7 Questions with Jah Tung
If forced to be confined to one genre Jah Tung would fit nicely into the realms of Reggae. However, as a lover of all music with a vast array of influences from many genres, his style cannot be so easily categorised. Earlier this year Jah Tung released the Soul Food EP which highlights the connections between Reggae, Hip Hop, Soul, and R’n’B. He has recently found a place within the Sydney Hip Hop community working on stage and in the studio with some well known artists including L-FRESH the Lion, Matuse, Mirrah, Nate Wade, Soul Benefits, Empress MC, Lee Monroe x Ello C and many more. Get to know Jah Tung more closely as we discuss his upbringing, his reflections on Sydney’s music scene after a brief stint overseas, and his part in the controversial Sydney vs. Everybody movement.
What is your cultural background? Where did you grow up? And how do you feel these two things have influenced the music that you make?
"My family has a very mixed heritage, including German, Polish, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, English etc. but also has a history of at least 4 generations in India, so the culture of my family is very much Indian. I am of the first generation in my family to be Australian born and I grew up in Western Sydney, in Bankstown.
Perhaps having a cultural background that is atypical or contrasted to my appearance has led me to let go of the physical limitations and expectations and search deeper within myself, aligning with a more relevant message, sound and overall energy and vibe. Growing up in the working class suburbs of Bankstown, which is commonly regarded as one of Sydney’s ghettos, I witnessed cultural and social struggles of minorities from a young age, developing a strong appreciation and passion for cultural diversity and spiritual liberation as a youth. This supports my resonance with reggae music and the Rastafari consciousness and spirituality, 2 separate but interdependent movements that express unconditional Love and Oneness as the primary concern."
For those who may not have heard of you, how would you describe your style of music and who are your main influences?
"From a youth when I was passionate about dancing, my biggest inspiration was the legendary Michael Jackson. As I began to learn instruments and discovered my ability to sing, my influences switched to the raw, acoustic, easy-listening vibes of blues and roots artists like Jack Johnson, Ben Harper and Xavier Rudd. When I discovered reggae at the age of 15, my voice began to forge its own path and to style it’s own sound, combining characteristics inherited from previous beacons of guidance.
Now, I use reggae music to highlight the connections between a variety of genres (which have ironically stemmed from reggae and its roots throughout history) such as soul, hip hop, blues and dub.
Currently, but subject to change, my main influences are Midnite, Protoje, Damian Marley, Chronixx, Gentleman and Michael Jackson."
Explain for us the significance of the name you use and what it means to you.
1. A term for God or "the creative energy force", stemming from the Hebrew title Yahweh/Yah (as in "hallelujah").
2. A common prefix among Rastafari, signifying their commitment to following The Most High.
1. (Or "tongue") Referring to the gift of lyricism and vocal ability.
2. Tung oil from the Tung Oil Tree (Vernicia Fordii) in China is used for oil in lamps among many other purposes.
3. Tung-sten ("Heavy-stone" in Swedish) is a metallic element with a melting point of 3410° that is used in electric light filaments.
The title Jah Tung is an acknowledgement that the artist is merely a vessel whom The Most High has gifted and is using to speak through, to help shine His beacon of light and to fuel the fyah that burns within us all- the fyah of the soul! With that gift comes responsibility. The responsibility to glorify The Most High. To use this power of influence to unite and uplift the masses to a state of common consciousness and Oneness!"
How did you first get into Hip Hop and what was the song or artist that got you there?
"I have always had an appreciation for some hip hop, but I think it was around 2010 when I started getting into it properly after hearing some Biggie tracks that reminded me of my childhood. His distinguished flow and laid back charisma really gripped me. After buying a Notorious B.I.G Greatest Hits album and being questioned as to why I was “going the other way”, I was surprised when I was told to listen to Tupac- the guy who I constantly heard blaring out of “thugs” cars as a youth.
“No, no… Listen to him properly, like the way those posers pretended to be listening…”
So I did… need I say more?"
You just came back from an overseas trip. What places did you visit? How do you feel that your style of music was received there? And what was the live music scene like over there as opposed to Sydney?
"Initially, I had planned to holiday around Europe for 3 months, starting in Germany and making my way across Holland, France, Italy, Spain and even across to Morocco. But there are some things that can’t be planned! After my first 2 weeks in Hamburg and Berlin, I had already spontaneously done a few live shows, a radio show and recorded 3 tracks and a music video and quickly decided that it would be wiser and more beneficial to remain in Germany. With a large reggae scene, I was able to build networks and connections, performing for some of the biggest shows and crowds of my life, as well as recording an international album with heavyweight Berlin producer R2D2 from the Dirty Ragga Squad (album coming soon).
The music scene there was reflective of and interdependent upon the social and cultural awareness of the population: THRIVING! Wherever people are open minded, free thinking, socially active, culturally welcoming and spiritually sensitive, music will prosper in countless forms. As much as we like to think that Sydney is one of those places, we have a way to go. Australia is a relatively young country (as far as colonisation goes), and therefore has not yet experienced the social and communal issues that a lot of other Western countries faced many years ago. Such issues as the Indigenous rights struggle in Australia, would have been long since resolved in a place like Germany. The honest evaluation of these experiences and affairs are what allows for an understanding and appreciation for such devices as reggae music, a genre and movement that blossomed from amongst the same oppression and suffering as that which the Australian Indigenous community is currently under."
What was it like being involved in the Sydney vs Everybody project? And why do you think it caused such a controversy and attracted such negative feedback when it was intended as a unifying movement?
"The Sydney vs Everybody project was nothing but positivity from all angles- an inspiring and humbling experience to be invited to be part of such a movement, for such a cause. The responses to the project were in one way expected and in another, disheartening. Expected because, as identified by a viewer on YouTube, anytime someone in the Australian music scene tries to make a rise, somebody takes it personally and pulls them back- highlighting the tangibility of the “crab-in-a-bucket” mentality. Disheartening because the reason we came together was exactly that; not for ourselves, as individuals or a group, but to put Sydney on the map internationally, quelling any remnants of barriers that divide the elements. This cycles back to my response to the previous question- Sydney’s lack of open mindedness to social, cultural or spiritual differences and commonalities. It became obvious that, because it was representative of Sydney, or even Australia, people had expectations as to how it should sound, look, carry and be executed as well as the topics that should be discussed within the song.
People questioning the place of reggae in hip hop… (hip hop came from reggae. straight up)
People questioning the popularity or status of those involved… (hip hop started as a platform for the voiceless)
People questioning the ethnicity and spirituality of the artists… (relevance?)
People questioning the artists’ appearance or race vs their accent… (hip hop was originally formed as a tool to counter those very complexes…)
Just a few of the sad debates that really outlined the blatant ignorance that is rife in Sydney.
But to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, until people are no longer afraid to truly be themselves, they will continue to judge people and deny others that very right. They will continue to turn a positive into a negative.
As one of my song lyrics goes:
“When they just can’t categorise you, they start despise you; the price you pay to know yourself."
Who are your top 5 Hip Hop artists?
"In no particular order:
(can I include Erykah Badu? …ahh fine, technically she’s soul, I guess)