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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Artist Of The Week - Jon Braman
Monday, May 10, 2010

A couple months ago I was at an event in the city when a friend of a friend started telling me about Jon Braman. Now, bear in mind, I hear a lot of people telling me about a lot of artists, so it takes something really interesting to get my attention. As soon as she said Braman was a rapper who played the ukulele, getting my attention was no longer an issue.

After what seemed like dozens of missed opportunities to check out Braman’s work, his album, Climatastrophunk, finally arrived in my mailbox. Really interested in knowing if combining the ukulele and hip-hop could work, I put it on. It was an oddly perfect marriage, at least with Braman at the helm. His lyrics are meaningful, and at times downright beautiful, and his vibe matches those qualities perfectly. Braman describes some of the inspiration behind his music, saying “being able to sing out your fears as well as your hopes and dreams is a pretty good feeling.” This week I caught up with Jon Braman to find out more about the man, his music, and what exactly a Climatastrophunk is.

Adam Bernard: Let’s start things off with a background check. Where are you from and what’s your path in the music world been like up to this point?
Jon Braman: I grew up in Port Washington, NY – Long Island, where I found my uke in the garbage around the age of 15. I started rapping after college while living in Hartford, CT, and working going door to door for clean air. I really started performing my uke-rap tunes while living on the big island of Hawaii and working on a sustainable goat farm. Briefly I had a band there called Jon and The Jungle Funk. Then I lived in DC for two years, building my tunes, playing all over DC, MD, VA, trying to learn what I could from local hip-hop/neo-soul scene down there. I recorded Climatastrophunk in DC just before moving to NYC, where I’ve been for a little over two years now. I’d say my path in the music world is basically a non-stop drive to write songs. Writing songs is some kind of nervous tic for me. I’d probably have some kind of breakdown if I stopped. When I started realizing that my tunes actually mean something to other people, which is pretty cool, it made me want to perform and record as much as possible to keep getting it out there.

Adam Bernard: From your personal timeline the ukulele came before rapping, but were you always a fan of hip-hop?
Jon Braman: I didn’t even like hip-hop when I found the uke, but once I found my way to hip-hop, and realized it was the culmination of all the jazz and blues I’d been listening to my whole life, and the perfect way to combine my wordplay instinct with music, I feel like the hip-hop became primary, even though it came second. I listen to hip-hop, I don’t listen to much ukulele music, with the occasional exception of IZ, I just happen to carry a ukulele every where I go and I’m not able to put it down.

Adam Bernard: Was it a challenge to bring them together, and what made you think it would work?
Jon Braman: You know, the combo of uke and rap seemed totally natural to me. No different than playing a Beatles song, or some other music, on the ukulele, where you don’t have all of the sounds in the real song, but have to just find the essence of it that you can play on the uke and then bang it out and wail convincingly enough over it so people can bop their heads to it. I’d already been doing that for years, even if it wasn’t hip-hop. The thing I wasn’t sure about, but really wanted to try, was rapping. As soon as I realized how cool rap was I thought, “I have to try that.” Not because I thought it would work for anyone else, but I just thought how good it would feel if I could do it for myself. So once I started rapping, the ukulele was my instrument, so it was natural.

Adam Bernard: What were the reactions of your friends and family when you told them “I’m going to be a rapper who plays the ukulele?”
Jon Braman: I think there was some initial shock because I’d been so much about acoustic music and not into hip-hop before, but after that faded I think I became a constant party trick, which I don’t really mind. I’m not so good at parties without the ukulele. Sometimes I make annotated hip-hop mixes for my parents, or friends who aren’t into hip-hop, to try to help them see what it is that’s so compelling to me.

Adam Bernard: There’s really no blueprint for this, and no albums that can put on to learn from. How did you develop your style and practice it when you were first starting out?
Jon Braman: The way I think about it, there are lots of blueprints. The Blueprint by Jay-Z is a pretty good one. As is Aquemini by Outkast, or Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan, or Natty Dread by the other Bob (Marley), or Steamin with the Miles Davis Quintet. Not to mention Ready to Die. I listen to music I love and learn it by heart. In terms of rap, I learn every single word and try to match their rhythms and cadence exactly. Same goes for great songwriters like Bob Marley, or Bob Dylan, or the Beatles, or Miles Davis. I try to get inside what they do, and get the rules and patterns drilled into my subconscious, so that when I sit down to write or wail about my own life what comes out is trained by those other great voices. When it comes to recording a uke-rap album, or trying to market ukulele hip-hop to the world at large, there’s certainly no blueprint there, but I’m open to suggestions.

Adam Bernard: I was about to ask, being such a unique artist, is it difficult to book gigs?
Jon Braman: Sometimes it is. I’ve had people ask me if it’s a comedy act. I tell them no, it’s real music! I’ve never tried to book gigs as another kind of artist, so I don’t have much for comparison, but I do think there are some places that just don’t respond because it sounds like a joke. I once got a show listing in Time Out New York that said something like “two things we never wanted to hear in the same sentence: ukuleles and hip-hop,” and then proceeded to give info for one of my shows. To be honest, I don’t blame them, but in other crowds the ukulele is a ticket in. My biggest gig yet was opening for ukulele star Jake Shimabakuro at the Blender Theater in NY as part of an all ukulele line up. So you never know. I generally call my music Ukulele Hip-Hop, but try to play up the jazzy, catchiness of it. I’m also open to ideas.

Adam Bernard: You album is titled Climatastrophunk. What is a Climatastrophunk and does it show up on the doppler radar?
Jon Braman: Climatastrophunk is the funk you feel, or the musical sound of it, when trying to come to terms with the current ongoing global catastrophe of climate change. Not come to terms with it in scientific, or political, terms, but in your bones and your ears, and then getting to the scientific and political and even business terms, because that’s the world we live in and you can’t actually transform much without going through those routes, as well.

Adam Bernard: So you’re strumming on your ukulele, talking about climate change... I have to ask, are you a dirty hippy?
Jon Braman: I’m not a dirty hippy, but sometimes I wish I was. It might be easier. Instead I play a ukulele and rap, and during the day work for an energy efficiency company trying to help people figure out the nuts and bolts of how to use less energy. I spend a heck of lot of time working on the computer, though most of the time I’d rather be barefoot in the woods. For better or for worse I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ll never make a better world if we don’t attack issues like climate change from every angle, which means being able to talk to everyone, including bankers, politicians, and people from different cultures, whether they live across the world or around the block. A lot of people think hippies are perhaps just a little bit off their rocker, which isn’t the best way to start a conversation. I think we’re discovering that hip-hop is a whole lot more universal, to be honest. Of course, although I cut off my ponytail before I started rapping, I still love hippies. It was my greatest ambition in life to become a hippy until about age 22.

Adam Bernard: I’ve never heard that as a life goal before. You are truly a unique individual. Before you go, I have one last pressing question for you; do chicks dig the ukulele?
Jon Braman: I’d have to say yes, though you should ask my wife what she thinks.

Related Links

Website: jonbraman.com
MySpace: myspace.com/jonbraman
YouTube: “Guru” video
YouTube: Acoustic cover of Jay-Z’s “Hello Brooklyn”

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posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:35 AM  
1 Comments:
  • At 9:06 AM, Blogger the loading dock said…

    Great interview guys! Love Learning more Jon. Thanks Adam, you really got a great thing going!!

     
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