INTERVIEW: Jasën Blu, The Voice Of R&B/Soul Music In Nigeria

Despite the popularity of commercial music in Nigeria, there is a new breed of artist who has summoned the courage to be different, relying on their gift and passion to create magical tunes and consistently push the boundaries. Among this list include Jasën Blu.

His latest release “Already” has been gaining massive acceptance among his fans and music critics. Already is a sultry record which emphasizes on the antics of a super-confident male expressing his intimate advances to an appropriately single, independent but seemingly lonely woman. Jasën delivers this soulful tune in a blend of Yoruba, Pidgin English and English Language accompanied with an impressive vocal delivery. This will surely get the ladies heart melting.

We recently had a chat with the gifted singer, songwriter, producer and Mix Engineer who gave insight into his journey as an artist, his musical influences and much more.
Read below:
What inspired the name ”Jasën Blu”?
My name “Jasën Blu” is a shortened form for “Jasën, The Bluesman”. A “Bluesman” is a term used to reference early Blues and Rock’n’Roll players like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and the Blues legend back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I’m a musical descendant of that style and the title became my stage name because I like to be solidly identified with the genre.
Can you kindly tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Akure, in Ondo State, last of twelve children. My late father was a pianist and my older siblings were choristers. So I got a very early exposure to really great music. Dad loved King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Orlando Owoh and a host of other great records I grew up listening to every day. They were vinyls too, so I just loved the sound of all that old, organic soul. And my older siblings had all that was hip back then too. The Fuji fad of the early ‘90s in Nigeria and of course American Hip-hop music too.
Despite your musical background, at what point did you decide music is what you wanted to do?
I think I finally made that life decision in my first year in Uni, but I’ve nursed the idea since I was like 9 or so. I started writing rap verses at that time. Rap music was just so cool to me. It affected my fashion, my walk, speech and all else. As a kid, I was pretty sure I was going to be a rapper, up till when I got an admission to Federal University of Technology, Akure in 2004. I was going hard in my mind. Until one day a roommate heard me singing in the hostel. I was just trying to do a hook to one of my rap songs, and this guy started tripping off that hook and telling everyone about it. So from time to time, he’d ask me to sing the hook again. From then on I kind of paid more attention to singing. And also because I loved how R-Kelly was blending his rapper swag with all that soulful expression. I figured I could do something similar too as I wrote some more R&B songs. And when I had my first opportunity to make a record, my R&B songs were just sounding cooler than the hardcore rap compositions, with maybe a rap verse added somewhere in between. So I did my first record just like that in 2005, an R&B song with a rap verse. The studio was buzzing the day I recorded and when I looked around and saw how what I did make people feel that day, that was it for me. And so I’ve been on my journey to this day.
How will you define your style of music?
Afro-flavored Soul/R&B, primarily. But because I am a record producer and a mixing engineer, I’m much able to fuse elements of any genre or style into my music, depending on what story or mood the music is painting. On my latest single “Already”, I tailored ambient pianos, filmic Afrocentric percussion, trap drum, organic Rhodes and a Croatian Choir sample together, and just soulful vocalized over it to create a hybrid sound that is very much R&B but still loved by the new wave trap music fans. So by identity, I’m an R&B artiste but creatively, I’m extensive, unrestricted and limitless.
Your song “LasGidi” was featured in the Nollywood blockbuster movie “Last Flight To Abuja” which was like one of the biggest movies in 2012, also starring some notable actors in the industry. How were you picked for such a big project?
Ah yes. On my birthday in 2012, I uploaded the first version of “LasGidi” on my website and got it published on a few popular blogs too. Prior to that, I’ve met a filmmaker from the UK called GozieFilms through a friend and he likes what I do musically. But unknown to me, he had traveled back to the UK for a film production. So when I put out that version of “LasGidi”, he got hold of it via social media too. So on the third day after the song came out, he sent me mail asking to send the song to the producers of “Last Flight To Abuja”, which included Charles Thompson and of course the director of the movie, Obi Emelonye. He told me he was playing the song on set or something to that effect and that the director heard the song who liked it. I was sitting in the studio just doing what I do when the director’s call came in from the UK, expressing interest in the song and all. Soon after that, he came down to Lagos, we met and finalized talks to get the song involved with the movie. They already had a trailer in Youtube for the movie, but they yanked that and made a final official trailer with the song. The song was also used extensively in promoting the movie so it got airplay on BBC Radio in the UK and several other radio stations in Nigeria. It was also featured in the Behind-the-scenes documentary included in the retail DVD. The song “LasGidi” is now being rerecorded and remastered for my debut album due for release later in 2017.
