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EABS meets Jaubi - In Search of a Better Tomorrow (Interview Feature)

Lahore group Jaubi returns for their first long-play release with the next project from their series of collaborations - EABS meets Jaubi - out on 12 May 2023 on Astigmatic Records.

Collaborating with Wrocław-based jazz group EABS who are fresh from their '2061' album release last year, the new joint album 'In Search of a Better Tomorrow' brings together spiritual jazz from the roots of Hindustani ragas, Polish jazz, and hip hop. About finding new beginnings and overcoming trauma, the themes build on Jaubi's critically acclaimed ’Nafs At Peace’ album.

Released in 2021 featuring London multi-instrumentalist Tenderlonious and EABS' keys and synth player Marek “Latarnik” Pędziwiatr, that album explored Islamic philosophies by examining the journey of the self and embarking on a spiritual path from their struggles to finding peace.

Since then, there has been an ever-increasing demand to hear more from the Pakistani group after having early success with records like 'The Deconstructed Ego' and 'Lahore State of Mind'. Their approach to blending Indian classical music with Western music has made them a favourite of the scene over the last few years.

EABS draw inspiration from spiritual realms too, focusing a lot of their music on their Slavic roots, and have deconstructed Sun Ra's music on their third album too. With the album set against the backdrop of war and political crises affecting Poland and Pakistan, the theme of struggle is always present in these collaborations between the two groups.

"‘Nafs At Peace’ is more based on the Quran," Marek shares. "But when it came to the meeting with EABS, we had our own concepts based on the times we're living in, in the past, present, and the future of the world."

"In the ‘Slavic Spirits’ album, we explore our “Slavic melancholy” and the struggle our people went through in the past. It’s in our blood and we have to find a way to the new beginning to wash out this melancholy and trauma. So, I think it was easy for us to meet with Jaubi and form the concept of ‘In Search of a Better Tomorrow’."

"When you look at the vinyl, side A is ‘Yesterday’ and side B is ‘Tomorrow’. Side A is filled with darkness and Side B is the pure hope for a better tomorrow. One of the songs is called ‘Raise Your Hearts, Drop Your Guns’, and the final track is called simply ‘Sun’. ‘Sun’ is the hope of course and the motif also appeared in the previous EABS albums, greeting the sun and washing out your traumas."

The melody in ‘Raise Your Hearts, Drop Your Guns’ is touching, reflective, and the most calming piece from the album. It offers a moment to think about the turbulent times facing the countries both groups are from.

Poland is giving support to Ukraine in their war against Russia and has welcomed over 3 million refugees displaced by the war. Pakistan’s economy has been mismanaged and last year's devastating floods compounded the recovery.

The fallout from the no-confidence vote on former PM Imran Khan in April 2022 and the subsequent Toshakhana case filed against him has led to protests for new elections to happen, and the recent attempted arrest of Khan weeks ago incited further discontent.

The creation of this album though differed logistically from 'Nafs At Peace', with this time Jaubi visiting Kłodzko Valley near EABS base in Wrocław that would complete a return part of the journey.

"The vibe was great because we were in a mountain in Poland, just surrounded by nature and we would take breaks and see it all and it was really beautiful," says Jaubi's guitarist Ali Riaz Baqar. "The three of us in Jaubi had already formed a relationship with Marek and already had that bond. Then when we met the rest of the band in the studio, those guys are beasts of musicians."

"So within the first hour, I said to the guys “this is going to be a really special album”. I think the first day we did three songs, I can't remember but it was really quick."

'But the mission was to do it naturally with no pressure," Marek states. "It happened so fast crossing the barrier to finding the way to cooperate, it happened so naturally, and you can hear it." 'Judgement Day' offers a great glimpse into this bond between the groups, with the energy feverous and allowing for Zohaib Hassan Khan’s sarangi to sync spectacularly with the rhythm section before Olaf Wegier's ferocious saxophone solo.

The art of improvisation is a constant force during the whole album. The housey intro and outro feature a really hypnotic trumpet riff that gushes out from Jakub Kurek on 'People In Between' before the track opens up to deep grooves and offers some of the best solos heard on the record.

"I think improvisation is the truest form of expression," Ali believes. "It's very hard to improvise and it's taken me years to get to this stage. When you get to that technical ability, you actually have to forget what you've learned. Wherever you are, however, you feel in the moment or what you hear, that’s what you express. It’s not like I just pick up my instrument and just improvise in my head, there’s concepts I'm focusing on."

"I really emphasise certain notes and then I can gradually go into the Western jazz thing and add more notes. When I improvise, I'm trying to balance in my heart what I'm feeling with my mind." Marek shares a similar love for this aspect of their songwriting together. "These are the situations I love to be in."

"I love collective improvisation when people meet and they're creating some kind of circle and each and every one of these musicians is responsible for the music and has to take care of the music created inside this circle. When you're alone it's not that easy to get inspiration from other musicians and I need to get deep into myself to find this fire that comes out. The key to it is emotions, when I feel something, or I have some story in my mind."

