Every year, SJZ Jazz Beyond programming shines a spotlight on powerful emerging voices in R&B, soul, and hip-hop who have drawn inspiration from the jazz tradition. Curated in partnership with Universal Grammar, the series attracts an energetic crowd of music lovers across the genre spectrum. One of the most exciting acts of this year’s Summer Fest was Bay Area seven-piece The Seshen, whose electrifying performance on the festival’s opening night filled the Cafe Stritch Stage to capacity. Combining synth pop with groove-driven R&B sensibilities, The Seshen have established themselves as a potent voice on the international music scene since their 2012 debut. Listening to the exploratory harmonies and rhythms in their music, it is clear that the band fluently speaks the musical language of jazz, yet simultaneously embraces elements of electronica and pop. Their continuing growth is a testament to their collaborative spirit and open-minded approach to making music.
Featuring the entrancing vocals of Lalin St. Juste and the propulsive basslines of Akiyoshi Ehara, The Seshen has often compared themselves to a big family. Starting when St. Juste met Ehara en route to Ghana, a lasting creative partnership was born. In 2010, the duo brought together keyboardist Mahesh Rao, percussionist Mirza Kopelman, sampler Kumar Butler, and drummer Julian Pont (later replaced by Chris Thalmann) to complete the band’s sound, while vocalist Akasha Orr complemented St. Juste’s sensual vocal lines. As the band continued to make music together, each member would contribute their own creative vision layer by layer, weaving together an intricate tapestry of sound by the end of the process. Two years later, the band built up enough material to release their self-titled EP. When the UK-based label Tru Thoughts heard one of the band’s early singles, they were eager to partner with the band, and signed them in 2014. Later that year, the band released the synth bass-fueled Unravel and earned a spot at Austin’s South By Southwest music festival the following March. The band built off their momentum for their latest album, Flames and Figures. Committed to “unveiling more of myself,” St. Juste explores themes of loneliness and loss, yet the album never feels burdened by melancholy. The music remains buoyant and hopeful, with a cornucopia of influences ranging from the psychedelic synthesizers on “Colors Collide” to the head-bobbing hip-hop beats on “Spectacle.” Retaining the inspiring eclecticism of their first two records while pushing the boundaries of their sound, the band continues to deliver musically and lyrically on their latest release.
After recording Flames and Figures, The Seshen embarked on a tour of Europe, performing in Berlin and London, among other cultural hubs. Returning to the States, the band had already set their sights on a West Coast tour, with a stop in San Jose for Summer Fest. Having performed previously at the late Blackbird Tavern, the band enjoyed the comfort of familiarity as they grooved under the glowing red lights of Cafe Stritch. From the front door to the back wall, loyal fans and new listeners alike packed into the cafe for a view of the stage. Opening with “Distant Heart,” the cafe started to pulse with the nostalgic beat of an ‘80’s drum machine beneath St. Juste’s floating lyrical lines. Though most of the crowd was seated, the energy remained high throughout the performance. Whether tapping their toes in their seats or dancing along the bar, everyone was feeling the music as they enjoyed the cafe’s delicious small plates and refreshing libations. As the set came to a close, the catchy chorus of “Right Here” kept the audience moving until the end. “It’s great to see people move,” comments St. Juste of the Summer Fest performance.“There’s an exchange between the audience and the performers. We feed off that energy.”
With the tour continuing through November, The Seshen will continue to inspire audiences with their infectious group chemistry. “We’ve just really built a strong dedication to the mission of our music, and a real camaraderie and family as a band,” says St. Juste. Constantly experimenting with new ideas, the band is currently working on their next album while their tour comes to a close. “We all have a commitment and a vision for what we see for ourselves. The passion is there. We’re not slowing down at all. We’re just getting started!”
Follow The Seshen:
Twitter : @theseshen