Feature: Jiva

Picture of Jiva

Interview by Marc Kets

Jiva means "the spirit within" and this band borne out of the vibrant and exciting Atlanta music scene radiates love and happiness through their superbly produced soulful music. They have seamlessly blended their Bossa and Brazilian influences resulting in one of the finest soul albums that has graced our ears in years, Sun & Moon. With a passionate music man, Khari Simmons, at the helm they are bound to reap many rewards and contribute greatly to the future of music, and we're much the better for it.

How did JIVA come into being?

I started Jiva in 1996 after feeling like starting a band that could explore a wider variety of soul music, including Bossa Nova and group vocals. Our first gig was opening up for Roy Ayers at an event called Chocolate Soul.

Could you briefly give us a brief background on each of the members in the ensemble?

Each member of Jiva is remarkable in their own right, and I'll try to share some of their brilliance: Paige Lackey Martin is the Soprano and has a marvelous voice. She is best known as a songwriter and has written for India Arie, Incognito, and Maysa. She is also the lead in the Sirius B Project, an Atlanta soul group. Alex Lattimore is the male vocalist, he is an incredible singer and has a solo project on the way. We met in the Morehouse College Jazz band where he played trumpet and I played bass. Rhonda Thomas is amazing and has a great solo project available called "Breathe new Life". She also sings background for Isaac Hayes. Chanda Mcknight is an alto and soprano and plays keyboard in the band. She is so delightful! She plays for Morgan Heritage and Irene Cara in addition to her solo project. Julius Speed has been well known as the keyboardist in Chris Brann's Ananda Project and P'taah. She is an incredible talent and blessing to Jiva. I'm going to really feature his personality on the next Jiva record. Forrest Robinson is an incredible drummer and is my bandmate in India Arie's band. He also drums for The Japanese artist Utada for her US based band. He is the first person I thought of for this band. Awesome drummer. We have a side project called Tria Di Luna.

Who/What are your influences?

The influences are quite varied. Sergio Mendes, Prince, Burt Bacharach, Chic.... we love these musicians. Of the new school we love Nicola Conte, Incognito, all the Schema label releases. There is an album by the James Taylor Quartet called In The Hand Of The Inevitable, and that album is huge on the Atlanta scene.

Your band has performed with everyone from the late great Luther Vandross to Roy Ayers and Incognito, as well as various members such as Alex Lattimore having released solo projects for the likes of Rush Hour in Holland. What do you think that each of you bring to the project that is unique and sets you above other bands?

So many people would see busy individuals in a band as a bad thing, but I LOVE IT! These people are stars to me and I love them. Miles did the same thing in each group he put together. Bluey from Incognito really taught me how to encourage my band with my whole Heart. I love to see them accomplish all of their dreams and if they get too busy to stay around then I welcome that sadness. Especially coming from Atlanta. Atlanta has such a high artist content; every musician, singer and Dj is an artist with a unique vision in our city. It also makes the shows exciting! It is a very different dynamic from most bands.

Your involvement in the vibrant Atlanta scene has lead you to work on albums by people like India Arie. What do you think it is about Atlanta that has made soul music so prevalent, and are their any other acts in the city that you feel that we should know about and why?

Atlanta is a very vibrant scene indeed! There are so many reasons why that is so. First of all Atlanta is a young city in some ways. It has grown ever since the Olympics and many people have found their way to Atlanta. Soul music has such a history here as well, being the home for groups like Cameo and The SOS Band. There is also a hub of colleges under the Atlanta University Center including Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse and Spelman, so the inclusion of African Americans in a city historically, politically and musically is so rare in the modern day. It is very different from American cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and other cities I happen to like a lot. The other thing is that Atlanta has is great radio through WCLK, WRFG, WRAS. We were so exposed to all of the great music in the 90's that did not go mainstream. We heard D-Note, D-Influence, Incognito, outside and Matt Cooper, Jhelisa, Mondo Grosso, Monday Michiru, Nobukazu Takemura. These are the artists that India and I fell in love with back then at a very young stage in our artistic development. The result has been a scene with strong soul and jazz roots spawning a diverse array of artists and sounds. It's the most diverse soul scene I know. Some people yet to be known and who should be are Venus 7; two clever women that write wonderful music. Heston, a Soulboy with Dominican roots who has an incredible album on the way. I produced a few but he has people from Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, India, and other such bands all over his project. Huge Album!!! Slick & Rose are very good and well liked by everyone too. Days Ahead is a great band and the lead singer is wonderful. Once again though, Alex Lattimore's record will be a must!

You describe yourselves as being "a soul band with a love for Bossa Nova and lush arrangements." How do you go about creating a record?