"While we recorded with Jaubi, there was also this concept of this spirit in the air, because we met together through a massive effort to get us together from Poland and Pakistan. The main inspiration was that we managed to meet and that fuelled our desire to improvise. I was so happy that it happened so after managing to meet, everything else will be easy. The music is a reward."

Making this collaboration happen has been years in the making and started with the 2019 visit of Marek and Tenderlonious to Lahore to record with Jaubi. It all happened from Astigmatic Records co-founder Łukasz Wojciechowski bringing the musicians together.

"Łukasz found some of Jaubi’s recordings one summer on SoundCloud." Marek remembers. "They were playing these traditional instruments but J Dilla stuff in their own way. It was not in a cheesy way doing hip hop beats, but it was all original Pakistani music. The melodies were from J Dilla’s original samples but on the traditional instruments and it was mind-blowing."

"As far as I know, Tenderlonious had a dream to record traditional music and had plans to go to India, but he didn’t know how to do it yet. But Łukasz said he knew these guys from Pakistan, so why not hook up with them? Łukasz asked if I wanted to go to Pakistan to record with Jaubi."

"I was shocked at first, but I listened to ‘The Deconstructed Ego’ and it was so beautiful and I would never imagine myself being in that kind of musical environment. So, we hooked up and that was the beginning of the journey. I was blown away by the new culture of music that I was dealing with."

With EABS originating from jam sessions at Puzzle Club in Wrocław playing hip hop samples together, Ali explains how hip hop has inspired and instructed his and Jaubi's playing. "I started with hip hop. From there, you discover where the samples were taken from and that just opens you to a whole new world."

"I like Western classical, Indian classical, jazz, R&B – anything that sounds good, I'll definitely try and steal it somehow. I don't really look at music in terms of genres. At the end of the day, it's all 12 notes. The thing that defines it is the rhythm."

"I really look for music that has a good emotional content to it. And with hip hop, it comes down to a loop that has to be so hypnotic you just want to keep hearing it and you don't get tired of it. And then you build layers and with Jaubi, the loop is really the melody and everything else revolves around that."

You can hear this approach in 'Madhuvanti' as the melody comes in and out of Khan’s sarangi and Kashif Ali Dhani's tabla increasing the tension and dynamics of the piece. 'Sun' is one of the standouts with a phat drumbeat that offers the two groups to loop around before Wegier explodes with a tantalising saxophone solo that rips hard.

The relationships formed from these collaborations allow us to find out more about different underground scenes around the world and what challenges there are in these places.

"I'm in Melbourne at the moment, and it's really open the scene and everyone's down to collaborate," Ali says. "Obviously everyone's got their own cliques and stuff but everyone's just really open to supporting each other, promoting each other's music, coming to gigs." Ali notes that the scene is culturally different in Lahore though.

"It's similar but there's not really a scene that much because it's a Muslim country. It’s quite elitist in the sense that music is actually not looked at as a favourable profession in Pakistan. People still do it but the guys in Jaubi come from generations of musicians. Zohaib is a seventh-generation sarangi player so he's continuing the tradition in his family."

"The Boiler Room broadcast in 2022 definitely helped showcase the old and upcoming artists, both modern and traditional players but they view the classical musicians in Pakistan as a dying breed. I shouldn't say no one but the younger crowd is not genuinely interested in listening to that because it's associated with a very old art form."

Marek expresses how more record labels need to support the scene in Poland. "In Wrocław, we have a strong underground scene not only in the jazz context but we have lots of artists making music on their own but definitely we need more labels to take care of them. We have young bands like Sneaky Jesus come from Wrocław but they found a record label in the UK, so it’s funny they founded the label outside of Poland."

"I'm in a different situation because I have my tribe with Astigmatic Records and EABS, the whole family which brings out new collaborations from inside the label. But not everyone has that opportunity to create those bonds."

With a European tour about to commence to celebrate ‘In Search of a Better Tomorrow’, the future is starting to look busy for both groups. For Marek, he shares details of other Astigmatic Records releases he's in the process of starting. "With Błoto, we recorded 400 minutes of improvised music so, we have lots of materials for the next year to come.

"I’ll be going into the flat of Tomasz Stańko, the Polish jazz trumpeter legend, with EABS. We are in contact with his daughter because Stańko passed away in recent years and we will record his material from the 70s, the album ‘Purple Sun’. I think Tomasz would be happy that we are bringing his music to the future."

For Jaubi fans, Ali reveals there shouldn't be too long a wait for the next record to be released. "Marek and I, Jaubi, Tenderlonious, Nick Walters, and Horatio Luna – we all went to Real World Studios in the UK the week after we recorded the EABS meets Jaubi album. We recorded the follow-up to ‘Nafs At Peace’ album but I'm not sure when that's coming out, probably next year."

"Jaubi is a family, we're always open to collaborating with whoever so I don't really try to plan too many things." Aligned with the Urdu meaning of their name, Jaubi's guiding principle of approaching their music with "whoever' or "whatever" they want to make is helping them to be one of the most innovative, contemporary spiritual instrumental groups around.

EABS' connection with Jaubi's sound makes ‘In Search of a Better Tomorrow’ one of the most absorbing, gripping albums of the year so far.


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