Sitting at a cafe in Brixton, Oscar Jerome dons tinted shades that give the passing world a blue tinge — but then again, everything’s a bit more bluesy with Jerome. Schön! meets the soulful musician fittingly in South London, which has nurtured a wealth of musical talent in the jazz scene and also played a big part in Jerome’s own musical and personal evolution. “[My music] is just a product of my surroundings, really,” Jerome announces. “It’s a product of my history and my surroundings, the friends I’m around that have influenced my thought-process and just the way I hear music. So I’d say London, and obviously, South London has a lot to do with it, definitely.” As the city bustles and blares around us during our interview he often lapses into music, whether he’s demonstrating his drum machine or humming the notes he’s explaining. It’s nonchalant and natural, music just kind of flows from him.
Soulfully combining intricate guitar, intelligent lyricism and rich vocals, Jerome’s music captivates. The jazz influence is palpable not only in his sound but in the reverence with which he speaks of the genre. He tells us George Benson’s On Broadway got him ‘hooked’ on playing jazz guitar when he was only fourteen and things just took off from there. “That’s the thing about jazz, it’s very addictive, a bit like a drug because once you realise how deep you can go into it it’s quite hard to stop,” he recounts. “That’s why people who pursue it don’t even care about making loads of money, they just want to play music.”
However, for Jerome, music has become a means of traversing something greater. He tells us how blues influences his own music and why being a member of the London-based Afrobeat collective Kokoroko sparked an awareness of his own subjective position. “I feel with my own music — with jazz, funk music, soul music — that’s all rooted from black-American people and obviously, as a white artist, you have to be very careful about how you tread around that,” he methodically explains. “With [Kokoroko], I feel like it’s a very positive thing that it’s a band that is lead by three black women and — well, I’m the only white person in that band — and I just felt like if I keep having a positive influence in that band, writing music for it and supporting it in some ways I can give something back to the scene and the culture that I am ultimately profiting from.”
It’s a tough one: to choose between making music for music’s sake and music with a conscience. Jerome’s song Chromatic Descendents tackles precisely this dilemma. “Blues music, obviously the history of that is in so much suffering, so in that respect in that song I had the verses talking of music as something that’s very ethereal or spiritual, something existing above this which connects to the rhythm of nature, everything is in its own rhythm and viewing music as something that is completely above all of that bullshit. But then on the other side of it is that every note you hear there’s pain and suffering behind it, it’s political and you have to be aware of where the root of what you’re playing comes from.” This particular song comes from his latest EP, Where Are Your Branches, whose sinuous instrumentals are punctuated by thought-provoking lyrics, providing a vivid social commentary.
More recently, the artist released the single Do You Really. His social maturation takes on even more nuance and in the Dashti Jahfar-directed video classic masculinity whirls and blurs in time with the psychedelic visuals of artist Tilly Mint. But there is more behind Jerome’s flamboyant zebra-print shirt and flared pants than completing a ’70s vibe. “A few years ago I don’t think I would have done that video, I wouldn’t have dressed like that, I would have been too self-conscious, but now I love it,” he admits. “I just love being able to be more creative in the way you present yourself.” This, he credits in part to his little brother, who recently started doing drag. “He’s inspired me so much, seeing him come out of his shell and grow into himself. He’s opened my eyes to the idea that you can be more creative with your clothes or the way you appear and that there’s no specific way you have to be in terms of your gender.”
Jerome, like all of us, gets lost in the world at times, but through his gift of music, rooted in a blues legacy and concerned about the world it comes from, he asserts himself as a promising and lasting presence in the UK music scene and beyond. “To make an impact, or something like that, is to give people something real,” he asserts — and that is exactly what he does.
words. Sarah Osei