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In Conversation With: Jaz Karis

Photo by Paula 'narcography' Abu from Issue 001 of 'The Floor Magazine'

Ahead of her EP release, I sat down [virtually] with UK R&B songstress Jaz Karis to chat about her creative processes, performances, and what needs to change for Black UK Female Artists to flourish.

Since being featured in the very first issue of The Floor Magazine titled ‘At the Floorfront’, Jaz Karis has gone from penning tracks for artists across the pond, such as Justine Skye, to booking international gigs in Europe and Asia; managing to squeeze in a couple of trips to the states not long before lockdown. As an artist performing is essential, and although she has done a number of sessions without a physical audience in the past few months, her favourite remains her COLORS Studio performance of the people’s favourite ‘Petty Lover’.

This lockdown season has given Jaz some time to experiment with her sound and create a project which although being made with care she still describes as “rough and raw around the edges”. I’ve always wanted to know if it was Jaz’s decision to release music just in time for summer, leaving us in the dark for the rest of the year; she confessed that her last EP, Summer Stories, “was made to be released in November…maybe it’s [summer] just my time of the year”. Either way, summer has come around again and brought along Jaz’s latest EP, ‘All Eyes On U’.

Illustration by Kieron Boothe

The first track ‘Garden Rain’ ( her personal favourite on the EP), she explains was written years ago and has only just made the decision to record it. “Lyrically [it’s] one of my favourite songs I’ve written…it makes me feel safe.”. Both the lyrics and descriptions of her music prove a testament to Jaz’s love of literature and creative writing; she manages to effortlessly narrate stories and feelings in her music, examples of this littered all over her discography. However, Jaz makes it clear that those of us that are used to her storytelling and RnB/Soul-led sounds should be ready for a shake-up. “The sounds are all like completely different…everyone will have different favourites”. Whereas the bulk of her previous records are soft/easy listening, this project is a mixed bag with those same silky vocals tied into more up-tempo tracks and bolder vibes.

Most recently you can hear Jaz’ vocals on Soweto Blues, alongside South African singer-songwriter Busiswa, by British-Ghanaian producer Juls. When I asked Jaz how this came about, she recalled “Juls basically hit me up and wanted me to get on the track; and when he said SA House, I was a bit scared because I’ve never done that before.” Despite this, she freestyled along to the instrumental and after filling in the gaps we were handed a super-smooth blend of SA Amapiano sounds.

Coincidentally, that same day/session also provided the final track on Jaz’ EP ‘Let Me Down’. The song is carried by the sweet tag-team of a reggae bassline and seductive saxophone dancing around the track. Also produced by Juls, Jaz tells me that the live instrumentation was already on the track, but “we just vibed and made edits to the track together.” Jaz is an artist who loves to be heavily involved in the process when making music - from production/instrumentation notes to vocals. While creating the EP she explains that although she didn’t produce all the beats, she made sure she had an input in that part of the creative process, “You’ve gotta have enough of yourself in there too”, she pointed out. I was curious as to what this meant, with influences spanning from Chris Brown to Erykah Badu I asked if she had intentionally channelled a specific sound or influence. “It’s just Jaz in quarantine trying things out and giving you the results”, she tells me.

Photo by Paula 'narcography' Abu from Issue 001 of 'The Floor Magazine'

Since leaving the BRIT School 5 years ago, Jaz has been intentional with staying independent in order to build to a certain level “it’s important for me to get my own experience so I know what to expect from other people.”. Although she steered away initially due to negative experiences, Jaz now expresses her newfound openness to major labels. Nevertheless, the musical independence she currently has means Jaz is not being pushed to release an album right now but is free to deliver this EP as an experimental project. It takes a label that really cares about its artists to afford her the creative freedom independence gives her as well as catering to her needs as a black female artist. Over the last few months, we’ve seen major labels and music companies publishing statements and pledges amidst the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement; at the same time, we’ve had more general activations such as Let the Music Play. Jaz noted that “Social [Media] stuff enabled companies to say something without really saying anything or changing anything…there is real work to be done.

When we spoke about what she thought was needed  from an artist’s point of view Jaz expressed a few things she thinks need to happen such as, “Employing black people in roles that actually make a difference and make sure they’re valued.

In regards to artists, she expressed “It would be great to see more artists with power” (like fellow South-Londoner Stormzy who is using his platform amazingly well) “I would love to see black women having that same level of effectiveness…there can definitely be room for more of us to do that.”

Jaz also pointed out things that need to change in order for Black Female artists in the UK, in particular, to progress and flourish the way they should in music. “The industry and people need to stop comparing black women” She began, “they make out like there’s not enough room for us all to win when we all actually make completely different music and look completely different as well…Empowering each other instead of just comparing each other is a big [important] thing

With platforms and playlists being curated especially for the genre, R&B in the UK is certainly bubbling. Something that gives it that extra push is absolutely welcomed; for now, artists like Jaz are putting in the work and making sure us R&B heads have some “music for the soul” to keep us going.

Although this project is more on the experimental side, it’s definitely something for fans of R&B and just music in general to look forward to. When people listen to the EP Jaz wants them to feel, “Relaxed, free & ready for whatever comes” - the same way she felt when she made it.

All Eyes On U is available now on all digital streaming platforms!


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