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Digging Deeper: An Interview With Astigmatic Records & Jaubi

For this next instalment of Digging Deeper we had the privilege of speaking to Łukasz Wojciechowski from Astigmatic Records, a vinyl focussed independent label founded in 2016. We're big fans of their already impressive catalogue and always have their releases on our radar. With the labels recent release of Jaubi's 'Nafs At Peace' album we felt this was the perfect time to delve deeper into their world. As a most welcomed bonus we were also lucky enough to be able to pose some questions to Jaubi. So this edition is a double-header that features both label and artist. 

Who are the team behind Astigmatic Records?

Astigmatic has three core members: me (Łukasz), Marcin and Sebastian. Since last year, we have been helped by the promising singer Kasia Konstance. Each of us currently lives in a different city. Sebastian in Wrocław, Marcin in Poznań, Poland, which is our current command centre since the previous one has been moved from London, where I used to live until 2020. Currently I work remotely from Izmir, Turkey, and our link with the UK is Kasia who lives in London.

What is the musical direction for the label?

We don’t define genres but focus on uniqueness and high artistic quality with each release. We’re looking into the future while keeping true to our roots. In our catalogue you can find a blend of jazz, hip-hop, electronic music, and more.

What made you want to start a label?

I bought my first vinyl record at the age of 17, today I am 35, so I have spent over half of my life with this addiction. Probably every vinyl collector sooner or later dreams of being on the other side as a musician, journalist, publisher or a record store owner. It was a long process for me. When I moved to London, I realised that this was something I would like to do in my life. As soon as I saved some money, I wrote to Marcin and Sebastian, whose musical tastes were close to mine, and asked them if they would like to join me. It's much nicer when you work as a team. I wouldn't like to run a label alone. The boys agreed, of course, and the rest is history.

Where does the 'Astigmatic' name come from?

The name comes from the astigmatism eye defect, which distorts your eyesight, making you see the world differently from the rest of the society. I really liked this definition, which I wanted to translate into hearing and approaches to music - looking at it differently from the rest. It is also the title of probably the most important Polish jazz album and a classic of European jazz, Astigmatic by Krzysztof Komeda. Even though this album has been very important to us, we didn't plan to refer to Komeda. However, his spirit did not leave us, and on our third release, EABS - Repetitions (Letters to Krzysztof Komeda), this can be seen clearly.

What is it about releasing music on vinyl that appeals to you?

I treat a vinyl record as a piece of art which, in addition to its most important part music, has also a graphic part that is an inseparable element that builds the whole creation. Of course, I love the whole vinyl culture - meetings in shops and at fairs and talking for hours about music. It is definitely a lifestyle that revolves around this medium and I like it 100%. I leave the sound quality issues to others, I personally like frying, dusty vinyl.

What forthcoming releases can we expect from Astigmatic?

In the near future you can expect Henryk Debich's album, Zbliżenie, under my curation. It is a collection of selected works from the 70’s from the extensive catalog left by Henryk Debich and his orchestra. None of the songs included on the album have ever been released on any medium before. In a few words - funk, heavy brass section, strings, drum breaks - all you need! For the fall, we have a new EABS album coming up. We continue our journey into space, mixing jazz with elements that have not yet appeared in this genre or have not been explored well enough yet. There will be elements of UK Drill or the sound of Memphis Rap. The legend of Polish jazz will be a guest... We are going to areas where no one has reached yet.

What would your dream release be for your label?

Each of the last 25 releases has been such a dream come true. Up until now, Astigmatic has been like a chocolate advent calendar. We open a new window with another dream with each new release. If I were to dream, it comes to my mind to discover a few more gems from the past that are still waiting to be discovered in someone's basement or archive. I'm not worried about new artists - there are plenty to work with. I know! B-side remix by Madlib or FlyLo on one of our 7”.

Which releases are a good introduction to the label for the uninitiated?

EABS - Discipline of Sun Ra - the latest album of our main band. Blending Jazz, with space synths, footwork and house.

Błoto - Kwasy i zasady - Band playing thick and fat beats with elements of improvisations. For Hip-hop heads.

Jaubi - Nafs at Peace - Traditional Hindi-music blended with jazz and Hip-hop grooves.

Cykada - Cykada - Heavy Jazz with progressive elements. Uptempo beats, guitars, electronic drones and heavy brass section.

Levitation Orchestra - Inexpressible Infinity - Spiritual Jazz from 13-piece London ensemble.

Surly - Trip to Warsaw - Footwork/Juke with Polish Jazz samples.

An interview with Jaubi

Pakistan's Jaubi's debut album 'Nafs At Peace' is one of our highlights of the year so far. It draws on the elements of North Indian classical music, Hip-Hop, and modal/spiritual jazz. It also features the London flutist/saxophonist Tenderlonious (Ruby Rushton) and the Polish pianist Marek Latarnik Pędziwiatr (EABS / Błoto). It is a superb album and is highly recommended. You can check it HERE

Can you tell us the background of Jaubi?

Jaubi is the Urdu word for "whatever/whoever”. It is a commonly used word. We decided to use that word and create whatever sounds good and whatever feels good. Essentially playing whatever we feel at that moment in time. We don’t think about genres but rather try to convey an emotion through the music.

