INTERVIEW: Tal Janes of Bahla (album crowdfunder launched today)

Bahla. L-R: Inês Loubet, Ben Brown, Joseph Costi,
 Tal Janes and Andrea Di Biase
Photo credit: David Hamblett

If you mix Jewish folklore with contemporary jazz, you get BAHLA, a young band creating new music through the exploration of cultures that merge. New songs written for last year’s London Jazz Festival led them to the studio, and to a crowdfunding campaign - launched today - aimed at getting the band’s first record published. Q&A with co-leader Tal Janes by Matt Pannell.

London Jazz News: How does Bahla sound?

Tal Janes: When people read 'Jewish' they normally expect a klezmer band, but it's far from that. For the moment I've settled on describing it as 'contemporary cinematic jazz entangled with Jewish folklore'. If Radiohead, Polar Bear and Shai Maestro had a strange love child, we might sound a bit like that, but there are many references.

LJN: Who’s in the band?

TJ: Joseph Costi co-leads and plays piano.. He’s from Venezuela. We’ve found a really strong guitar-piano partnership, and our compositional voices are noticeably different but I think that's a good thing.

Ben Brown, our drummer, has an interest in rhythms from around the world. For example, in certain parts of north Africa, they feel triplets differently to how we do in the West… he's taken that and really made it his own and has become an important part of our sound. We met while studying at the Royal Academy of Music.

Andrea Di Biase is our bassist. We met playing in Maria Chiara Argirò's band and as well as being really into jazz, he has a background in classical music which brings something else into the music.

Inês Loubet joined in November 2016, just as we were creating new songs for the London Jazz Festival. She brought us new musical possibilities, singing in English, Hebrew and Ladino. Inês can give me shivers, she really wants to get inside the story of the music.

I play guitar. I've been exploring making more sounds using effect pedals. The recording process massively fed into that. I'm also a John Coltrane nut, but love John Martyn, and the rest.

LJN: Where did the ‘Jewish folklore’ part come from?

TJ: We were checking out this music from different places and times. First Russia, then Yemen, then North Africa. It all sounded ‘Jewish’ but you can hear how the cultures mix. You ask: where were these people displaced from? How did they integrate - or not? It got us thinking about London, today, about other cultures, and how we all express our own influences. We want to show that cultures coming together can lead to something good.

LJN: How do you write fresh, original music about historical events?

TJ: I think ideas seem to come when you’re completely immersed in something. We got into watching documentaries and reading books about the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and this took us all the way to Syria today, and trying to imagine how it feels to be displaced. In that sense, it’s not about notes and scales, but emotional impact.

Music is part of life. Phrasing is connected to dance and speech, and you can hear it in certain religious texts, where the words come with a melody built-in. Music co-exists with art, movement and literature. These things are not isolated, but reflect one another, and that’s something we’re conscious of as we write.

LJN: Your LJF gig attracted a big enough crowd to have the venue managers fretting about seating capacity. How did it feel?

TJ: The LJF gig was emotional. It was incredibly rewarding because we put a lot of work in. Vocals had given us new possibilities. That’s why we went on to the recording studio.

LJN: You’re aiming to release your debut record, Imprints, in two volumes. Why two EPs rather than one LP?

TJ: We recorded 13 tracks and we’re using eight, across two records. Having two releases keeps the momentum going. Albums can get lost, and we feel that a more digestable format might appeal to more people. We've called it Vol.1 & Vol.2 so people get a sense it's part of the same thing.

LJN: Most people launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund their studio time, but you’ve already made the recordings?

TJ: Yes. The recordings were possible because we’d saved up mine and Joseph's gig money to fund them. However, there are many more costs involved in releasing a record. This is the first release for me and Joseph, so we’re feeling our way. We’re appealing to everyone to support our project. Crowdfunding with Kickstarter is great, because it gets people involved and connected. Lastly, since our music is inspired by displaced people, we’re hopeful that we might raise enough to support a refugee charity called Side by Side Refugees. If we exceed our target [£3,000 by 31 August] any money left afterwards will go directly to them.

LINKS: 
- To find out more and support Bahla’s first record there is a CROWDFUNDER
- Charity: Side by Side Refugees
Bahla website

LIVE DATES: Bahla will appear on 20 August as part of the Greenwich Summer Jazz Weekenders series: [LINK]


Bahla also plans an EP launch gig on 2 November at St Mary’s Music Hall, Walthamstow.

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