Jah Sun on reggae - 'If you are using music to express yourself and to transcend, that's beautiful'

Reggae | Monday 24th April 2017 | Patience

Californian based artist Jah Sun is no stranger to the mysticism that surrounded rastafarian reggae superstar Bob Marley. Known for his uplifting message and positive vibes, Jah Sun was drawn to reggae, thanks to Bob Marley, and he never looked back.

Like many other reggae musicians he has followed in Marley's steps to spread love and light in his music. Back with his 5th album Between the Lines, Jah Sun lets us know why this is a album like no other, and why reinforcing positivity and kindness is the true heart of reggae. 

You've said that your spiritual awakening started when you discovered Bob Marley - can you tell us a bit more about that moment?

I was born in Texas, and where I was living in my younger years there wasn't a lot of access at the time to that type of consciousness, I kinda discovered Bob Marley by accident really.

 I was walking through a mall, and just saw a DVD in the window and something about his persona, something about him drew me in, and I bought the DVD. I don't think I had ever even heard of him before, and I watched the DVD and was just instantly drawn to him, and then I spent the next 22 years diving in as deep as I could.

How did discovering Bob Marley impact your life?

When I discovered Bob Marley, it was like this instant connection to the world, I just felt like, 'oh my gosh' I never even thought about what's happening in other cultures, and around the world and this message of 'what's going on,' it floored me. It opened my heart, it opened my mind, and it immediately made me want to learn more.

So I started seeking out people who were on that path and I started to learn about so much, it led to how I was going to eat, to want books I was going to read, and it just changed my whole perspective on everything.

So how do you stay inspired you?

I would say that the majority of my inspiration stems from my own personal growth and what I am learning as a father and member of my community, and just what it means to be a human and alive in this time. So I would say that I get a lot of my content and inspiration from just what it takes to just live this life.

How would you describe your sound?

World, fusion, conscious and imperfect piece of perfection.

The new album Between the Lines is coming out soon - what can fans expect? 

Between the lines is different than anything I have ever done. The last four albums have all been produced and written in a very similar formula, a lot of really tight production, in terms of gritted in pro-tools and using live instruments with digital sampling. This writing formula is very similar to what you are finding in the pop reggae and modern roots landscape, but this we did everything organic through analog, vintage boards, mics and amps.

All these songs where written on instruments, the words and the melodies born at the same time, and we played with some other genres, it's not all rub-a-dub reggae.There is African, highlife, pop music, singer song writer stuff,  it's very different and for me it kinda represents a  turning point in my life, and career.

But the common thread that has been there throughout all my other albums, it's still there, in terms of offering some positive vibes.

So did you know beforehand that Between the Lines was going to be more of a experimental album?

Definitely! You know one of my favorite albums was from Paul Simons Graceland that came out many, many years ago, but I just love that sound and that style with the highlife, guitar, heavy percussion, and that almost calypsoish Caribbean style.

So I really wanted to do something like that because I have been a huge fan of that sound for a long time, and so 'Only Human' was one of our songs, we wrote years ago and we did it in a new style for us, in that kind of African, highlife fusion sound and we love it! So yeah I did, I went into it knowing we were going to do that, that we were going to do some different stuff.

Also after having dreadlocks for some 22 years dragging the ground I just recently cut my locs which was a huge step, so again this album really marks a turning point in my life, personally and in my music too.

So did cutting off your locs like your upcoming album represent a new chapter in your life?

Yeah, that's exactly what it is, it took a while you know, it was like 'Oh my god what are people going to think, what about my image' and 'what about you know the brand jah sun,' and really I had to follow my heart and be true to myself.

Because people that don't have hair dragging the ground don't understand but it was becoming challenging, you know where I live in Northern California, my hair doesn't dry very first, I couldn't swim, I couldn't really exercise the way I wanted to, and play with my children.

There was a time when my locs where empowering me and lifting me up, and then it started to feel as though they were holding me back a little bit, so I had to do it and I feel great!

Image Source: Chris Arson 

This is the first album where you have worked with different writers and wrote everything from scratch, how was that creative process?

I don't know how many people know really how albums are made but most of the time a lot of us these days, at least in the modern roots genre, are given a composition or rhythm if you will, and we have to write to that and we are kind of confined to what's there.

And you can obviously create some amazing songs that way, but I found that when you are writing it from scratch with an instrument, when the melodies and the instruments are born together you just have so much more freedom and you really create a different feel. 

I feel like that's how Bob Marley and the Beatles, and all the greats from back in the day, that's how it was done you know. And so it was a really great experience, to sit with the other co- writers on the album and toss around ideas, it's really great because team work makes the dream work!

Can we expect any special guests on this album?

Actually I did not do any guests because all of my other albums have featured many, you know I have worked with Chronixx, Kabaka, Richie Spice, Sizzler, you know so many guests in the past and I wanted to show a different side and do something different, so this album is just me there is no features.

Before you went into reggae you started out in hip hop, what is your take on rap nowadays?

So hip hop started out very conscious, spreading a message, uniting the neighborhood, and uplifting people and cultures, and those types of situations. I have always had a love for hip hop, I was just there for a minute but it got a little too bling bling, I know that there has always been conscious hip hop artists throughout the times and it is good to see some of these rappers coming with some creative and innovative new styles, and still trying to keep that message of upliftment and encouragement in their songs, I do love that.

But the Bob Marley thing, it wasn't that hip hop couldn't offer it but he just came with something that moved me, in a way that I had never felt before, so it inspired me to want to learn how to play instruments and actually learn how to write songs.

So would you say that reggae is just a more naturally conscious genre?

I mean we are all products of our environment, and a lot of hip hop is born out of less desirable situations.You know let's face it, a lot of that comes from grimy situations where people have to deal with that, so they are just reflecting what they see, and so there is never any hating from my side with any form of music.

 I think if you are using music to express yourself and to transcend and to create, I mean I think it is beautiful.

Anytime you are creating I think that's wonderful, I personally resonate more towards the type of music that is using that positive vibe but I understand some of the dancehall, the hip hop, when you get that more grimy side, that less than conscious side, I mean I get it, it's just a reflection of the environment.

In the age that we live in now, why do you think it is important for music to have positive vibes?

Well you know the words that we hear, the images we see, you know everything, it affects us on a cellular level. It can make us sick, I mean I know so many people that are just really and truly battling depression or self medicating with substances, like checking out of reality, cause the world can be such a stress ball.

There is just so much going on, it's not an easy world on one hand but on the other side its beautiful and it's all right there, its magical, the nature is there, and people are there, and people are sacred. So you know people see the world not as it is but how they are and so I just really believe that it is so important to try and speak that kindness, and reinforce positivity.

If you could gig anywhere in the world - where would you like to play?

I would love to see some parts of Asia, Thailand, India, Bali, but really anywhere they want the music and the message, I would be happy to go.

What would you feel a swimming pool with if it could be anything?

Is water just too easy of an answer.

So what's next for you?

The album comes out April 28th and I am also going to be doing a stripped down acoustic set for different places. So people can catch me with the full band, and also a more intimate stripped down settings with just me and some acoustic players.

I definitely plan on being in Europe in July and August, I will also be playing some of the bigger festivals over there like Summerjam and then it's back to US and we are planning a fall tour here in the US after that.