Photo credit: Kelly Warman
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist JIHAD DARWISH seems to blend well into this environment – an artisan coffee shop, popular with local creative types, writes Brianna McClean. His genuine warmth and energy spill over as he tells his story. It is one of reclamation, which is appropriately the name of his debut album. Mellow and narrative-driven, this album is a fine piece of work and one testament to Darwish’s unique training and talent. As he describes his multicultural heritage, his wide range of musical influences and his personal ethos as an artist, it becomes clear that the particulars of Reclamation run deep.
LJN: Tell me your story, how did you end up where you are today?
JD: When I was eight, I started playing the violin because my Mum always said she wanted to learn but never did. When I was 13 I had an attack of the ego and realised I wanted to be a rockstar so swapped to electric bass. Fast-forward through years with the Hackney Jazz Youth Ensemble, a decade of working with people such as Sting, Imelda May, Newton Faulker and Moses Boyd, plus a tabloid cocaine habit and a celebrity divorce and I find myself releasing my debut album.
LJN: What has your musical training been and how has it shaped you?
JD: I went from foundation music training at Kingsway College to experimental music collaborations at Dartington College of Arts to fine-tuning of technique and harmony on a jazz masters at Guildhall.
LJN: What is your philosophy as a performer and composer?
JD: I don’t have a philosophy I only ever have three requirements of anyone’s art. Do I believe that person? Is there sentiment? Is there conviction? If those things are all present, I’m on board.
LJN: Who are your biggest inspirations?
JD: Peter Gabriel, James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius, John Martyn, Jeff Buckley, Herbie Hancock, Sigur Ros, Radiohead
LJN: Tell me about this new record, Reclamation.
JD: It documents a pretty difficult period in my life or at least in the consciousness that is ‘Jihad Darwish’. It moves through 3 stages as an album and explores identity, loss, longing, fear desire, love and hope. I wanted to reclaim some sense of identity, of where I came from and who I am. I wanted to reclaim the feeling of been completely honest with yourself and the surrounding world.
I wanted to reclaim my name. I spent 25 years with my birth name and I suddenly found myself having to be someone else. I’ve used ‘Jay’ as a stage name but I’m trying to return to who I am. I’ve experienced ignorance on an unprecedented level regarding my name. I don’t want to be Jay anymore. I suppose ultimately it’s about reclaiming your sense of self.
LJN: How would you explain it to a first time listener, what can they expect to hear?
JD: It’s a journey – start at the beginning and listen through to the end. The album is a real mix, it probably is genre-less. Lots of jazz but it’s interwoven with pop, indie, new wave and African influences. I think that the listener can expect the unexpected! My favourite albums have always been the ones when maybe everything’s not totally apparent on the first listen.
LJN: What was the creation process like?
JD: I recorded the album over about three or four months. I wrote most of the album in the studio. It ended up being both a quick and slow process, if that makes sense? Sometimes I would have dozens and dozens of versions of songs. I wrote so many songs and lots of them didn’t make it onto the album. I must have written over 30 songs for this album.
For lyrics I have books of lyrics some old, some new. I actually had this book of poetry lying on the desk, I think it was Larkin, and I would start most mornings by opening it randomly and reading something. Maybe not always the best idea to start the day with as Larkin he can be melancholy at the best of times but he has a direct and quickly digestible way of conveying ideas in his writing and I found that this got me into a different headspace. It was a very liberating process, I didn’t have a set working methodology but rather just gifted myself with that time and space to feel my way along.
LJN: What are your hopes for this album?
JD: Making this album was a cathartic process for me. It’s about the joy you find in the process of making, not what you do with it. I’m finding that a particular challenge with this is that because it was all so personal to me it’s quite hard performing some of it as I feel very exposed and that I’m letting people into a very personal space. I would much rather a random person on the street said to me “this song on your album made me feel something” than a musician gave it the seal of approval. I want to connect with people in life.
Reclamation was released on 23 February 2018 and is available from Two Rivers Records (LINK)