RnB, and pop as some of the genres he’s been working with in songwriting, not to mention a collaboration with Josh Pyke. Pyke is set to release new material from this partnership, so keep an eye out for that Lambs!
Jinja Safari play the following dates as part of their Find My Way Tour:
31st July 2015 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
1st August 2015 – Wooly Mammoth, Brisbane
7th August 2015 – Howler, Melbourne
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