In the spotlights #4: KAMA Kollektiv

22 April 2020

No less than 4 groups from the Netherlands were announced for the European Jazz Meeting during jazzahead! in Bremen on April 24th. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the influential jazz music fair will skip 2020. It is a big blow for a lot of artists and professionals who planned on doing business there. InJazz and Dutch Performing Arts were ready to host the Dutch umbrella stand at jazzahead! as usual. Instead, we will share online interviews with them.

Inspiration from nature, people, everyday events and little things
One week before their supposed performance at jazzahead! we asked Kirsi-Marja Harju some questions. Originally from Finland, KAMA Kollektiv’s singer, trumpeter and main composer has lived and studied in Amsterdam for several years now. Towards the end of the article, the group’s double bassist Jonathan Nagel weighs in with a reflection on the current situation from Portugal, where he spends his quarantine period.

Of all four showcase acts that had NL behind their names and were supposed to play jazzahead! this year, KAMA Kollektiv is relatively new to the scene.
“Indeed, it was a big happy surprise for us. And probably an even bigger surprise for the Dutch jazz scene that such an ‘unknown’ band got chosen to a jazzahead! showcase. Maybe this is an opportunity for the jazz community to get to know us better, and the other way around.”

Amsterdam seems to be the katalyst for your existence.
“Amsterdam is indeed, nicely put, the catalyst for our band’s existence. We all met at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. As did the members of Guy Salamon Group and Sun-Mi Hong Quintet, I believe. The band ‘was born’ after me playing with many different musicians and trying to find a stable line-up in the end of the year 2017. In autumn 2018 we recorded our first album. At first, we played with a different pianist and last year Jetse joined. Three of us are in Amsterdam or close by, but our bassist Jonathan flew to Lisbon to spend the quarantine with his girlfriend. The rest of us stayed here probably because we feel this is our home now and there was no reason to leave at this point. Maybe here we are also more likely to do some things that are related to our ‘normal’ life.”

What would the last week of April have looked like if you had indeed played at jazzahead!?
“Ah yes. The last week of April would have looked very exciting for us in the normal circumstances! Definitely busy with the last preparations for the showcase, our minds and hearts full of excitement of the possibilities this great opportunity might have brought, and to share our music with the international jazz scene. I will probably feel very weird this Thursday to Sunday when thinking where we could have been. Luckily next year we will get this chance as the showcase artists will remain the same till next year.”

Finland, Israel, Germany and the Netherlands in one group. That sounds like infinite musical possibilities and textures.
“I also find that is a huge possibility and blessing rather than something that would tear us or our musical approaches apart. I love how our differences complement each other and the music, often bringing out a surprising outcome that is better than I could have ever imagined myself. Everyone has their own musical background and interests that they bring along anyway. Consciously or unconsciously. Most of the compositions we play are mine, but recently Jonathan has also brought more of his creations for us to play. If I bring a new composition to our rehearsal, I will start out giving the chart and maybe demonstrating my idea of it with the piano. Sometimes the other way around. Sometimes I won’t even demonstrate, but let the guys interpret it themselves at first. Most of the times I have some arranging ideas already in mind but usually the biggest part of the arrangement is done together in the rehearsals. This is how everyone can bring their own creative input to the table. I’m indeed the leader and mostly in charge of everything, but I really appreciate the role Jonathan has taken with his own areas of responsibility. I feel like we are leading the band together. That is a true blessing. If I were to describe everyone’s character in the band, with a little spark in the corner of my eye, it would go somehow like this. I’m the sensitive, still persistent optimist-multitasker, Jonathan is our effective and highly organized poet artist, Joe is our sweet bohème Israeli rock star and Jetse is our versatile, serene and calm ‘spiritual leader’.”

Your debut album KOTI is one year old now. What are your plans, as far as releasing new music?
“We celebrated KOTI’s 1st anniversary on 29th of March. During the past year we have toured in Germany, Netherlands and Finland, so time has flown by! Now I’m writing new music for the band. Our plan is to release our second album within a year. There are already some album release concerts booked for spring 2021 and jazzahead! will be one of them. The album recording was planned to happen on the first days of July, after being on tour in Germany for two weeks in May. But as it seems unfortunately very unlikely to be able to go on tour and play much together before the beginning of July, we maybe need to postpone the studio for autumn.”

