Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Pushing the Boundaries of Jazz and Hip Hop

Originally published on Couch Assassin.

This Friday, the Ottawa Jazz Festival welcomes the Herbaliser, a band formed by Jake Wherry and Ollie Teeba in the early 1990s. Based out of London, England, the band has been producing their blend of jazz rap for almost twenty years.

When asked to describe the Herbaliser sound, bassist and producer Jake Wherry painted a clear picture: "If you imagine a Venn diagram, with Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz and a bit of Soul, our sound would be where the circles all meet," he explained.

According to Wherry, the group usually gets positive reactions from people who hear their music for the first time. "Certainly in the early days of the band, we blew people away. At the time, the live dance music scene was mostly about DJs performing with a couple of dancers and a bongo player [...] When we hit the stage, it was quite powerful. Now it's more common to see a large band playing dance music, but we paved the way!"

Wherry shared that playing at outdoor festivals is a different experience from playing indoor venues. "The first time we played outdoors at Glastonbury, it was incredible to see the crowd growing as we played [...] There must have been 25,000 people by the end and the sun was setting. It's a great memory." Wherry also recalled a great indoor show: "The first time we played at the Montreal Jazz Festival, we were in a basement at les Foufounes Électriques, [...] it was crazy."

Although the group has been playing and producing music for many years, they do not feel any pressure to stay relevant in today's music industry. "I think if you try and keep up with what's "now" then it soon becomes yesterday," said Wherry. "We just make the music we want to make and we hope it gets received well." Since the beginning, the group has had the freedom to do what they want, from their early days with [record label] Ninja Tune to their last album, released on their own record label, Department H. "Of course, now we have our own label, so we can really make what we want to," he added.

When asked if he ever considered pursuing something other than music, Wherry jokingly said "The last time I looked at my bank balance."

2013 is bound to be a busy year for the Herbaliser. Not only is the group touring, they will also be collaborating with some up and coming Canadian MCs. "We are writing music for an album we're doing with Ghettosocks and Timbuktu AKA Teenburger. [The album] will be all rap, which is something we haven't done before." These MCs will also be performing with the group in Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal. Ghettosocks will be joining the Herbaliser at their upcoming show in Saskatoon as well. Wherry added, "Once that's done, Ollie and I will look at starting album #8."

So what will the Herbaliser be doing in another ten years? At this point, Wherry remains optimistic. "We didn't really imagine that we'd get this far, so hopefully we're good for at least another 10 years." The last ten years have certainly not been easy for Wherry, whose wife died in a freak accident and he then had to raise his two sons on his own. After remarrying and having another child, he discovered he was suffering from Hodgkins Disease. He then underwent chemotherapy and radiation and said that he is ok now.

Despite the obstacles, Wherry counts his blessings. "I'm glad that [our latest album] There Were Seven was so well received […] After Same As It Never Was, people said it was over for us, but we got amazing reviews. There's plenty of life left in us yet!"

Catch the Herbaliser at Ottawa Jazz Festival this Friday, June 28 @ 10:15pm.

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