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Photo by Jean-Claude Batista.

Third time’s the charm for Souljazz Orchestra

By Maria-Helena Pacelli on March 2, 2016

The last time we wrote about Souljazz Orchestra they were getting ready to take their latest release on an international tour. While they have quite a following in Ottawa, their fanbase reaches around the world. With a diverse and eclectic set of influences and sounds, and a worldwide audience, it’s no surprise that they would be nominated for World Music Album of the Year at the upcoming Juno Awards.

The band is already working on their next album that promises a mix of 1980s sounds, North American disco, boogie, R&B, early hip hop and what they’re calling “tropical styles”. Lead singer Pierre Chrétien says many people in their scene have been “overlooking a lot of gems from the last thirty years or so, but there’s some brilliant stuff out there.”

While we sit on the edge of our seats waiting for the next release, Pierre took some time to speak with Apt613 about how the band reacted to their third Juno nomination.

Can you tell us about the direction the band has taken in your most recent album?

Our latest album, Resistance, is probably the most uptempo, hard-driving, dancefloor-oriented album we’ve put out so far…  We were inspired by a lot of newer tropical discothèque sounds, most notably ones coming out of Francophone Africa (coupé-décalé, zouglou, ndombolo) and the French Caribbean (compas, cadence, zouk).  It’s also our first bilingual French/English album, and it really showcases the vocalists in the group.

What was it like for Souljazz to find out you were nominated for a Juno?

We make music because it’s our calling, our absolute passion, because we couldn’t *not* play music…

We feel that it’s an honour, and we’re grateful to get some recognition from the Canadian mainstream music establishment.

Our explicit goals never included winning a Juno.  It would be nice, but we never deliberately went into music in order to win a Juno award.  Our goals are to make the best music we can, record the best albums we can, and perform, reaching as many people as possible, and hopefully make a positive difference, however minimal, in their lives.

This is our third Juno nomination, although we’ve never won one!  So when we found out, we all felt like, “Ah, here we go again!”  The first time was in 2011, Rising Sun was nominated for Instrumental Album of the Year, and we were on tour in Europe at the time of the ceremony, so we couldn’t attend.  I remember us sitting at the Jazz Café in London the night they were giving away the awards, all bummed out because we didn’t get it!  Then, in 2013, Solidarity was up for World Music Album of the Year.  That year, it was happening in Regina, and we did make the trip out, but we didn’t end up winning then either, and it felt somehow worse because we made the whole trip down just for that.  (We did get to hang out with Maestro Fresh Wes, so that kinda made up for it!)  So let’s hope the third time’s a charm!

What was the first thing you did when you found out?

I found out live on CTV, so I made sure to email everyone in the band to make sure they knew.  Lotsa “woohoos” goin’ round that conversation!  Then I called my parents – they sounded all bummed out and I couldn’t figure out why. They knew the Juno people would announce the nominees, so on the day of the announcement, they checked the Juno website to see who was nominated.  However, when they checked, the website had not yet been updated, and the information on the website was that of the previous year, 2015.  So they were kinda bummed out when they didn’t see our name there.  I had to let them know the website hadn’t been updated, and that you had to watch the live press release on TV to get the straight info.

What’s next for The Souljazz Orchestra?

We make music because it’s our calling, our absolute passion, because we couldn’t *not* play music…  We want to create beautiful, unique, artful music, and have people hear it and enjoy it.  So no, it wasn’t a conscious goal, we didn’t get together before the last album and say, “Let’s write the kind of album that’ll get us a Juno.”  But, that being said, it is really nice to be recognized for all the work we do put into this.

We have some amazing tours coming up.  We’ll be playing our first concert on African soil in May, we play L’Émoi du Jazz festival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.  Strangely enough, with the Ivorian influences within our last album, we’ve developed a small but strong following over there…  We’re so stoked about this one, it’s a dream come true really.

Then, in June, we take off for Europe, for another month-long tour over there.  We’ll be playing some really dope places too: the Fusion or “Фузион” Festival in ex-East Germany, a huge avant-gardist festival that plays up the area’s former Soviet ties; the Kelburn Garden Party on Scotland’s West Coast, set on the grounds of a 13th century castle; the Galway Arts Festival in Ireland, an Irish institution and another big one; and then more in France, Italy, and other places, not everything’s confirmed yet.

Zak and I in the group also started up a new side project, the Atlantis Jazz Ensemble, along with top jazz musicians from the Ottawa area.  We’ve just finished recording our debut album, Oceanic Suite, a seven-part spiritual-jazz concept album depicting the sea and other oceanic themes.  Sounds out there, but it’s a beautiful record, could almost be some lost album by Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock or Mulatu Astatke…  We’re putting it out on our own Ottawa-based label, Marlow Records.  The album comes out officially on Friday April 15th in vinyl LP, CD and digital formats, and we’ll be having album release party at the Mercury Lounge on Saturday April 30th, joined by DJ Trevor Walker.

How would things change if you won the Juno this time?

Hopefully it would mean a little more recognition here at home in Canada, and it would lead to more performance opportunities here.  We tour a lot in Europe and elsewhere internationally, I think because we get more exposure outside of Canada.  In Europe, for example, mainstream radio plays more than the strict pop/rock music, there are plenty of mainstream stations that spin soul, jazz, funk, hip-hop, afro and latin stuff on a regular basis…  Here, it’s harder for these styles to get widespread recognition, because the infrastructure just isn’t there.

How have you been handling the winter?

Aaahhh…  I’ve gotta say, it’s been a crappy winter so far, huh?  Not cold enough to actually be able to get out there and enjoy it, but still cold enough that it’s miserable – not a big fan of these freezing rain and slush winters…

The Juno Awards will be aired on Sunday, April 3 on CTV. You can find The Souljazz Orchestra on their website and on Facebook.    The Atlantic Jazz Ensemble is on Facebook. You can also learn about Marlow Records on their website or on Facebook.