Jaubi was formed when I met Zohaib Hassan Khan (Sarangi player) in a recording studio in 2013. We formed a great relationship and slowly the other members of the band were introduced in 2014. Jaubi was never meant to be a band but we had recorded a few songs and decided to release them in 2016. I thought after releasing it (The Deconstructed Ego) that the band would dissolve but to our surprise there was a good response.

What was the concept behind the 'Nafs At Peace' album?

Nafs At Peace is an exploration about finding peace within oneself. The actual title is inspired from a verse in the Holy Qu’ran (Surah Al-Fajr) and refers to the last purification step the self has been through. At this level, the Self no longer struggles because one has complete love of God, by becoming at peace and tranquil with God’s will.

The album cover portrays my mother tearfully praying to God because when I was going through a dark period in my life, all I would see every morning for 2 years is her praying to God to help me. Mashallah, that dark period has surpassed, however the album was recorded during my time of personal struggle and tribulation. I couldn’t pray directly to God, but music was my way of connecting to a higher power. Music became a form of therapy and catharsis.

The concept for the album actually came much later in the journey, when the album was being mixed and mastered which was done about a year after we recorded the songs back in Lahore, Pakistan. When I listened to the masters, I tried to remember what I was feeling at that time. I was deeply into eastern philosophies and Islamic psychology so that’s how the actual concept of 'Nafs' came about. It was discovered whilst reading and trying to rediscover myself.

Where was the album recorded?

There were two recording sessions. The first one in April 2019 at Riot Studios in Lahore, Pakistan. The second recording session was in August 2019 at Newtone Studios in Oslo, Norway.

Could you please give a brief rundown of the musicians in the group and the instruments that are played?

Ali Riaz Baqar - Guitar

Zohaib Hassan Khan - Sarangi

Qammar 'Vicky' Abbas - Drums

Kashif Ali Dhani - Tabla

How did Jaubi come to collaborate with Tenderlonious and Latarnik?

Tenderlonious previously collaborated with Astigmatic records and travelled to Poland to record on EABS’ beautiful thematic album entitled 'Slavic Spirits'. After that trip, he wanted to fulfil his ambition of exploring Ragas and expressed an interest of travelling to India. Much like his musical heroes John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef - who were both inspired by eastern spiritualism and the deep tradition of Indian classical music - Tenderlonious has always been searching for something different and much deeper.

Łukasz Wojciechowski from Astigmatic Records suggested to 22a Records that they travel to Pakistan instead and play Ragas with us in Lahore. Latarnik is the bandleader for the great Polish bands EABS and Bloto who are also signed to Astigmatic Records. He travelled to Lahore as part of the collective. Once everyone agreed, then the long process of arranging the trip began.

Their families and friends regularly fed them articles about why it is dangerous to travel to Pakistan due to the risk of terrorism, kidnappings, tropical diseases, etc. - the list was endless. The Pakistani embassy also showed resistance by rejecting their visas. Twice! The project felt destined for failure, however 22a and Astigmatic persevered with the Lahore dream and through many hours of hard work and planning they arrived in Lahore on the 9th of April 2019.

In summary, the trip would not have been possible without the patience and help of Oli Reeves (22a Records), Łukasz Wojciechowski (Astigmatic Records) and Khalid Salimi (Oslo Mela Festival).

Which other artists would the band love to collaborate with?

So many artists! Nick Walters, Ashley Henry, Yusef Dayes, Horatio Luna, Allysha Joy, Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper…The list could go on.

What was the story behind your cover version on MF Doom's ' Figaro'? Any plans to release it on vinyl?

Jaubi had previously uploaded a small snippet of Figaro onto Instagram back in 2017 then when we were taking a break during the recording studio in Lahore in 2019, we decided to play Figaro. It was meant to be just for fun. Only one take was recorded in the studio. It would probably have been hidden in the Astigmatic Records archives to this day, if it wasn’t for his death.

A few days after this sad information, Latarnik (EABS) locked himself in his S151 Studio, working on the tracks recorded in Lahore. Credit really goes to Latarnik for producing and salvaging that recording take.

I think Astigmatic may release it as a 7” vinyl sometime in the future.

Who are the group's biggest musical inspirations and favourite albums?

Musical inspiration comes from artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Woody Shaw, Bill Evans, Ravi Shankar, Buddhadev Dasgupta, D’Angelo and J Dilla.

So many favourite albums but the ones that I always go back and listen to are

· Makaveli - The 7 Day Theory

· Paco De Lucia - Siroco

· Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On

· John Coltrane - A Love Supreme

· Bill Evans - Waltz for Debby

· Joe Henderson - Power to The People

Which other musicians and singers from Pakistan do we need to look out for?

There is a resurgence of music in Pakistan and fortunately the underground musicians are leading the way. There is also a real community vibe.

Natasha Noorani, Slowspin, Red Blood Cat, Maanu and Ali Suhail are artists that others should listen to. There is also a lovely underground platform called Mosiki which promotes independent music.

What are your musical plans for the rest of 2021?

22a are trying to bring us to UK to perform, however Covid is likely to cause delays. In the interim, I am studying new scales and sounds and trying to prepare material for our next album which would be more planned and worked out compared to Nafs at Peace which was fairly spontaneous project. Inshallah, we can have the opportunity to collaborate with other artists and contribute to other people’s projects.

Big thanks to Lukasz and Jaubi for taking the time to speak to us for this feature. Make sure you check their Instagram and website.