We chat to N’fa Jones, the Melbourne supergroup’s lead vocalist.
Cool Out Sun will headline Prahran’s Chapel Off Chapel on Friday March 26. The gig is part of Chapel Summer Sessions, an event series running until the end of March.
It’s also Cool Out Sun’s first full band performance since before the pandemic. The cross-cultural supergroup comprising vocalist N’fa Jones, percussionist Nui Moon and drummer/producer Sensible J will be using it as an opportunity to premiere new music.
“We’re just finishing up a new single at the moment, putting on the final touches and sending it out to radio this week,” says Jones. “It’s relative to the times, what’s been going on. It discusses a few topics, but it’s more of a song about healing. The working title is ‘Heal Up’ or ‘Healer’.”
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It’ll be Cool Out Sun’s first new release since their self-titled debut album came out two and a half years ago. The ten-song release is a hip hop and Afro-soul tour de force, which features prominent guest contributions from vocalist/percussionist Lamine Sonko of the African Intelligence.
Cool Out Sun’s three core members bring a wealth of experience to the project. Jones is an established solo artist whose career dates back to the late-‘90s with pioneering Australian hip hop crew 1200 Techniques; Moon is one half of the Afro-house combo Digital Afrika and performs with the Public Opinion Afro Orchestra; and J has collaborated closely with REMI and Sampa The Great.
They’re not only exceedingly busy professionals, but they’ve all been geographically separated over the last 12 months, creating some roadblocks to a Cool Out Sun follow-up.
“Nui Moon’s been up in northern New South Wales for a lot of lockdown. Sensible J’s been busy in his house raising a young baby and Lamine’s busy with projects,” says Jones. “So getting everybody to send bits of ideas and songs together and curate that way has been unusual, but interesting.”
While Sonko is unlikely to make an appearance at the Chapel Off Chapel gig, percussionist Kwame Tosuma, bass player Anthony Liddell and keyboardist Simon Lewis will be on deck to help deliver the complete, groove-heavy Cool Out Sun experience.
“Music’s very much nourishment for me and we’re trying to reflect that in the music we make and the music we perform live,” says Jones. “I want people to leave feeling nourished and good and glad.”
Jones has led a long, illustrious career that’s seen him collaborate with a veritable leaderboard of local and international hip hop talent, including Resin Dogs, Ty, Roots Manuva and Ghostface Killah. When Cool Out Sun came out, he described it as his best work to date. The feeling prevails more than two years down the track.
“It created a yardstick for how to move forward and to continue trying to write music that matters and is written from a genuine space versus trying to just satisfy what I’m hoping will get airplay,” he says. “It’s not following the formulas and whatever’s supposed to be expected. It’s hard to break ground if you’re following.”
Jones is no stranger to mainstream success. As the leader of 1200 Techniques, he became the face of Australia’s burgeoning hip hop movement in the early-‘00s. But the group’s commercial breakthrough with their 2002 single ‘Karma’ did have some unanticipated side effects.
“The success we had was from music made for nourishment and it worked,” says Jones, “and then when you turned around and tried to do more and suddenly it’s not being supported or played, it can be very conflicting as a young person, because you don’t understand that this is the way the industry works; it’s sort of about what’s new and what’s happening.
“Once you understand that, it doesn’t hurt so much. But when you’re younger and no one’s explained that – especially when you’re at the beginning of an entire movement of a genre in the country – it can be very confusing.”
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Cool Out Sun represents a refinement of Jones’ outlook, and from this perspective, the possibilities for the future are boundless.
“I think you really need to know what exactly you’re trying to do and why and what way you’re moving forward. If you have a clear vision and direction, it’s much easier to move forward and live with the outcomes whether they work or don’t.”
Cool Out Sun have performed on stages both large and small over the last few years, from major festivals to small community events. And while they haven’t yet had any chart toppers or Hottest 100 hits, the rewards have been ample.
“I had always dreamt of playing WOMAD and we got invited to play WOMAD because of the record,” Jones says. “Watching audiences who hadn’t heard us have a really great time and get down and just have that look of shock and joy at the same time and seeing young people who are quite forward thinking really connecting with it, that was really meaningful.
“From that to Port Fairy to playing small events like the MPavilion and people singing along to songs they’ve haven’t heard, that’s really rewarding.”
Cool Out Sun hit Chapel Summer Sessions on Friday March 26. Grab tix here.