Jama&W are a hip-hop duo based in Vilnius. They are made up of Rokas Grajauskas-Jama (vocals) and Arūnas Blažys-W (guitar). They usually play their shows with a live band which consists of brass instruments, a bass and drums.
Jama&W are also known for their musical improvisations which often include Jama asking their audience for a topic, and then freestyling with it.
They wrapped up their two hour show at Loftas in Vilnius alongside Kontrabanda, the legendary Lithuanian blues band fronted by Jama’s father Gintaras Grajauskas, with an energetic reggae singalong between the two bands.
Afterwards, Jama&W agreed to answer few questions for Music Export Fund.
Music Export Fund: What do you do besides making music?
Jama: I work as a sports commenter – I do NBA games and football matches. I just live. I like beer too.
W: I tour Lithuania with a choir. I also dig about in my garden – the soil needs recycling.
Jama: You make audio recordings of that too! [laughs]
MXF: A lot of Lithuanian bands choose to perform their songs in English except hip-hop artists who almost exclusively write their lyrics in Lithuanian – why is that?
W: We have experimented with language – we had a few shows in Lancaster in the UK and in Oslo in Norway. We also played for some foreign audiences in jam sessions. However, I don’t think it matters if you play music in Lithuania or somewhere else – music is a universal language and if you write from the bottom of your heart, it doesn’t really matter what language you use. The audience will feel the vibe and that is the most important thing.
Jama: We choose to write in Lithuanian because most of our music comes from freestyling which is better done in a native language – my thoughts are in my language, and it’s more natural to rap this way. On the other hand, we are thinking of recording our music in more than just Lithuanian or English – we have an idea of an album which will have a variety of languages. We already have one song featuring vocals by a Brazilian singer – she sings in Portuguese and we are thinking of doing songs that are in Spanish, and even in Russian. We ourselves will sing in English. A few songs are finished already, but it’s not enough. We’ll let people know when it’s done.
MXF: What do you think of the Lithuanian music industry and the country’s upcoming bands?
Jama: When Romas Kalanta set himself alight in 1972 in Kaunas as a protest against the Soviet regime, the KGB began to spy on musicians; people with long hair and hippies, so it left a hole in Lithuanian music culture during the ‘70s. For example, ‘60s Lithuanian music is mind-blowing – take Aitvarai for example: those voice harmonies and folklore motives are incredible. Unfortunately, everything was banned later. Now it’s been awhile since we regained our independence and we have a generation of young people who grew up with free, open, uncontrolled minds so it’s only logical that non-standard musicians are popping up with interesting and high quality music.
MXF: Why do you choose to perform with a live band instead of sample based music played on a computer?
W: we started playing together with me jamming on my acoustic guitar and Jama freestyling on top of it. It’s been a natural progression of that ever since – we tried different set-ups of musicians and whatnot.
MXF: How did your band become popular, and how did you find your audience?
Jama: We didn’t do anything special – it all came naturally. We didn’t see any point in trying to force ourselves into popularity. The audience found us themselves.
W: We also toured a lot – we did two tours throughout the country. We have played a lot.
Jama: Yeah, the number of shows we did is huge, so we have some experience. We know what to do when something goes wrong or it doesn’t go the way we planned.
W: We even did a show where only two people showed up. They liked the show we did the previous day, so they followed us from their town.
MXF: Are you thinking of making yourself more popular outside of Lithuania?
Jama: Yeah, I think our music would appeal to listeners outside our country. It would reach a specific audience – the people who like jazzy, rock-y hip-hop played by a live band. There’s no want for this kind of music here. What is really cool though, is that I have talked with a Latvian guy who said it’s weird that in Lithuania all the bands play live music. In Latvia they choose DJ’s instead of live musicians. Here it is the other way. I am proud of that.
Jama&W official Facebook: www.facebook.com/jama.w
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Buy Jama&W’s music HERE: itunes.apple.com/gb/album/gilumon/id916091597