Jinja Safari

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Jinja Safari


After their triple j Unearthed competition win last year garnered them a slot at Splendour In The Grass, Jinja Safari embarked on a constant treadmill of touring and recording. Supporting bands as diverse as Art Vs Science and Boy & Bear, their music has been called everything from tribal dance to afro-pop – and they seem to like the idea of being purveyors of dancing music, as opposed to dance music. Azon and long-time friend Cameron ‘Pepa’ Knight sharing songwriting duties in the band, and were multi-instrumentalists for the recording of their two EPs – last year’s Jinja Safari and their latest,Mermaids & Other Sirens. But live, Jinja Safari have grown to an ensemble of five, with Joe Citizen (bass/vocals), Alister Roach (percussion/vocals) and Jacob Borg (drums) now permanent members. With a strong focus on harmonies, Azon tells me that the new lineup has brought some depth to their energy and vocal presence. “It’s not so much about me – and that’s what I love,” Azon explains. “It’s about all of us together and not one of us is trying to be a show off. I think if you are going to have a band, that’s the only way it can work. It has been a big jump for me. I’ve been writing songs in private but I gave up on the idea of music for about five years. Then last year I met Pepa again and started writing with him and it all came to a head. All of a sudden, we were on stage all around Australia and I had to figure out how to be a musician again, and how to connect with the audience and my bandmates.”

With groups around the world trying out different models for music distribution (Radiohead with King Of Limbs and Kaiser Chiefs with The Future Is Medieval), Jinja Safari have decided to take a unique approach to the delivery of Mermaids & Other Sirens. Releasing one track a month as a free download on sites like Frankie magazine’s and the triple j website, the band have drip fed their music to their fans. “We just want to write the music and give it straight to our audience,” he says. “The plan was to release track-by-track, month-by-month, until August. It was a way of cutting out the middleman. There is a lot of jumping through hoops that goes on with marketing and promoting a release and we just thought it would be good to break down that financial barrier between us and the audience and to show them the tracks we have been working on. We decided it would be better that people can get it for free. We’re not taking away the importance of CD sales, and it’s very important for the record labels, but I think you have to be more creative with how you get your music out there now,” he continues. “You’ve got so many different forms of technology now. How do you get people to listen to your songs when they could easily get distracted by another free form of entertainment?”

Azon began playing piano at a young age, and it was a church setting that gave birth to his musicality. “Both my parents were preachers so I grew up playing piano in the church,” he explains. He played classical piano until he was 17. “I played in a couple of bands and was always too shy to sing, just writing little guitar parts, nothing groundbreaking or earth shattering at all. I told Alister [Jinja Safari’s percussionist and Azon’s childhood friend] I would play guitar and he would play drums and we would have a band. [But] I moved to Los Angeles and it didn’t end up happening.”

The story of Marcus Azon and Pepa Knight’s first meeting has developed, like Chinese whispers, into a romantic tale of a chance beachside meeting in the jungles of the eastern Australian coastline. “Somehow the story travels down the line and it gets more creepy and Jungle Book-y every time,” Azon laughs. “We’d started writing and recording and I’d shown him some of the songs. Alister happened to be passing through Sydney when he was travelling around busking, and he jumped out of the van and came and slept on my bedroom floor. Then we won the triple j competition and it opened up doors for more gigs so he just stayed in Sydney.” Having come from a religious background myself, I’m curious as to whether Azon followed in his parent’s spiritual path. “I think spirituality is such a strange thing to talk about and to express – it’s such a personal thing,” he says. “I certainly don’t subscribe to any one organised religion, but it’s something that we are all going to be on a journey towards for our whole life. Anyone who thinks it’s not a journey and anyone who thinks they have the answers or wants to convince everyone that their answer is right – that’swhere it gets strange.”

With their first ever gig occurring in the forest of NSW amongst friends who were encouraged to dress up as animals, Jinja Safari have taken that early energy and promoted the idea of a live experience that is both enchanting and unusual; watching as the band hurriedly set up a stage with fake ferns and bales of hay minutes before their set is not uncommon. The idea is to liberate the audience and make them dance, which is refreshing in a climate where it seems that dancing and drugs go hand in hand… Azon, too, has been freed from the shackles of the party lifestyle, something which he attributes to his present happiness. “Me and my housemate invented something called ‘ugly dancing’ where you dance as bizarrely as you can at like, cool house parties and stuff,” he explains. “Not to be a knob, but to let it all go. I swore off drugs and alcohol about three years ago and it’s shown me that I can design whatever life I want. I felt trapped by that party scene and I wasn’t achieving what I wanted to achieve or doing what I wanted to be doing, and I realised I had to stop it and focus on what I did want to do.Which is what I have managed to do now.”