After instantly blowing people's minds (and socks off) with his 2-track debut in 2019, JAB has returned with the outstanding EP Currents. We thought it was about time to have a digital chat with this great mind and get to know the man behind the music.
Junior-Alli Balogun aka JAB is a UK-based world-class in-demand percussionist and multi-instrumentalist. In 2019 he released his 1st single 'Directions', which instantly shook up dance floors all around the planet. The undeniable strong pulse in the ever-rising-chord progression on the organ drag you in not let you go until you're past the 10min mark. Renowned tastemaker/DJ Gilles Peterson praised it everywhere and even featured it on his Worldwide FM radio station in the Grand Theft Auto video game. JAB popped up on our radars and we've been highly anticipating his new release Currents since then. Well, it arrived, it's incredible and we immediately contacted Junior to do this interview and get to know the man behind this poly-rhythmic, high-pulsed, lively, storytelling, and most of all, exciting music.
You were born and raised in the UK. Have you ever lived anywhere else?
Yeah that’s right, born & raised in East London. I’ve been travelling the world from quite a young age (13/14 years old) and have spent extensive time in Barcelona, Philly/NYC & Bordeaux. I’m a Citizen of the Globe.
Who do you remember as your first inspirations in music?
Well I grew up almost exclusively on Fela Kuti & Marvin Gaye for the first 10 years of my life (in my household), then once my dad was able to bring the rest of his music collection from Nigeria I was exposed to everything else - from Michael Jackson to Céline Dion. Fela & Marvin’s grooves were ingrained into my soul and as percussion being my principal
instrument I think they are great foundations to fully understand Time, Rhythm & Groove.
You’re often titled as ‘multi-percussionist’ when you play with people like Floating Points, Pharrell Williams, Chance The Rapper & Alfa Mist, but on your own releases you play a lot more other instruments as well, such as guitar, bass, vibraphone, keys, vocals and even did the string arrangements!? How did that evolution happen and where did it begin?
Well I see myself as a musician first really. My expertise is in rhythm so the percussion family is an obvious choice, but from a young age I was just into music and not necessarily fixated on particular instruments per se. With the UK school system (at the time) not putting any resources/support behind percussion (except for the drum kit), I just adapted and picked up other instruments as I was just interested in participating anyway possible. Hence now knowing how to play other instruments to a competent enough level.
Were you formally trained or self taught?
I didn’t go to any music conservatoires or universities. I just listened to a lot of music, learnt a lot of music and created a lot of music.
You’ve toured with lots of artists. Who were your favourites? Any specific life-changing moments or anecdotes?
I’d say touring with Fatima, Theo Parrish and Floating Points (in that order) were pretty defining moments in me deciding to release my own music so I’ll pick those to answer this question. Touring with Fatima was the first time I had toured with a non-mainstream (pop/commercial/major label) artist for such an extensive time and I had so much fun just having the freedom (on & off the stage) to be creative and spontaneous. Touring with Theo Parrish was like going to school again - the amount of information/advice I soaked up from that touring party (the likes of Amp Fiddler etc) was priceless and more importantly Theo confirmed that the relationship between music and movement/dance is a marriage that needs to be showcased more. Touring with Floating Points showed me you can really tour the way you want to on your terms and still be “successful”.
When ‘Directions’ dropped in 2019 I had to pause whatever I was doing, that’s how much it instantly hit me. Was this the first solo music you released or has there been other music under a different moniker?
Yeah, 'Directions' was the first release solely produced/composed by me as an adult. I’ve been part of various bands etc in the past but it’s more of collective effort.
There is a strong recurring theme of dancers. On the cover art of the first EP, in song titles and in intricacy & feel. My personal journey into music came from being a dancer for most of my life, which might explain why I was instantly drawn to all your music so strongly.
What is your connection to the dance-floor? Any past careers as a dancer perhaps?
A wise man once told me “he’ll never trust or follow a drummer who couldn’t dance”. I’m not a professional dancer but yeah I like to go to clubs/events and dance just like most of us and I’ve spent extensive time on the dance-floors around the world participating and studying. There is a deep traditional and often forgotten marriage between music and dance and even more specifically between drums and dance. As a percussionist they come hand in hand for me. Now not everything has to be fast or impressive dance but every time I play I intend to move the listener - me included!
Your blend of uptempo rhythms and deep melodic, orchestral arrangements kind of reminds me of artists like 4hero & Cinematic Orchestra. Were they an inspiration for this direction and/or are there other people that helped in the shaping of your compositions?
4hero & Cinematic Orchestra are great and I’ve been listening to their music for years. I wouldn’t say they were direct influences though. I would say my biggest influences are feelings & experiences. I’m always trying to replicate the feeling I had during ‘XYZ’ experience. For example; the feeling I had dancing in Plastic People on a certain night. Or the feeling I had watching a sea of people dancing in a park at soul summit NYC or the feeling I had playing at Rio carnival Or more recently what it felt like going through a global pandemic in 2020.
All the JAB releases came out on your own imprint JOON DADA. Where did the name came from and is it a solo endeavour or do you run the label with a team?
‘Joon Dada’ was a nickname given to me when I was touring with the Fatima band. Similarly to JAB (pronounced like the punch) when you have a first name like Junior my friends and family always come up with silly variations but that one stuck. So when I was thinking of a label name it just made sense, plus I’m terrible with thinking of names. Joon Dada is a growing team of like-minded people, also means I can focus on the creative stuff.
Will there be releases by other artists on it, or is it primarily a way of releasing your own music independently?
Yes maybe soon, I have too many insanely talented musician friends who have great music living dormant on their hard drives. if I can’t persuade them to self-release and go on the journey for themselves then Joon Dada can help being the vehicle for that.
Have you played any of the JAB tracks live already?
Yes, in 2019 and beginning of 2020 I was doing some of my own shows in Lithuania and London with more booked in but obviously the pandemic paused that. Definitely looking forward to getting back out there. I think there is still a clip up on my Instagram of a show when I was supporting Alfa Mist in London.
The liner notes taught me that the recordings for the Currents EP have been done in the UK, New York, Lithuania, Poland and was finished up in France? What's the story there?
Well, there’s two reasons for that, because (pre-Covid) I was touring the world with various artists and on days off I often book a studio in whichever city and record stuff I have in my head. Secondly, once the pandemic hit I got my friends to record remotely wherever they were spending their lockdown as I didn’t have every instrument at my disposal.
Are there any other projects coming up that you're involved in?
Haha, how long is a piece of strings. Too many to mention.... I work with so many artists. But I try my best to post on my socials once the music has been released. So stay tuned.
Any last words you’d like to share?
Thanks to everyone who has checked out any of my music, it’s been much appreciated! Continue to Get lost in it, Meditate with it and Move to it!
JAB's detailed sound is refreshing, captivating and uplifting. The lush string arrangements are filled with emotion, the vibrant vibraphone tells the story and all of this fully thrives on top of the unstoppable percussion-driven grooves. You'll surely find yourself shaking a leg or two when listening to his compositions and we can't wait to experience this in a live setting!
The Currents EP is out now on JOON DADA, we highly recommend you to get yourself one of those limited records before they'll be completely gone and hard to find.
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