By Dorin Grunwald
Inventing a news musical genre isn’t easy. But Toronto indie band Blaxäm is trying to do just that, with a new sound they call blue groove.
“The music has defined itself,” says JK, the band’s bass player. “We just needed a name for it.”
To classify Blaxäm’s blue groove as a mix of jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and funk is inadequate, but it’s the only way to describe the music.
Keyboardist Washington Savage and vocalist Tuku formed Blaxäm four years ago. It has since evolved into a seven-member band, including bassist JK, guitarist Adrian Eccelston, drummer Sekou Lumumba, and vocalists Saidah Talibah and Shannon Maracle.
While their new style has made them distinctive, it has also been the band’s Achilles’ heel. Canadian music companies have shied away from signing the septet to a contract. “They don’t believe there’s a market for [blue groove] in Canada,” says JK.
There is a market in Canada for what Blaxäm members sarcastically refer as “Moist Mother Peace,” the kind of sound made by the three nationally successful bands Moist, I Mother Earth and Our Lady Peace. Industry heads are wary to invest in anything beyond this homogenous Canadian music, says the band.
The members of Blaxäm, however, won’t wait for Canada to change. They are focusing their energy on landing a non-Canadian record deal. “I’d like the perception of what Canadian music is to change, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to do,” JK says. “But we might have to do it outside of Canada first.”
Tuku, one of the lead vocalists, says the Canadian music industry promotes homegrown artists only after foreign markets have accepted them.
“[Industry folk] don’t tend to believe in you until everybody else believes in you,” she says.
JK compares Blaxäm’s predicament to that of Giles Patterson, who took music from the vaults of American jazz label Blue Note and remixed it, creating a style of music he called acid jazz.
“If you went into HMV five years ago, there was no place to put this stuff [acid jazz],” JK says. “If you go into HMV now, there’s an entire section dedicate to that type of music. That’s what we’re going to have to do.”