Bass guitar virtuoso Shez Raja will be performing with his sensational jazz-funk band the Shez Raja Collective on Saturday 24 August at the Polish Jazz Café POSK. The concert will feature special guests Arun Ghosh and Monika Lidke. Shez’s music and very contagious mix of positive energy and enthusiasm often gets people out of their seats. It seems that we may not only be listening to their enthralling sounds but also dancing! The artist talks to Tomasz Furmanek:
Tomasz Furmanek: Looking through your concert reviews my attention was drawn to the often repeated words “dynamic” and “exciting”. Do you think this best describes your music and your musical personality?
Shez Raja: I guess our music is very dynamic. Our performances are always high energy and we are very authentic on stage. It is important to connect with the audience and share the exhilarating experience of creating music in the here and now.
TF: What is the concept behind the Collective aspect of the group?
SR: The core band consists of some of my favourite musicians that I’ve worked with over the past few years. The concept is to have a regular group of musicians and invite special guests to individual concerts. As a musician I think the key challenge is to explore your own unique voice and find ways to become fully self-expressed. I think the more great musicians I work with the better it is for my musical development. It is also interesting from an audience perspective as the varied line-ups create unique interactions between the musicians. It keeps the music exciting and fresh. It also means that each show will be very different from the previous and the next!
TF: Which musicians form the core of your Collective? And who are some of the most memorable guests with whom you’ve worked?
SR: The drummer I play with most often is Chris Nickolls, a great jazz drummer providing amazing funky grooves. Then we have Pascal Roggenon’s 5-string electric violin. Pascal lives in Auckland, New Zealand and commutes to our shows –we’re probably dealing with the case of the largest “carbon footprint” in jazz there!Then we have the fantastic Aaron Liddard who plays saxophones and flute and Alex Stanford on keyboards and various crazy sonic gadgets. These are the guys I play with the most and I also collaborate with many greats of the contemporary jazz scene such as Soweto Kinch, Andy Sheppard, Gilad Atzmon, Arun Ghosh, Shabaka Hutchings, Jay Phelps, Denys Baptiste, Monika Lidke and Claude Deppa.
TF: Let’s talk for a moment about your personality. When did you realise that you can inspire others and increase their well-being through your attitude and music?
SR: I’ve put a lot of effort over the last 25 years into playing bass and working on my musicianship, including the development of my live performances. I’m really proud when I hear the feedback from the audience. Comments that my concerts raise peoples’ spirits mean a lot to me, and it’s always great to hear that the audience appreciates what I do. I definitely have a very positive outlook on life. I believe that there’s always good in bad. I think when you reach a certain level of development as a musician your personality permeates your music. Your inner voice demands full expression through your playing and spontaneity on stage. Sharing your music in that way can move and inspire others. It’s also a lot of fun and people respond well to that.
TF: … so you definitely aren’t a shy type?
SR: Ha ha – I think it’s important to engage with the audience. Our live shows are very interactive which goes down well with the crowds. I imagine that when someone goes to a concert they want entertainment, an experience that will move them in some way. I always concentrate on giving it my all – emotionally and musically.
TF: To what extent do you think your background has an influence on your music and your artistic development?
SR: I was born in England. My mother is English and my dad is Asian, so part of my heritage is based on the music and culture of the Indian subcontinent. I’ve travelled there, studied tabla (Indian drums) and have listened to a lot of music from that part of the world. When you’re a child, even simple experiences can have a big impact on you, for example my father was always singing ragas and it just penetrated into my subconscious. I think that in my formative years I absorbed a lot of music and rhythms in this natural way and that shaped my musical identity as well as listening to many different styles of music in later years. Sometimes when I compose a new melody, people tell me “it sounds really exotic,” but for me I don’t always hear it that way. So, yes, it definitely lies in the subconscious …
TF: I know you like to travel, and that you travel a lot. You were in Russia together with the Shez Raja Collective! Tell us about this experience.
SR: Yes! We were invited to the St. Petersburg jazz festival. A great experience, spectacular from the moment we got off the plane: we were picked up from the airport ina limousine, which remained available to us non-stop for the next 5 days! They really looked after us. The concert itself was wonderful – a great stage set on a beach in St. Petersburg, close to the river and with an excellent and enthusiastic audience. A very memorable experience!
TF: So you’re working on a new album at the moment. What can you tell me about that?
SR: Yes, I’m working on a live album that showcases high energy performances from some of our recent live shows. It’s going to be a real sonic kaleidoscope capturing unique collaborations and exuberant solos from guests Soweto Kinch, Gilad Atzmon, Shabaka Hutchings and Jay Phelps and of course the core Collective.
TF: What can we expect at your Jazz Café POSK concert on 24 August?
SR: It’s going to be a very unique British-Asian-Polish musical collaboration. We will have two very special guests:Indo-jazz star Arun Ghosh on clarinet – a great improviser. The other guest is Monika Lidke, jazz-folk singer-songwriter, with whom I’ve worked before, including on my third album “Mystic Radikal” and her own albums. I think it will be an interesting evening and a fascinating musical journey, with all these great musicians from very different cultural backgrounds working together! You can definitely expect a lot of energy!
Tomasz Furmanek: And will you make people get up and dance?Shez Raja: Well, I can’t promise you that. One thing you can be sure of though is that anything can happen when the Collective starts to play.
The Shez Raja Collective will perform at 24 August in Polish Jazz Cafe POSK
238-246 King Street
London W6 0RF
Tel: 07415 89 24 36
Tube Stations: Ravenscourt Park / Hammersmith
Doors open: 20.00
Tickets: £6 on the door or book HERE