*Jahna Sebastian recently released an appetizer of an EP titled “The Edge of Love,” on which she approaches the delicate balance between love and hate in relationships; drawing from personal experiences and emotions, she’s created material that explores the transformation within relationships, while examining the path that precedes being at the “Edge.”
The music she makes is a reflection of her musical upbringing and the eventual fleeing of her native Russia, mixed with the influences of London and the love and pain she’s endured along the way.
Her recently released video, “One and a Million” is a perfect example of her resilience; the song is about having the power to break free and being motivated to make changes in your life. Of the song, she says, “I had a few times when I had to start over from scratch and in order to make it, instead of dwelling on that one way to lose, I chose to focus on finding all the ways to win. If one door is closed, many more are open. It is about the choices we make.”
See the video “One and a Million” and read EURweb’s exclusive interview with Jahna Sebastian:
EURweb: Your road to this point hasn’t been a fairy tale; tell me about your journey?
Jahna Sebastian: I was born in USSR and my mother was one of the very few brave women to have a mixed race child at that time due to complications of dating foreigners and the stigma attached to it. I grew up in Moscow and was the darkest person in most places I would go to. The 90’s were a wild, crazy time in Russia; the country was undergoing a transition from the ruins of the USSR into a modern state and the mafia rose to control everything. The mafia was ruthless and it seemed everyone was either in it, or associated with it.
I completed the last two years of school in one so that I could enter the university early. I passed the exams into Russian Academy of Music when I was sixteen completed the five-year program in four on a special request I made. My mother was diagnosed with cancer my first year and my dad had already left us the year before and I haven’t seen him since. During that time, I’m excelling in school , recording and performing with three bands playing reggae, hip hop and funk including the one I formed.
Some of my songs spoke against Neo-Nazism and racial discrimination, which was on the rise in Russia, and I began to attend protests and demonstrations. The Neo-Nazis were an organized ,well-financed movement which targeted anybody who didn’t look like a white Russian or who had an affiliation or relationship with another race. They were killing and beating people almost every day, most incidents went unreported to police. I had to run away from them in public places, hear abusive remarks on the street, and endured other incidents where racism towards me stopped me from living a normal life. I was subject to regular police checks and officers asking for documents, especially when the terrorist attacks were happening during the ten-year war between Russia and Chechnya. I was discriminated a lot only because of the color of my skin in the country I was born.
EURweb: At what point did you decide that you had taken enough?
Jahna Sebastian: Eventually I had to secretly flee to London in June 2006 to save my life and from being persecuted after a few incidents that happened ,including the brutal beating of a member of my group before our scheduled performance at the Bob Marley Festival. I came to London by myself with one suitcase, without any family, at the age of twenty and had to start from scratch. I quickly found a full time job at a music technology shop selling music equipment, while studying at Point-Blank College doing a 1-Year Music Production Course in the evenings.
EUR: Things seem to have been going well…
JS: In spring 2007, I built my studio in the property I bought and started recording various artists. A few months later I got pregnant, although it was a total shock to me, as I didn’t initially plan to have children until the age of thirty. I went forward with the pregnancy and birth keeping it secret for two years from everyone apart from the Home Office and a few people close to me, although I did mention in my immigration case who the father was during pregnancy. When I was three months pregnant, I got detained at the infamous Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre because of the mistake of the Home Office, which complicated my case. I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in detention not knowing my future until I was eventually released as the High Court determined that there was a material error in law. I did not receive proper medical care there and the main difference was that people could be deported unexpectedly or detained indefinitely. Like in my case – without having any criminal records at all and despite straightforward evidence against absconding, I spent two months there and was released when I was five months pregnant. Children were held there too, even babies, to watch that was heart-breaking. I also wrote to The Queen of England and got support from the Russian priest who was my surety in the bail court.
EUR: How were you able to persevere and continue as a musician?
JS: In order to juggle motherhood and music full-time, I mostly worked behind the scenes, producing and engineering for other artists.
EUR: Tell me about your musical influences?
JS: I have been a massive fan of Michael Jackson from the age of three. Bob Marley’s songs have really spoken to me in the hardest times and have influenced me a lot when I was doing a lot of reggae in Russia. I love Prince and the fact that he composes, writes and performs his music, plays instruments. Whitney Houston was a vocalist who had a profound effect on me, as I have been singing many of her songs almost every day since childhood. In terms of production, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, Chase & Status and many others have influenced me musically.
EUR: Finish the statement, The Edge of Love EP is _______?
JS: A musical journey connecting the two parts of the Universe allocated to two major emotions: love and hate; it is the path exploring extreme changes a relationship can bring and transformation through them.
EUR: You pretty much handled all duties on The Edge of Love, how did this project become so self-contained?
It is a very personal project for me. I wrote about my own experiences. I did all of it in my studio and I have been producing, arranging, writing and mixing music for years, so it just happened naturally. I got my own studio in my house seven years ago so that I could record any idea I have at any time of the day or night on the fly. I like to work with other musicians too, but it’s just a matter of timing. Most of the time, if I have done everything in the song ,it is because it’s quicker than sending files over and then waiting for somebody else to do it.
EUR: What can we expect from your upcoming album?
JS: Songs about freedom and ways to find it, emancipation from physical and internal restrictions, inspired by a desire to become the victor instead of a victim, taking the best out of hardships as the fuel to success. All of that put to music you’ll hear in a club or listen to while out for a drive.
EUR: How would you describe your sound?
JS: The focus of my sound has changed over the years because I have been doing music since childhood and I wouldn’t generally put myself into a box I could stay in for too long. I’d say that today the music I am working on is a combination of R&B, trap, hip hop, dubstep and house. It is a fusion of what is really out there with some crazy I ideas I got in my head. I like to explore and try new sounds; I always want to know how to produce them. The same goes to singing. I can take on different techniques, depending on the beat, so if someone heard only one song that would only show one part of everything I can do; I suggest listening to a few different ones to get an idea of what my sound is about.
EUR: As the industry undergoes constant shifts, how do you connect with the marketplace?
JS: I usually keep an eye on what is happening universally in the music and culture in general, both in the underground and mainstream. I am very open-minded and I like to experiment, so that has helped me reinvent myself before and I will continue doing that. I also watch how the technology progresses and I have always been tech savvy, on the lookout for the new ways it offers to connect with the audience. I have also got to see how the marketplace in Russia compares to the UK and US, which are two completely different realms and that really helped me understand a lot of things. For instance, if people choose to download music for free, it’s time to seek other ways to make money as a musician, instead of wasting energy on fighting your own fans. Also, because of the technology, we can learn a lot more about our fans, who they are, which helps. I also follow my gut feeling a lot. Knowledge about everything in music, film, art, fashion and technology is the key and helps create a mental picture of the direction to be taken. Culture goes in cycles and it is important to see them and learn to adapt at the right time.
EUR: What do you want listeners to get from your music?
JS: I want them to get inspired, I want my music to connect people around the world based on similarities we have as humans, our experiences, emotions, tears and laughter we share. I want it to spark certain dialogues based on the differences in search for the truth. When I work on my music it helps me understand more about myself and I hope it can tap into people’s own inner experiences. I write about all types of topics, love, being on a journey, the world around me and I hope people can recognize something familiar in that.
My experiences have set me free as I often had to face my worst fears including life and death situations. You don’t know how far you can go until your push the limits you thought were there. I have also met so many people from all kind of backgrounds in various situations and I think it is important for an artist to truly be able to depict life to see many sides of it.
You can purchase The Edge of Love here.