Simon, I don't really have to ask you how you met up with Wouter ('Wowie' Rosseel, guitar/bandleader/composer, red.) as you both play with Pura Vida.
Simon 'Saimn-I' Decante (vocals): "In fact, we've been playing together longer than that even. The first band we were both a part of was Wrong 'Em Boyo."
How exactly did Jamaican Jazz Orchestra come about?
Simon Decante: "In 2011 Wouter graduated at the Ghent conservatory and what was then still called Jamaican Jazz Project was in fact nothing more than his final project. Even though the project was only intended as a one-time event, we immediately got requests to play again and that's how the ball got rolling."
Won't calling a Belgian Ghent based band Jamaican Jazz Orchestra confuse people?
Simon Decante: "(laughs) I don't think it's as bad as all that. That name is mainly meant as a tribute to our musical heroes and they are all Jamaican!"
Compared to genres like ska, reggae and dancehall, Jamaica's jazz history is probably far less known.
Simon Decante: "You're not wrong, but for his final project Wouter familiarized himself with the Jamaican jazz scene. Artists like Ernest Ranglin or Monty Alexander are known the world over and several members of The Skatalites (Tommy McCook, Don Drummond, Lloyd Knibb, red.) had a jazz background as well. Boogie-woogie and jazz were the music of Jamaica's white upper-class, people who in the early days of the ska era still turned up their nose at the genre. In any case, it's an interesting bit of music history."
As Saimn-I you take part in just about every new reggae project popping up in Flanders. Doesn't that get confusing after a while, both for yourself and your fans?
Simon Decante: "I'm really only combining two bands at the moment - Pura Vida and Jamaican Jazz Orchestra - and apart from that I do some solo work MC-ing with various sound systems, so all in all it's not that bad. It's become a way of life, allowing me to express myself verbally. Honestly speaking, it hasn't given me schizophrenic tendencies yet and the more projects you're involved in, the more people get to know you, so it's more of a positive than a negative thing."
Jamaican Jazz Orchestra seems to be a project where the instrumental is given slightly more room than the vocal element. How important would you say your lyrics are in that equation?
Simon Decante: "Well, for starters I don't sing on every Jamaican Jazz Orchestra track. That being said, I guess my presence will be slightly more noticeable live then on the EP, but the focus of Jamaican Jazz Orchestra's is definitely on the instrumental parts. Often it's a question of finding the right balance and I think we've succeeded."
Jamaican Jazz Orchestra is a ten piece band. Is it difficult to keep a large group of musicians like that organized?
Simon Decante: "It's not an easy task, but in my opinion Wouter does a very good job. It takes some discipline, but it's not as if we have a scheduled rehearsal every week either. However, many of the musicians in Jamaican Jazz Orchestra combine different music projects, which means synchronizing our schedules can be tricky at times."
You guys have been hosting the Jamaican Jazz Sessions in Ghent for a while now. What are they all about?
Simon Decante: "The Jamaican Jazz Sessions are really nothing more than jam sessions, taking place at Petra's Place on a monthly basis with Jamaican Jazz Orchestra hosting the event. It basically means we're on stage improvising and freestyling away and whoever feels like joining in can do so. You can find us there every first Wednesday of the month, so feel free to drop by!"