For Jiva albums, it begins with the Songs. I first write the songs, and I feel that I should be able to play an album sitting at the Rhodes before I even record it. I miss Albums' true albums. After that we try to see what rhythm conveys the emotion that the songs expresses. For me, I could almost interpret each song as a Bossa. I may even write a song as a Bossa and then let it change later. I love Sergio Mendes for that! Like his version of Stevie's "Looking For Another Pure Love".

Your first single, "Stars" has been gaining a lot of exposure since it was first released. How have you found the reactions to the record, and it must have been a thrill to get a remix from Lil' Louis Vega?

The entire journey of the Stars single has been nothing less than a joy for me! I was playing in Gaelle's band and earned enough money to buy a Roland 1680, MPC2000, and a keyboard. I took it home and did Stars, my first recording that was good enough to be released. I wrote it on India's guitar. I let Maurice Bernstein of Giant Step hear it and he put it out. I was so excited! I was a huge fan of all the stuff Giant Step was doing since the nineties, so it was nice to be a part of it all. The next thing I know Tom & Joyce are doing remixes for it, and Karl Injex and I created Tauriva to do a boogie mix of it featuring Alex on vocals and Nakayo on flute. Later we redid Stars so it would fit in with the sound of the "Sun & Moon " album and then Louie Vega did a mix of it. That has to be one of my career highlights. I heard that he took to the song right away when Maurice played it for him. I'm big on MAW, Nu Yorican Soul and all that they do. Stars has given me so much. I'm going to write a Suite and include all the versions of it when I do. We are doing another version of it for the Tauriva album.

You've mentioned Stevie Wonder as being an influence. He has always been staunchly political. Do you feel that music is a great medium to express the way you feel about the world around you?

I myself tend to keep some aspects of the world outside of my writing, but not on purpose. I respect Donnie and India for being inspired in that way, it's just not what comes through in my writing sometimes. I do miss the era of music when political commentary and a close view of the world was prevalent in music. I thought that it was interesting to hear the new Burt Bacharach album, which is completely a harsh look at the modern world and the political figures that dominate it. He has gone through much of his life with songs of love, as have I. I plan to produce more artists whose inspiration chooses them for such work, as I did With Eugene Russell IV.

Who do you think is making a unique contribution to music at the moment? Why?

I do think there are great contributions being made in music right now by many people. I like Tortured Soul for the Live DJ effect, much like Tria Di Luna. I really love the Schema record label too. Love them!!! I think Anthony David's acoustic shows are dynamite and healing. I love John Mayer for his new Trio album, which is a great testament to the guitar trio.

Where do you see yourself and/or the ensemble in the foreseeable future?

It is hard to say where Jiva is going, but I have my dreams of course. I would like to see each member fulfill their own goals.. With that I understand that the band will change at times, or maybe stay consistent, who knows? I want to do a Symphonic record in the future. I want to do an album and get into healing with music as well as lyrics in various languages. I'm optimistic there will be more Mantras on the next album.

What is the best and worst thing about Atlanta?

The best thing about Atlanta for me is the gathering of artists and the family we have all become to one another. I recognize that it is not all the time in history that it comes together like this. It's like a renaissance really, The Atlanta Renaissance!!! I realize that this will be this way only for a small time in history and I'm blessed to be a part of this gathering in this era of the world. The worst thing about Atlanta is that it has become so crowded. It's a different city, but we are still here. The summers are rough too! Not much bad to say about it though, Atlanta has been kind to me!

What trait do you most admire in others?

I admire courage in other people and extreme kindness. All the traits you would find in ML King or Ghandi. Selflessness always humbles me. My parents believe in me so much and get so happy when I do well it really overwhelms me like my own dreams are just as important as their own.

Given the accelerated pace of modern culture, what are we due for a revival in?

Like the revival of simplicity such as the Norah Jones album, or the way that John Legend won so many people with Ordinary People. I think that in an age where there is so much shouting and yelling and clutter, I like it when someone comes along with the purity of simple music and minimal instrumentation and it blows us away. It's like good television, or when the movie Lost In Translation came out. It is so simply beautiful that it wins our hearts in an era where there is such unnecessary complexity. I love this movement. I may do such an album under my own name, probably a Bossa album.

Anything else we should know?

We should know that times are wonderful and sad at the same time. Let's make those who are sad happier and times will be all the better. Love is still the law of heaven & earth, not money or these damn politicians.

www.myspace.com/jivaonline The fantastic Jiva debut album "Sun & Moon" is out now on Expansion and available through all good record dealers.

Marc Kets, Feb 2006

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