Zimbabwe-influenced Jaka hasn’t strayed from roots
Steamboat Springs — The percussionist and drummer for the band Jaka doesn’t like to pigeonhole music.
But if he has to, he said the band’s new music and upcoming third album, “Balance,” has a pop feel.
Though Jaka can be classified as an Afro-pop band, it sounds funny to hear the musician, know simply as Bones, say the hugely Zimbabwean-influenced Jaka put out a pop album in America.
For six years, the Boulder-based band has turned audiences’ heads and moved their bodies with a brand of African music played on traditional instruments. Most notably, two or three marimbas a xylophone-like instrument with wooden keys packed Jaka’s stage, along with a mbira (thumb piano), percussion, drums and an electric guitar.
The band’s latest incarnation adds a trumpet, saxophone and a pedal steel-guitar, expanding Jaka’s rhythmic sound.
“It’s changed it a lot,” Bones said. “We took a lot of our marimba bass lines and put them on pedal-steel and guitar.”
Though co-founding member David Schaldach is still on bass marimba, the transition to use more American-associated instruments to play their Afro-rhythms is part of what makes “Balance” more pop oriented.
Pop (popular) music in the United States is basically what’s popular at the time. Bones explained today that’s guitar and drum based.
Bones said Jaka’s new music basically has more for the listeners to hold onto. The songs are musically and lyrically the best the band has written and basically are less about the musicians’ exploration of music, as past albums were, and more about good songs.
The new songs are hoped to be enough to get the band to the next level: getting signed by a record label. The band has happily been self-managed and produced its first two albums. But now it’s time to get some serious management, get the new record in stores across the country and expose more people to the sound of Jaka.
Though some new instruments were added, Jaka hasn’t changed its Afro-rhythms sound it started with six years ago in Santa Fe, N.M.
In fact, since moving to Boulder a little more than a year ago, the band has explored more in the genre, recently adding Cuban, Trinidadian, Congo, South African and Malian influences to its repertoire.
Interestingly enough, everyone in the band is American and was introduced to African or world beat music through various means.
“Everyone had a little different way of getting to it,” Bones said.
He saw Santana in 1975 and became enthralled with world beat music.
“It’s just irresistibly uplifting music. It’s really happy,” Bones said. “It makes you feel like sunshine when you hear it.”
The music draws people in, with different textures and layers that can be dissected by intent listeners, or just danced to for those looking for a fun time.
“It forms this one hole that sounds accessible. I won’t say simple; it’s accessible,” Bones said.
Schaldach studied under master Zimbabwean musician and ethnomusicologist Dumi Maraire in Oregon in the mid-’80s. He also learned the art and science of building marimbas and mbiras and plays his own handmade instruments.
Glenn Clegg, pedal-steel guitar, marimba, percussion and vocals, was initially inspired by the music of Jerry Garcia and started playing pedal-steel in 1975 while living in Berkeley, Calif.
Clegg got into African music when the recording “Scatterings of Africa” by South Africans Johnny Clegg and Juluka reached the United States in the ’70s. He also makes his own pedal-steels.
Matt Wasowski, guitar, mbira, marimba, percussion and vocals, heard the early recordings of Zimbabwean Oliver Mtukudzi’s “Ndiri Bofu” and was seduced by contemporary and traditional Zimbabwean music. Since then, he has been interested in learning the guitar styles that have developed and evolved in Zimbabwe. In 2000, Wasowski spent two months in Zimbabwe meeting local musicians, attending performances at local beer halls, taking lessons and learning about the culture.
Despite the various influences, there is one obvious one that shouldn’t be ignored.
“We are all American and we are all rock ‘n’ roll influenced,” Bones said.
If you listen, you can hear that come out, too, Bones said.
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