IN CONVERSATION WITH: Jalen N’Gonda

WORDS BY JOEL MALLEN

Jalen N’Gonda describes his musical philosophy as “in the works” – but if those works are anything to go by we have a potential future soul star on our hands. The Maryland native takes pride in throat popping vocal power and traditional soul progressions within his music, but is clearly looking to build on that sound piece by piece. I usually ask any musician who they’d have an hour long conversation with if they have the chance, and if “Brian Wilson, Marvin Gaye and Kevin Parker” doesn’t give you visions of Motown infused soul jams with a bit of vinyl crackle, I don’t know what else would. “They are/were geniuses in their own field”, he adds, and you can hear streams of their influence running right through his music.

You can’t say that Jalen isn’t shy of adventure, currently touring on the back of debut EP ‘Talking About Mary’. “The tour is great so far, [I’ve] been places that I’ve never been – it’s dope!” he exclaims, and he’s not wrong either: touring with Lake Street Dive in the USA off the back of your first EP is pretty good going. He described the American leg of the tour as “really fun! It was great being around such a talented band and lovely group”, and he returned this November to finish the tour in the UK, his first post-jetlag date being right here in The Castle Hotel. “Manchester plays a good role in my life in the UK; it’s like a neighbour you go to to borrow sugar. I love the night life here and there are some great festivals, band and events coming out of that city.”

Originally from Maryland, he carries that industrial and traditional blue-collar grit into dense, warmly compressed pop harking back to that nostalgic late-60s Motown flair, with classic love song lyrics and reverb-laden drums and tambourines. “Maryland played a great role in my musical and life direction, due to the people that were around me” – he seems like an artist well suited to a storytelling, life experience driven style. He isn’t all-American though, he seems just as informed by his more recent British adventures. “Liverpool is a second home for me, for real! I feel like an adopted northerner! But I recently moved down to London so it’s sort of a new adventure”.

You can hear all this wrapped up in ‘Talking About Mary’, released in June 2018. It quite rightly earned a fair bit of attention, with such a distinct flavour on top of really tight, traditional songwriting. “Everyone who I worked with [on the EP] was just as amazing as the other, but I have to say it was truly great working with Bo Weaver- we produced a beautiful sound”.

As for Jalen’s future, he’s been pretty coy about some new music: “there’ll definitely be some new releases in 2019 – can’t tell you what! But I can say some progress has been made since the last EP”. He has a clear road-map to follow in both his life and music, and he’s definitely going places.

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