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Jana Herzen Burns the Scene with Motéma Label and New Album, Soup's On Fire
By Tom Terrell
(more articles from this author)
2003-10-06
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"It's those dreams we've been resisting/That could change the life we're living/If we'd only learn to give in ... and Have A Little Faith."

Jana Herzen: Break it down: Voice: mellifluous contralto, jazzy phrasing, bluesy tonalities. Lyrics: poetical/emotional/mystical/imagistic. Music: Soup's On Fire! – melodically ethereal, rhythmically sensuous, harmonically Afro-listic. Her instruments: guitar, bass, kalimba, percussion and didjeridu.

MP3: Runaway Train (Soup's on Fire)

As a composer, producer and founder of the much talked about new artist-driven label, Motéma (www.motema.com), Jana Herzen is a keeper of visions. "My music is hard to categorize, but it's what I do." Even as a teen, Jana put her own spin on a tune. "I'm basically a song stylist, writing and recording my own material. The label is just an outgrowth of that musical urge. What's great is being able to help get some other very cool musicians out there in the process."

In existence as a production company since '97, the Motéma imprint began making waves this year. The genesis of this current splash was a decision to sign master jazz drummer/percussionist, Babatunde Lea, whose powerful rhythms had been driving her band since 2001. "We came up with the idea for a kind of DIY/major label fusion." They reached out to Manager/Producer Suzi Reynolds, and two months later, Lea's new Motéma release, Soul Pools, was in the can, complete with Jana's sultry blues performance on her tune, 'Round the World'. Herzen, Lea and Reynolds left soon after for MIDEM and landed international distribution for the fledgling label.

"That trip to France really forged Motéma," says Herzen. "We established a tight bond with Suzi, (now V.P. of A&R) which led to signing piano master Lynne Arriale. Legendary agent, Gaby Kleinschmidt, saw Tunde perform with Lynne's trio at MIDEM and signed both artists to her roster." Soul Pools hit #22 on Jazz Week's Radio chart, garnered international critical praise and was followed by Arriale's Arise, which hit #1 on Jazz Week and an astounding #17 on Billboard. Word of Motéma's success spread quickly, with JAZZIZ devoting considerable space to all three releases, Soul Pools, Arise and Soup's On Fire in its March World issue. "Lynne and Tunde are consummate artists. It's entirely fulfilling to work with them both as Executive Producer and fellow performer," says Herzen.

MP3
Ma Banza - Sweet World

Soup's On Fire's jazzy Afro-funk-alt-pop-fusion is right on time for an ever-growing, multi-culti mass of listeners weaned on Santana, Sting, Salif Keito, Prince, Miles Davis, and Joni Mitchell, now hungry for the genre bending styles of newcomers like Norah Jones.

Add "visionary -gatherer -of -talent -on -the -Duke -Miles -Prince -level" to Jana's trades list. Her Co-Producer, Shaka-Ra Mutela, is known internationally as the writer of Santana's Supernatural hit, Yaleo, and long time collaborator of Afro-pop mainstays Papa Wemba & Ray Lema. As arranger and multi-instrumentalist on eight of Soup's ten diverse tracks, Shaka-Ra shows sizeable compositional skills on "Ya Que les Anges," "Time To Remember," "Ma Banza" and "The Man In The Moon." Also featured are master guitarist Peter Fujii, who co-writes, arranges and plays on the anthemic, "Sweet World"; talking drummer Sikeru Adepoju, known as the late great Babatunde Olatunji's right hand man; legendary San Francisco Bay area drummers Celso Alberty (Aierto, Flora Purim...), Deszon Claiborne (Alphabet Soup, Charles Brown...) and saxophonist Nick Phelps, known for his work with Tom Waits.

Herzen counts Waits, along with Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Suzanne Vega, Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon among her songwriting heroes. Soup is all of the above yet something else again.

More on Jana Herzen
* Genre: jazzy Afro-funk-alt-pop-fusion
* Website: www.motema.com
* Buy "Soup's On Fire!"
Label: Motéma Music
* Contact Jana Herzen & Motéma

"What a long, strange trip it's been." Grateful Dead

Born to parents Leonore and Leonard Herzenberg, (world renown immunologists, who now run a 'Mom & Pop' research lab at Stanford University), Jana's childhood home was an atelier for international visitors where ideas about science, art, music and politics were passionately argued over lively dinners. The late '60's added anti-war meetings where Jana mesmerized Moms' anti-war peeps, playing and singing tunes by Dylan, Guthrie, Doc Watson, Simon & Garfunkle, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Beatles, Stones, The Doors, Pink Floyd... the beat goes on.

MP3
Jungle O'Luv - Y'a que les Anges

Following passions for theater and music, Jana spent a post high school year in London singing in folk clubs, studying voice, acting with National Theater and Covent Garden performers and working Top West End Theater rehearsals as a lighting design intern. Returning to the states, she tried shaking the theater bug, studying chemistry, calculus and computer programming by day at Stanford University, but her double life as an opera/ballet production manager by night kept it alive. She moved to the big Apple and degreed in drama at NYU. In 1984, along with six classmates and actor/teacher Robert Lupone, she formed the Manhattan Class Company theatre group, launching the career of Marissa Tomei in "Beirut" and later producing the Pulitzer Prize winning "WIT.." Jana served with MCC for ten years.

"My experience as an actress, director and script doctor at MCC very much informs my current life as a songwriter and record exec. Both companies were conceived to foster the growth of vital projects by creating a fertile and supportive environment for the creative process," says Herzen.

In early '91, a series of events sent Jana on a musical mystery tour. She performed at a Japanese Naval base, explored gamelan music/culture in Bali, recorded demos with Aussie band "Men At Work" and developed a passion for didjeridu. Jams with the pan-African band, Tingoma, plunged her deep into poly-rhythms, and she narrowly escaped death visiting rainforest hideaways on an Outback stay with an Aboriginal family. "I almost stayed in OZ," she recalls, "but ultimately felt it was too far off my track."

MP3: Your Secrets are Safe with Me

"He who feels it, knows it."

Changed and inspired, she re-settled in the San Francisco Bay area, where she still lives, and earnestly began recording her music with producer & Santana bassist, Myron Dove, a process cut short by his touring commitments with Santana. Moving to Santa Cruz in '92, Jana became a fixture of the thriving underground folk, African and reggae scenes. Her new Congolese family put her in touch with Shaka-Ra Mutela in '94 and he soon became, producer, collaborator, band-mate and managerial client. For three years, they recorded Soup. Adventures ensued in Paris, Zaire, New York and San Francisco, with Jana managing and performing extensively with his band, "The World Pop Machine," most notably at a command performance for Nelson Mandela at the Paris Chamber of Congress. In '97, she went solo, establishing her own band in San Francisco and eventually self-producing the remainder of her album.

2003 has been a landmark year for Jana Herzen and Motéma; a profile in Jazziz Magazine's July 'Women In Jazz' Issue, several articles in Billboard and Soup's On Fire just now hitting the stores. Best news of all -- Jana's first national tour in the making. What to expect? "I want people to walk away just totally inspired," she smiles. "I want them to think about a few new things. I want their brains, bodies and spirits to be engaged. Music transforms all the molecules in the room. That's what I like about performing." Spread the word.


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