We get the low down from reggae collective Dojo.
The band, consisting of musicians and singers from London, Paris, Nigeria & Lebanon are taking the reggae world by storm. Since starting up in 2014 they have gone from strength to strength with their deep political outlook and knack sick melodies.
This year they're releasing their debut album, Gaia and will be joining none other than The Wailers on tour this March. With so much going on we had a chat with the guys to see what's going down.
How would you describe your current state of mind?
Good! We’ve just joined the Diplomats of Sound family (with Groundation, Ebo Taylor, Afriquoi, Jungle Brothers, Alborosie, Resonators, Speech Debelle, Joss Stone), announced tour support with The Wailers, and our debut album drops in March so it’s a good time to be Dojo.
What message would you like to get across in your music?
Our message is one of egalitarianism and non-religious spirituality. With the current rise of populism it feels like there is a lot of hatred and intolerance in the world. We’re in the opposite corner. Our lyrics are sometimes political and sometimes spiritual but always about equality and understanding. We encourage people to embrace their spirituality in a very personal way, outside (but not necessarily independent of) the formal construct of an organised religion, and to be tolerant and loving towards their brothers. To embrace the infinite wonders of the natural world.
What is your favourite place in the world?
There are hundreds of places we love but we’re rarely happier than when surrounded by nature. Some of us recently spent some time in the cloud forests of Costa Rica where the flora and wildlife is overwhelmingly beautiful. Last year we shot a video in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco where the views are breathtaking. And every year when we go to Ibiza we spend time exploring the stunning hills and coast. Maybe it’s because we live in East London but, whatever the reason, we’re all fixated with nature.
The man, the legend, Nelson Mandela.
What ideas have changed your life?
Jainism taught us that harmlessness is liberating. Nelson Mandela taught us that peace is powerful. Bob Marley taught us that music is spiritual.
Tell us about the new single, what was the creative process behind putting this together?
Bethel is about non-religious spirituality. Dojo contains members of many different faiths and while our interpretation of spirituality is different we’re united by our appreciation of its role. Bethel encourages the listener to embrace spirituality outside of religion, in a very personal way. For all of us, these feelings are explored through music and an appreciation of the beautiful world around us. Bethel’s message is to find the thing that gives you spiritual satisfaction, unaffected by outside influences, and celebrate it. Bethel started as a demo that we’d experimented with for a few months. When we played it live we gave it more energy as it’s a message we’re all heavily invested in. The more we played it, the more the music and the lyrics aligned. We felt we captured that in the studio so it was the natural choice for lead single.
You’re playing a single launch at Hootenanny and then the following day at Patterns in Brighton, how does the vibe change between London and Brighton?
The vibe is always different everywhere we play but Brixton and Brighton have to be two of our favourite places in the world to gig. Hoots was crazy: crammed to the rafters and very loud. Brighton was less raucous but the vibe was amazing. We really felt we connected. We hung-out with people who came to the show after we played and it was amazing to spend time with so many open hearts and minds.
How did Dojo start out and how did you come together with your current members?
Dojo started as a handful of friends recording demos in our bedrooms. We were brought together by our mutual love of reggae and jazz. We weren’t sure we’d even play a gig. But when we started getting booked to support our heros (Groundation, Resonators, Lee Scratch Perry, Max Romeo) and for festivals we were able to cherry-pick our favourite musicians to bring into the band. We quickly became heavily invested in the group and there’s a lot of energy pushing it forward.
What’s the best thing about working with each other?
Playing reggae with nine of your best mates to crowds of beautiful people is a pretty sweet deal. Going to new places. Meeting your heroes. What’s not to like? It’s all good.
What’s the worst thing about working with each other?
Honestly? There are no bad things. It’s an entirely gratifying experience.
What has been the highlight of the year so far?
There were many highlights in 2016 but Green Man festival was very special for us. The stage was packed-out and the crowd were jumping. There was so much energy and the band were vibing off it massively. After the show we were hanging out in the dance tent and got chatting to Laura Marling, the festival headliner. And the next day we went to Ibiza for a week. So that gig was hard to beat.
What are you most looking forward to in 2017?
Ramping up the live shows to support our debut album. It’s all about gigging for us. We love it more than anything. We just want to play.
Reggae as a genre has always shouted out injustice, do you feel obligated to keep that up?
Reggae has always been the music of the oppressed rallying against the oppressor. It’s why all reggae music is underground. The issues affecting us, living in London in the 21st century, are very different to those that existed in Jamaica in the 60s and 70s, but the themes are timeless. There’s still an establishment that keeps the rich rich and the poor poor. There’s still prejudice and intolerance and it’s now more politicised than ever. There’s still a system that keeps shareholders a comfortable distance from the unethical conduct of their corporations and absolves everyone of responsibility and guilt. There is as much to get angry about now as there has ever been but we don’t do it out of a sense of obligation to the genre. Moreover we play reggae because we’re angry. It’s the right vehicle for our message.
Have their been any causes this year that you felt you had to put your voices behind?
The closing of Fabric and Passing Clouds, two of London’s most iconic music venues, were two things we felt compelled to talk about. The former was made a scapegoat for the entirely unconnected issue of drug dealing, whereas the latter was a victim of London’s out-of-control rent costs. It’s important that councils recognise assets of community value so that London doesn’t lose its identity. Fortunately this has been done with Fabric. We’re hoping we’ll be able to say the same for Passing Clouds later this year.
Favourite song of all time?
Groundation’s Undivided means a lot to us. We often cover it at our live shows and recently made a video of us playing it live (that Groundation shared on their socials). Groundation are a band that have been hugely influential to us. Evolving the roots sound with a strong jazz sensibility. We’ve played with them three times and were invited to party with them in Ibiza. But despite this connection the song qualifies for the “favourite song of all time” mantle all on its own. The chord progression, top line, harmonies, and words all resonate with us in a big way. And it’s very much a reflection of our own message. Amazing tune.
What’s your life motto?
“Find your Bethel, feel the uplift”. It’s a line from the lead single from our new album. A bethel is a non-conformist chapel. The line says, explore your spirituality in a very personal, private way without any outside influence or coercion. And let those feelings lift you up. It’s a sentiment that we live by.
Tell us something weird about yourself?
Our members hail from every continent but Antarctica and Australia and our beliefs cover the gamut from Christian to Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic, and Spiritual Atheist. We embrace our differences and are bound by our core values. We’re basically Trump and Farrage’s worst nightmare.
If you could fill a swimming pool with anything, what would it be?
Analogue studio gear and vintage synths. We’d just load it into the van and head off to work on album two.
What is the first law you’d change, if you were in charge?
Rent and mortgage caps for the poor, wage caps for the rich. Something to narrow the divide between the classes.
Would you be willing to give something up or admit to spending money on something frivolous and give the same amount to a good cause?
Excellent question. The answer is yes, but privately, not publically. Several of us work for charities and know the challenges that fundraisers face, and how effective public-facing fundraising like the Ice Bucket Challenge and No Makeup Selfie can be. Individually and together we remain very committed to charity but prefer to keep it private. We care very much but wouldn’t want to do anything that could ostensibly be a PR exercise.
Dojo are joining the legends The Wailers on tour this March. Full details below.
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