AN INTERVIEW WITH DJEMBE JONES
As of late, the DC/MD/VA DIY scene has been thriving, with what seems like a new artist/band surfacing every month. The newest and, in my opinion, one of the most unconventional, is Djembe Jones, an R&B band from Takoma Park. Their sound is the epitome of laid back, yet the result of complex and impressive production, layering intricate instrumentals, mollifying harmonies, and enthralling lyrics sure to soothe any listener.
Could you guys introduce yourselves and who plays what?
Ashe: I’m Ashe, I play guitar and produce most of our stuff.
Ben: I’m Ben, I do bass, vocals, and some songwriting.
Ian: Ian, I play drums, sing some, and help write.
Lanzi: I’m Lanzi. I sing lead and write a bunch
What’s the significance of the name “Djembe Jones,” where did that come from?
Lanzi: Well, the band started as just me and Ashe. A djembe is a west African drum that has been ubiquitous in popular African music across the continent for decades now. One day, it came up in conversation with my friend and he was like “Djembe Jones” would be a cool band name, to which I said “that’s perfect because Ashe and I have this ambiguous nameless musical project.” I’m from East Africa, so for me, “Djembe” represented the the musical/cultural influence that I brought to the table while “Jones” was indicative of the western influences of Ashe and I’s experience with American music (namely indie, rock, R&B, and hip-hop) and culture.
How would you guys describe your sound?
B: Spicy Mango popsicle on a boring summer day.
It definitely feels like there’s a contrast in vibe between the tracks on your SoundCloud released a year ago verusus your newest single “Breez,” do you guys feel like over the past year your sound has evolved or more of solidified?
B: There’s definitely a pretty big contrast, and I probably see R&B and hip-hop playing a bigger role going forward, but I think it speaks more to how diverse our sound is and less to us evolving out of something or solidifying one sound to move forward with.
L: In the future, we’ll definitely continue to explore other influences but as folks will see on the album, the fun warm indie sound of “Words 2 Say” and “Njo” is still part of who we are. At least for now.
A: Yeah I’m not mad at it. I don’t think any of us feel the need to stick to one sound as long as it feels natural.
You guys are releasing an album soon right? What can listeners look forward to on that?
A: Yeah, hopefully it will be out by the spring. It’s called Djoanin. There’s a lot of different types of stuff on there but we like the way it’s turning out.
I: We’ve been putting a lot of joy into it and I hope folks can get that from it.
L: In addition to the album, Ashe, Ben, and I all have some independent work that we’ll be releasing the coming months.
An artist, song, or album that makes you feel a heavy dose of nostalgia?
Lanzi: “Muchana” by Kanda Bongo Man
A: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman.
B: Marvin Gaye
What’s it like being a musician in the 21st century?
A: Dope but daunting.
B: Lot’s of competition but ultimately that’s a sice cause the DMV poppin off
L: Nowadays so many people are trying to be musicians and the internet makes it so we all have more or less the same platform for exposure. On the one hand that’s good because success can look different ways and can be achieved without a label. It is also inspiring because there are so many artists doing dope things for the culture, especially here in the DMV where we’re basically busking our music scene from the ground up. It gives greater meaning to what we’re doing. That said, because of how many artists are out there tryna make it, it is a bit daunting but I think that there is room for most people to find their own type of success in the game.
Any last words you want the Melted readers to know? Any upcoming shows?
I: Playing a few shows ‘round the East Coast this summer! Nothing to announce yet though. Also, Fuck Donald Trump. Resist. Don’t Sleep.
A: Seconded. Djembe Season still in full effect.
B: Fiya up!
LISTEN TO DJEMBE JONES HERE
interview by LYDIA VELAZQUEZ