Cristina Elena Helfer from the Bluesfestival Baden marketing team had the opportunity to have an exciting conversation with Justina Lee Brown for you . But we would like to start this article with a little reference to one of our location partners, the ClubJoy in Baden.
Even if the jam session of the blues festival weren’t taking place there – by the way, that’s always on Thursday during the festival week – there is also a direct connection to Justina Lee Brown at this location.
Nic Niedermann and his band “Rotosphere” have been there since the first festival. They were probably the most flexible and largest band of the festival because they were the hosts for the jam sessions. At first they performed with their/our guests in the casino and heated it up so much that a fire broke out in the second year, the casino had to be cleared – and Montreux says hello…
For a few years now, the jam sessions have been at home at Joy. Nic Niedermann also organizes concerts in different styles every Thursday throughout the year. And this is where Justina Lee Brown met Nic – and so the circle closes again on the topic of today’s contribution to the virtual Blues Festival Baden 2020.
Justina Lee Brown a Nigerian singer, songwriter and composer who is not only a talented musician but also a human rights defender (“ Love & Unity in Equal Rights for all Humans ”) would have performed at Bluesfestival Baden for the third consecutive year this year.
In January and February of this year she went to the USA to present her latest album The Black And White Feeling and has now continued her tour in Europe. Because of the Corona crisis, Justina is now stuck in quarantine in the house of her friend and fellow musician Nic Niedermann in Baden.
A few days ago she took some time for us to talk about her ups and downs during the pandemic and how she manages to navigate through this extraordinary time as someone who has been hit hard by the current crisis. Your biography plays a major role in this.
JLB: Not too bad right now, but initially I fell into a deep depression. From one moment to the next there was a standstill. Concerts were cancelled, my income was completely gone. That was a hard blow for me because I live exclusively from music.
After beating the drums for my new album “The Black And White Feeling” last year, I was excited to finally bring the project I’ve been working so hard on to the public. All the concerts were booked and I felt ready to go when suddenly everything stopped. Luckily I was still able to go on a US tour. This was the last time I stood on a stage.But there is also something positive about the whole crisis: We are forced to deal with ourselves and reflect. How do we want to behave as people in this world and what is really important in life? Most of us are constantly on the move or busy. We hardly take the time to pause, to reward ourselves for what we have achieved and to enjoy it to the fullest. The environment is also benefiting from the current situation. For a long time we have been complaining about global warming and that we are driving our planet to the wall. Now nature can finally recover a bit.
JLB: Yes. And actually we needed all of them. The lockdown made a lot of demands on me at the beginning, and it was only later that I was slowly able to accept the situation. And then I had another breakdown. Why? Because I saw what was happening in my native Nigeria. That was devastating. The average Nigerian earns one to five dollars a day. This means that when the lockdown was decreed there, the people responded with a revolt. People couldn’t handle the situation. Most of them already had no regular income and when they were told they had to stay at home from now on, they were deprived of their only opportunity to earn a little money.
I am very worried about my family. They depend on my income and I am currently unable to support them or my private aid organization JLB Care Foundation .
JLB: Every day. I know that there is not enough food at the moment and I have to make sure that they have at least a certain minimum, otherwise I cannot eat in peace myself. Sometimes I feel guilty about the fact that in the west we can eat as much as we want. When I talk to my western friends, it seems to me that they don’t really understand poverty in Africa. I haven’t had a home for eight years and I know what poverty means. She forces you to do incredible things out of sheer desperation. I pray that the West will finally see that this affects not only the local government but all of us.We need genuine help, not manipulation. Africa has been manipulated by the West for ages, which is why the continent is the way it is today. I am not making this statement to apportion blame or to reinforce a stereotype. My goal is to show the situation from the perspective of those affected.
JLB: Very easy! My European friends think I suffer too much because I refuse to forget. They say to me: “Justina, live in the here and now. You cannot change the situation there.”. They try to protect me but I don’t want to forget because forgetting doesn’t solve the problems. This only leads to us losing ourselves. Many Africans turn away from their origins and their problems. They want to live the new life according to western standards.
JLB: We need to move away from materialistic thinking and embrace our human side. Hopefully the current situation will teach us that. When we come together as people, we can show understanding and empathy for one another. Only then is it possible for us to recognize what we have in common and find solutions together. This is the first step in the right direction.
JLB: For example when it comes to charity. If you want to get involved in a project in a developing country, that’s great. Do that. But not from an office far away, where half of the money donated goes to administration. For me, charity means that the entire amount donated should flow into the project. Get involved in volunteer work. Be there. Get to know the country, the people. Learn to understand their problems, experience what it means to live under their conditions. If they live in a tent, do the same. Do without a “fat” car and a comfortable place to stay, that communicates grandeur. Seeing how much money is invested by the organization for your comfort and how little is left for them by local people further supports their sense of inequality.
JLB: Of course. Whenever I’m in Nigeria, they tell me to be careful, I’m not one of them anymore. And then I ask myself: Who else do I belong to? They don’t understand that I too live from hand to mouth and I give them the last of my money. I don’t allow myself to own too many of them, knowing they’re having a hard time. Maybe that’s my handicap and it should be more balanced.
JLB: The answer is: be human. Be closer to the human than to the material. It’s not easy for someone who barely went to school, had almost nothing and suddenly has access to all these things. Never forget where your roots are, that keeps you grounded.I got my inner strength from my mother. She is a great role model for me. She always fought for us children to keep us afloat. When I was a teenager she weakened and as the eldest of us siblings I had to step into my parents’ shoes. During this time, music helped me to reflect on my inner strength. I don’t know what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had the music. Many of my friends could not escape the ghetto, got pregnant or ended up in forced marriages – the only way out of poverty as a young woman. My voice was my way out, a true blessing.
JLB: Music has the power to make us feel alive and is the bridge to our soul. She has always created true connection and unity. It does not belong to any race, has no color, it functions as a universal language. Now in the crisis, when show business has ground to a halt, people have not given up. Online concerts are springing up like mushrooms all over the world. This is an example of the importance of music.
JLB: That’s a very difficult question and I can only speak from my own experience. All the Swiss musicians I have met and had the privilege of working with play very well and are great entertainers. Her technique and sense of rhythm are great and yet I didn’t feel a sense of true purpose while playing. And by that I don’t mean the absence of emotion but the true depth and understanding of blues music. That’s a small but subtle difference. But the fact is that everything is done in Switzerland to keep the blues alive. There is a wide range of concerts and festivals and the organizers do their best to pass the blues on to the next generation, which is great.
JLB: My biggest wish is that we as a society change in a more positive direction, but I don’t know if that will happen. Even now there are people who are taking advantage of the current situation. What is certain is that something will change. Let’s see in which direction we will move. But again: I am convinced that as soon as we find our way back to our humanity, many things can be changed.
It’s difficult not to end this interview on a moral note, but this conversation shows that our surroundings don’t have to define us. There are things that we share across cultures and social groups, especially in this moment: fear, despair, sadness and anger. All of this is part of our human existence.
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