Remembering Jinja Safari – a Fangirl’s Perspective

I fell unequivocally in love when I stumbled on Jinja Safari as a bored teenager on YouTube, watching a live performance of arguably their most popular single ‘Mermaids’. At the time, their delightfully cheerful Aussie-indie and Afro-pop vibes seemed so far away – I was a student in Singapore, and they weren’t nearly as popular in South East Asia as I would have hoped. So I packed away my dreams of ever seeing them live and wistfully watched their live gigs online.

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But then I moved to Melbourne for university, and everything changed.

During the second week of my first semester, I heard that Jinja Safari was performing in the city – this would be their first tour in two years, so I needed to go see them. It wasn’t difficult to convince my friends to come along – tickets were an absolute steal at $28 each, and, after listening to a couple of their songs, my friends were sold.

The memory of that night will stay golden in my mind, and I’m glad I have pictures and videos to prove I saw them live, because only four months and one festival gig later, the band announced they were calling it quits.

The concert was at Howler, an eclectic arts hub in Brunswick, and the beautiful space was masqueraded as an old warehouse. My friends and I ordered a couple of drinks at the relaxing garden bar before entering the theatre. The venue could not have been better, as the intimacy and chill vibes were actually reflective of the band’s sound.

The key appeal of Jinja Safari’s music has to be their rhythm. Their songs make use of a variety of instruments, ranging from the conventional to the not-so-conventional – bongos, sitars, mandolins and flutes. These diverse elements are exactly what make the band so different; by taking elements from different parts of the world like Africa and India, they bypass the simple indie pop-rock genre and instead, end up with a unique sound that bursts with positive energy.

The band’s energy was absolutely infectious.

Co-frontman Pepa Knight doesn’t just play instruments – he hurls himself through space with them. Impressively, he actually had his own set of drumsticks, which he oftentimes did not even use with a drum. Marcus Azon’s catchy vocals rooted the band’s unique sound, making it slightly more accessible. Azon and Knight were actually the pioneers of the band, and were quite clearly the frontmen and responsible for most of the song writing.

As the concert neared its end, the band called up their support team, who joined them in a mini-dance party on stage.

Giddy with glee, I finally got to see one of my favourite bands live, and they had not disappointed at all – I bought a Jinja Safari band tee (collecting band t-shirts was a rather expensive habit I had developed over my avid concert-going teen years) and allowed myself to be herded out of the theatre by some rather fierce-looking bouncers, dressed entirely in black.

Steeling myself for disappointment, I approached the burly bouncer standing in front of the door cautiously, and asked if the band was signing shirts. He gave my friend and I a quick once-over, and cracked open the door behind him, tilting his head toward the room behind him. “Quickly!” he warned.

Gushing my thanks, I slipped into the room, expecting a huge crowd of fans getting their merchandise signed, but I was surprised to find that I was the only concert goer in the room. I looked around and noticed Pepa Knight packing up by the stage, looking like an indie god (and also a little like Jesus, to be perfectly honest).

He was friendly as I approached him meekly, asking if he could sign my shirt.

This was my chance – the moment my 15-year-old self had dreamed of forever. “You guys are awesome,” I blurted, gazing up at tall and lanky Knight. He smiled kindly and I took that as an invitation to keep speaking. “It’s so wild to finally see you live – I’ve been listening to you for years, and I’m from Singapore and I can’t believe I managed to catch you!”

To his credit, Knight seemed genuinely surprised. “That’s so awesome, I’m surprised people in Asia even listen to our stuff!”

“Oh yeah totally!” I assured him. “I really l love how you play the sitar, it’s so cool for me because of my Indian background, and seeing someone use that instrument in modern music is awesome.” Knight was actually pretty shy at this point: “Oh really? I picked it up travelling in India, I always thought all the locals thought I was terrible,” he said modestly. I shook my head vigorously, reassuring him that he was amazing, and asked for a picture before I could forget.

From all their music, I always imagined Pepa Knight to be a very otherworldly character, but he was incredibly down to earth. Pepa called out all the other band members to sign my shirt as well, and I stood awestruck as the other band members came around, asking for my name as they signed.

We finally left The Howler, calling for an uber, and my friend Nadine, an international student from the Netherlands, shook her head, awestruck. I smiled at her knowingly, and playfully asked if she was glad I introduced her to the band. “That was so much energy! I felt like the music was inside me; I felt the bongos in my soul,” she laughed.

She may have been joking, but she hit the nail on it’s head with that comment – Jinja Safari’s rhythmic music has a way of seeping into your body; it’s almost impossible to avoid moving to the beat when they play.

One of the main reasons watching the band play was so amazing was the sheer amount of fun they were having; there is nothing as incredible as watching people do what they love. It is heart-breaking that they are no longer together, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that they’ve made some incredible music, and the band’s unique sound will never die as long as people keep listening. That’s the key appeal of music, at least to me.

Meanwhile, most band members have begun to focus on their personal projects: Pepa Knight is re-focusing on his solo career, uploading new singles and covers on his Youtube channel whilst Marcus Azon has started an organic t-shirt business with his sister called AZON Apparel, as well as having some other music collaborations in the works. Even seemingly silent drummer, Jacob Borg, has begun releasing his own music under the name ‘Berlin Bar Hounds’ on soundcloud.

Jinja Safari may not have been incredibly famous, nor did they dominate the airwaves, but they had a loyal following, and their fans will miss them.

You can still buy Jinja Safari’s songs on iTunes or listen to them on Spotify.

Originally written 17 June 2016
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