Back to the beginning with Djosa

Being a producer, musician and studio manager made Jasper aka Djosa look at the music industry from a different point of view. We talked with him about his musical journey from when it all just started for him up until now.

Interview & photography by Brendan Reterink
Editing by Casper Janssen

I grew up in Rotterdam, and that’s also where my musical journey started. I was always very interested in what was happening in and around the city – Rotterdam always was, and I think still is, a playground because in a cultural way it has a lot to offer. I discovered different music styles and came in contact with different kinds of people. It went from Punk to Hip Hop in a very short period.

I always played the guitar, I really enjoyed that. And for me, it all started when I heard the album of D’Angelo for the first time, Voodoo. I heard some of his music before, but Voodoo opened up my mind – I wanted to be just like D’Angelo. I wanted to make that kind of music. The first two years I tried to copy him, of course. I started to play in some bands and at some point, I started to play in a band called Moxi, a band that consisted of many Cape Verdean musicians from Rotterdam. A lot of Cape Verdean’s live in Rotterdam and they have a rich musical heritage. That band [Moxi] became the backing band of many Cape Verdean pop acts. Niels [Arp Frique] was also part of the band, I invited him – I knew he was a very good guitarist. I invited him to jam with the band and after a few months we were asked to back Johnny Ramos – he is an R&B star who made music in Cape Verde. That is where our artist and producer names originated. Our names are Jasper and Niels and the rest of the people were Cape Verdean, so they were like: “It’s cool you play with us, but we can’t call you Jasper and Niels on stage.” And they made up Cape Verdean names for us. Jasper became Djosa and Niels became Nelson. And that’s when we became producer duo Nelson and Djosa.

We started to make our own music and I came across Ntjam Rosie, she lived in Rotterdam. We made a demo, together with Gery Mendes (GMB) – it had a bit of a neo-soul vibe, but the music we made was more electronic and experimental to be called neo-soul at that time. It caught the attention of the guys from Appelsap, who have their festival here. They worked with Nalden, he was a known blogger – they started a label together, Apple Tree Records and they got their hands on that new demo which resulted in us making a deal that we were going to produce a Ntjam Rosie album for the label. So that’s how we rolled into the music industry.

After that, we did several projects for different artists – it was mostly in the Jazz/Soul genre, but we wanted to do Funk, Rock and danceable stuff. After working with different artists for a while, we decided to only do our own projects. So we approached Ronald Snijders, Ronald is a friend of ours and also someone we look up to. He’s a Surinam-Dutch Jazz flautist – he’s somewhere in his 60’s right now. We knew his earlier work – we are huge fans of 70’s music. My golden era of music is ’76 till ’82, that’s my sweet spot. We discovered his music, and it was super special for a Dutch Jazz flautist something like this existed. We wanted to do something with that – it was a really good international sound. He already worked with us on other projects, and we asked him if we were able to make music based on his older records and make a new record out of it. We asked international artists to join as well – we invited Azymuth, Bassekou Kouyaté and more artists. This eventually turned out into a really cool record. V2 released it and Rush Hour distributed it.

In the meanwhile, I started working for Red Bull Studios. In the very beginning, it was a completely different studio than what it is now. Because I spend a lot of time in the studio as a producer, I found the studio side very interesting as well. I always believed the studio had more potential than it had at that moment, so together with Red Bull, we brought the studio to a new level. It went from an ennobled practice room to a high-end studio. That’s also something I liked to do. Being able to work with talent and with the brand – the marketing side of the business.

At some point, Niels decided to profile himself as an artist. He had an idea and started to work it out in our studio. When I heard it for the first time, I wasn’t really sure if this was going to work out. When it was finished, I realized what he was trying to do – creating a world inspired by old funk music and diaspora, a combination of our lives in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and all the people we’ve met over the years. It turned out it worked really well live on stage. We did a lot of shows and that was his journey to some kind of artistry.

My journey started later – about two years ago. I was on the roll, but then COVID happened, so everything is on hold right now. I started with a small release on Super Sonic Jazz’s compilation Super Sonic Family. And I’m also working on a new project that’s more inspired by Brazilian music.

You’ve been making music together for a while now. How much do your solo projects differentiate from each other?

There’s a big difference in sound and that’s what I try to achieve. We made music together for a long time and never really did stuff separately. When I started to do solo projects as well, it was a whole new journey for me – what’s the music that I want to share with the rest of the world? The hardest part of that was that I have a very wide music taste – there isn’t one genre that I’m fully committed to. That can be a blessing or a curse. It took me about two years before I discovered my own sound. I always was very interested in making danceable music, without it being dance music – that’s what I find exciting. Stuff you can’t really place in a genre, that’s sexy! Another condition that I hold in mind when making music is that it has to have some kind of escapism – that’s something that Niels and I clearly share. With him, it’s an obvious kind of escapism to a tropical place and in my music, it’s more abstract. My latest release brings you more into a botanical vibe, but it’s also a trip to space.

“I always was very interested in making danceable music, without it being dance music – that’s what I find exciting. Stuff you can’t really place in a genre, that’s sexy!”

Is the kind of sound something you think about in advance when you’re making a track?

I think so – when you’re making different styles of music it can be hard if you don’t make restrictions for yourself. I always try to begin with an idea of a vibe that I try to set with some terms – it has to be uptempo because it has to suit this EP or it has to have a warm analogue sound for example. Not everyone does that, but it works for me. Otherwise, I might end up with a Country Rock track or something. And those are terms I give to my own productions, but also when I work with other artists. What I do at Red Bull is an extension of that. From a marketing point of view, it’s also important to look at the positioning of the music – but that’s something that is applicable for all layers of the music industry, from the marketing to the producer. Who are we making this for? And is this person translating it to a sound as the artist itself, who’s choosing a particular sound? It’s not only for commercial purposes, but it can also help in your creative process. And we noticed it ourselves as well, our first album Ntjam Rosie was a random collection of everything but her second album had an idea behind it.

How did you experience music during the COVID period?

I want to say it has been a period of melancholy, but also kind of healing – I believe the world needed a healing factor. I didn’t really search for new music but looked back into my own collection instead. I needed some feel-good music, something that brought me back to a place when everything was better. I rediscovered some songs and thought: “Wow, I forgot how good this actually was.”

Djosa curated a Spotify playlist that inspired his upcoming release. Check it out below.