Jinja Safari

On Independence

by Marcus Azon

None of us expected that our first EP was going to gain the momentum that it did — or that it would result in three years of scheduling that revolved around this new band, Jinja Safari.

We played a bunch of festivals, toured all around the world, confirmed some syncs, received a payout from the Chilean government and signed to a major label — but by the time we came to the end of 2013, we had parted ways with our management team and I pretty much decided that I didn’t want to keep playing with JS — partly because of the direction of the group, and partly because it felt like we had all lost a bit of perspective…

The feeling when it becomes more exciting to be offered a high paying corporate gig, with a non-responsive crowd, instead of a heaving, $100-grossing gig in the Oxford Art Factory Gallery Bar.

Splendour In The Grass Photo by Shantanu Starick

Fast forward two years, and the only reason we decided to continue as a group is because of the new songs we started writing together. If we were in the position of saying “Let’s go on tour again with the same set and maybe write some songs”, I think we’d all find excuses not to make rehearsals. The fact that we’re all excited about 25 new tracks is the only reason we are still a band. And I think it should be the only reason anyone keeps a band going.

It’s easy to lose perspective by getting caught up in the hub-jub of selling out shows and being a hype band. It’s hard to stay focused on what’s important. I think most of us intertwine our identity with what we ‘do’ to some degree, but for me, the identity of being in a band isn’t something I hold dearly. I like writing and performing, but if I could just write for someone else, and let them deal with the instability of a career in music, I think I would happily take a back seat. I think all of us in the band would agree.

We were very lucky to sign an artist-friendly first record deal thanks to great wrangling on behalf of management at the time, our lawyers and a great A&R team. However, it gave us this false sense of security being signed to a major — that no matter what, there would always be more money to fund the next chapter of the band. But things change, business is business, the numbers didn’t add up. Finding out that we didn’t have a label was a reality check, and it forced us to assess whether we would want to fund this band ourselves.

But the more we looked at this as a reality, the more exciting it became.

Obviously the industry has changed dramatically in recent years. The importance of social media is now more relevant than ever before, and the majors are still trying to figure out where they fit in. It seems that you can handle a majority of it all yourself. However, to stand out from the ever-expanding web of new music, you need to have a few assets that only money (not necessarily a label) can buy.

If you have a couple of spare bananas and the time to source a good team (PR manager, radio plugger, producer, mixing engineer, merchandise partner, distribution label), then you’re well on your way. If lady luck turns your way, and radio/internet/fans/licensers pick-up on your music, then you’re in a position where you own the rights to your own content, allowing you to be one step closer to having creative control over the entire project. So this is the headspace we are currently in.

Pepa and I started working on some new Jinja Safari material around April/May 2014, as an experiment to see if we could finish one song per day. Good or bad. Pop trash or indie smash. We just wanted to see if we could both still write together, with no clear genre direction or limitations.

As a result, we ended up with a collection of nearly two full albums-worth of material, that we’ve been refining over the past year.

Since then, we’ve all been given the opportunity to explore other parts of ‘life in your 20s’ — Pepa had a baby boy called Biko, I had a puppy called Sparky, Stral had a cat called Cat, Jacob moved out of home, and Joe learnt the importance of a good smile and a firm handshake in the hospitality industry.

Being in a band, and navigating the creative nature of five individual fellows is a wild thing to spend your time doing. Whilst there are things I would have done differently on the last album, and even though there were times that I wished we could have been cooler about creative differences in the group — at the end of the day we are still here, with new songs. We’re all a bit wiser about interpersonal relationships, and knowing which buttons need to be left alone.

Ultimately, the time it’s taken to get these new songs together has been invaluable. We all needed to take a step back, and as a result; the relationships and band dynamics between us all are better than they have ever been.