(Jokingly) How much were you paid?
You really wanna know? Sure you won’t laugh? (Laughs). Yea I was paid a little.
A little could be 30 billion in the account, in Jasen’s term, right?
(Laughs). No. That would be in Davido’s term if I’m correct! Anyway, I was new to a lot of things when the movie thing happened, so let’s just say I would’ve gotten a considerably heavier value for that same thing if that time was now.
Who are your musical influences?
Lagbaja is my favorite Nigerian musician of all time, so I’d say I’m influenced by his musical depth and expressions. By the way of rooted artistry, I’m influenced by the careers and music of Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Majek Fashek, Tupac Shakur, R-Kelly, Jay Z and most recently, Kendrick Lamar. Creatively, I revere D’Angelo. He’s my unsolved puzzle. Vocally, I appreciate Joe Thomas, Ginuwine, Usher, Brandy, Toni Braxton, Usher Raymond and most definitely, Tank. As a record producer, I’ve studied Dr. Dre, The Underdogs, Pharrell, Timbaland, Trackmasters, Kanye West, Cobhams Asuquo and lots more. The list is endless, but I’ve always learned something solid from all these legends.
Your latest single “Already” has gained impressive responses and feedback from your fans and music critics. It was among the Top 20 most played songs on Rhythm Fm for 10 consecutive weeks and was also recently featured on Pulse Top 4 favorite song of the day, amongst others. How does that make you feel?
When I got feedback from “Already”, the first thing I felt was gratitude. People’s comments on everything from the music itself to the lyrics, and even to the cover photography and artwork were just refreshing. I felt good to be very honest. I felt good my sound gained mass acceptance. I felt good that I’ve proved to myself and to my peers that it’s okay to be different. To be yourself, tell your own story musically. To make simply awesome, solid music and be celebrated for it. I felt if it could happen at this level when I have practically nothing but my gifts and drive, then wait till the music gains real traction. Before the record came out, I’ve always told my peer in music that could happen. “Already” is helping me prove it. And I feel nothing but gratitude for that.
What inspired the song “Already”?
This is quite odd, but “Already” was inspired by one particular tone in the instrumental. The sound that became the instrumental to “Already” originally came from a sound score for one particular short film I was working on. It was one weird ambient sound, and it just kept coming back to me, popping up in my head like all the time. That kind of thing, you know. Then one day I actually opened the project and played the sound again. I looped it up and it kept playing. Then out of nowhere that first line, “Mo ni mo fe ka jo ma fe’ra baby…” struck right in. Right there I knew it was gonna be a very likable song. So I posted about it on social media, asking if they like to hear it. After a fair amount of encouraging responses, I called my friend Dre-Sticks to tell him I’d like to record it at his studio. Dude said come through so I went into the studio December 7th, 2016 and recorded the song. Shortly after I got it mixed, designed and set a release date. I guess you know what happened after that. (Laughs).
You were recently deployed as a soundtrack artist, score producer and music consultant with Africa Magic series “The Calabash”. How has been the experience? Should we expect more movie project coming from you?
It’s a whole different experience from being a recording artist, to say the least. But it’s a great experience too. I was able to extend my production skills to that level because I experiment a lot with sound craft, virtual environments, mood, ambiance, all that weird stuff. “The Calabash” was my first major hit in that field and it was my second time working with director Emelonye. After that, I’ve worked on several indie short films, one video game and most recently, one animated series. It’s way more challenging than just making music but I personally enjoy making imagined ideas come to life. I’m already stacking up my portfolio and making moves to work on more big movies.
What are the challenges you face as a rising R&B/Soul Artist?
Well at a time it used to be the typical genre stereotype people push around R&B, Soul and Alternative music in Nigeria. But that’s dead talk if you look at the number of thriving Alternative music artiste, their chart positions and sales figure. I personally now have a record that put all that aside for me. I mean I’ve done records that people would like but still say something like “are you sure Nigerians would like this” and blah blah. But with “Already” it’s a whole different response. It’s the “have you put that here? Have you sent this song there?” kind of excitement. It’s just different and that’s what I appreciate about it. Other challenges would be financed as it’s pretty hard to be an indie artist in this terrain. But I’m getting to the point where I’ll be in a position to get good partnership offers to put my project out and I strongly believe I’ll cross the bridge when I get to it.
Speaking of possible features and collaborations, who would you be interested in working with, in the industry?
I’ll collaborate with any artiste anywhere in the world as longs as it adds the right value to my artistry.
What should we expect from you in the near future?
My debut album this year, first off. Then hopefully one or two hits at the movies too.
Photo credit: Jasën Blu
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