Given your mixture of jazz, Scandinavian folk and indie pop, can you sketch your musical interests? And how does this compare with the other members’ tastes?
“These elements are indeed some terms to describe our music with, but they have definitely come along only after the music itself and after our sound has been born. Nature, people, everyday events and little things inspire me. Melodic, modern, Scandinavian jazz is something that interests me, and I’ve been listening to a lot, but when I compose, I’m not usually trying to make something that would sound like something specific. The best result is usually achieved when an idea, melody, harmony – whatever – comes to me and out of me naturally. It has automatically the influences and traditions I have already in me, my heritage, interests and something I grew up with. For me it is important that the music is natural in one way or another, even though it might contain an odd meter or two sometimes. But as Sun-Mi also touched this subject a bit in her interview, I wouldn’t write it just for the sake of it or to please mine or other musicians’ ears. I would write it because I hear it as part of my composition.”

This is why you won’t find KAMA Kollektiv streaming live performances during the crisis. On the website of the band we read this message: “It’s 2020. Public concerts have been prohibited by law. So we stay home and do the Corona dance. We hope to see you in a better age. Happy future everyone.” It was written by Jonathan Nagel, the group’s bassist who built and oversees the website. When asked if the Kollektiv feel the need at all to come up with alternatives to performing live, Kirsi forwarded the question to Jonathan, who responded with a mini manifesto:

Jonathan Nagel:
“I believe there is a strong reason why, before March 2020, the large majority of performing artists chose to stage their work for a live audience. It is not that the technical means would not have been available during the past years, or that we did not know about this option. It is rather that the feeling of shared excitement in a physical space, the tense silence before the first note of a concert, the warm blinding spotlights and soft buzz of the PA speakers, seeing the smiles on people’s faces, having an experience with each other and through each other together with the public, are things which no online live stream could possibly replace.”

“As of mid-March 2020, most governments have banned events where people physically gather, until further notice. In reaction to this, many performing artists have been drawn to continuing their performance practices through online live streaming services. Deprived of the freedom to pursue that which for many of us is equally our profession and passion -one could as well say in short: our life-, it is understandable that artists seek alternative options. When one’s main occupation is suddenly prohibited, rendered impossible and declared nonessential, this creates both an economic and emotional threat.”

“While the streaming of online performances currently does not help much with the economic issues, it well might with the emotional ones. It gives the illusion that we are still doing what we always loved, just in a different format. It can provide a reason to continue practicing, preparing, taking ourselves seriously and not feeling completely useless. However, this does not alter the fact that simply putting a camera in front of you while jamming in your bedroom is merely the stale version of being on a stage with an audience. Live stream concerts are not the great novelty experience of the new decade, they remain being just the ugly little sister of the real thing, a desperate attempt to reenact something that used to be so dear to us.”

“I fear that by resigning ourselves to an unsatisfying and inferior practice, we run the risk of accepting this as the ‘new normal’, as it is so often called these days. Once the artists settle with a new normal, it will be even more difficult in the future to claim that restrictions must be lifted, clubs and theaters need to be subsidized, festivals necessitate being backed and individual artists depend on support. The only chance we have got is to insist and state clearly that we cannot work in this situation, and we will refrain from performing until we again find a worthy environment for doing so. This is not a transition to a new normal which we need to fit in. This is a situation in which artistic performance is impossible.”

Kirsi adds a final note:
“I totally understand Jonathan’s point and I think it’s important to keep thinking critically. Personally, I haven’t yet been able to form such a strong opinion about this subject. Online concerts are a great alternative, the solutions for this time being, but I indeed hope it won’t become the new normal also for the time this crisis will be over.”

The album KOTI (2019) by KAMA Kollektiv is available through Bandcamp.
Kirsi Harju (trumpet, vocals, composition)
Jetse de Jong (piano)
Jonathan Nagel (double bass, composition)
Yoad Korach (drums)

Read also:
In the spotlights #1: Rembrandt Frerichs
In the spotlights #2: Sun-Mi Hong
In the spotlights #3: Guy Salamon