In terms of forging a label identity in sync with the ideals of those behind it, Parisian based Chuwanaga have surely done an incredible job. Since 2017, the label has overseen a series of consistently excellent records that all sing from the same song sheet, a mix of sounds that at its core runs from the past through to the present day. The journey undertaken by the label thus far has resulted in a celebration of Brit Funk and all its glory, through to jazz fusion and into the present day, where we see the fruits of passions for past grooves and tones consolidate themselves in brilliant contemporary releases that slot right into the Chuwanaga ideology. The label, led by Saint-James and Clémentine, have done an amazing job at selecting the right pieces to reissue alongside talented up and comers who bring it all together, and the result is always a listening experience rooted in passion and knowledge, the merging of the past and the present in perfect harmony.
Being one of our favourite labels here at Endless Grooves, we were keen to know just a little bit more about the label, its roots, its ideals and maybe some hot off the press news for releases on the horizon. So, Saint-James took some time to answer our questions about a label with a lot to say……
Our interview series kicks off with some questions for one of our favourite labels of the past few years.
Hello! So lets start off with a bit of background - what sort of involvement in music did you have before the launch of the label? Did you throw parties, run nights or do anything similar?
Yes actually, I was already deep into music, already having a music label with Discomatin with my mates Jim Irie, Mag Spencer & Théo from Paris. I was also writing articles for the association webzine and promoter Phonographe Corp and throwing some parties with its president at the time, which was called Digger’s Delight. Clémentine was still in Lyon at the beginning and she was in a record shop which was also a distributor called Chez Émile, before moving to Paris.
France has very strong roots in Disco and all things groovy, did this impact on you when you were developing your interests in music? And in turn, the idea of running a label?
Yes of course, we’re great fans of french productions in Jazz-Funk, Disco, Boogie… We’re proud of this!
Starting a label seems like quite a difficult undertaking, particularly with so many labels releasing music these days. When you started out, were there any plans to make Chuwanaga stand out from the rest?
Our plan was to rely on the quality of the music, we deeply think all releases would sound as good now as they do in 10 years. We also worked hard on the aesthetics of the label with William James Thurman, who does our artwork and graphics. We didn’t have a plan besides that, except working the best we can to reach the good ears.
Chuwanaga is a great name for a label, and I have always wondered - where did the inspiration come for it?!
It came from one of our friends, who is also Koji Ono’s friend. You may know Koji Ono and his brother Seiji Ono are half-Japanese from their mother. This particular friend was really into Japanese rare groove records. He always comes up with an original of a record you could be talking about. So Koji and his brother invented the term “Chuwanaga”, which sounds kind of Japanese I guess, to make fun about this habit of getting expansive Japanese original vinyl pressings. But it does not mean anything. It’s just a silly joke!
When you started the label, what were your intentions release wise? Did you always aim to balance reissues with contemporary releases?
Actually, we planned for the first release to be the 'Incognito EP' from Koji Ono, but we had to spend a bit more time on the mixing process so we released In The Red Vol. 1, the British jazz-funk compilation, instead. So yes, we always wanted to have this sort of balance and next releases would be a lot of new stuff (from Koji, also from me…)
Your first release, ‘In the Red Vol I’, in 2017, was a superb introduction to the magical genre of Britfunk. It was quite a statement! And really told a narrative of the genre in general. Did you have difficulty selecting the tunes to go on it?
Yes and finding the right owners as well! There are so many great tunes in Britfunk, but I wanted to keep the hottest and nastiest tracks for the compilation.
Britfunk feels like it runs through Chuwanaga’s veins. Is is a particularly special genre for you? What aspects of it do you enjoy? Its surprising how many British people haven’t heard of it!
Yes quite surprising, but you know, there is a french sentence, saying “Nul n’est prophète en son pays”, which means you kind of always have more success when you’re preaching outside your own country or area… The genre runs through the veins of Chuwanaga as you say, just because we love it, maybe because we’re still young and this music was made by teenagers, so its energy really speaks to us!
When selecting reissues, is it more to do with you finding something and being like ‘we have to reissue!’, or is it more to keep in line with the identity of the label?
It depends, you won’t miss a great occasion if it presents to you, but in the same time, it should be a great occasion not only because the original record is rare but because it aligns with the identity of the label as you said it. Till now, we’re happy with our selection of reissues!
To follow that question up, you guys seem like you spend a fair amount of time digging for records. Is this key for you in regards to finding new tunes and forgotten gems?
To be clear, we spent far less time that a lot of deejays which we respect as original diggers. We’re not running a competition! But yes, I think the key to finding new tunes is always sharing what you find and be in good company with people doing the same. Sharing is caring!
Both the Kalima and SunPalace reissues were great too, and added another dimension to the Chuwanaga Discography. Given their more experimental vibes, are these sorts of tunes ones that you want to reissue more of in the future?
We don’t know yet but we were happy to get these two special ones on the catalogue. Kalima is such a deep tune and SunPalace could have stayed on tapes and never released if we would have missed the opportunity to meet Mike Collins before he passed away a few months later. His music will last forever!
You have released one EP by a contemporary producer, Koji Ono’s excellent ‘Incognito’ EP. The music on this was very in keeping with the rest of your discography, is this the aim with new releases for your label? Can we expect some further expansions within the Chuwanaga musical universe from new producers?
As said before, yes indeed! It’s what coming up in the next months… Especially with Ishkero - Brume, a great expansion into more jazz territories (I’m speaking about the release below).
‘In the Red Volume II’ and ‘Try it Out/Head over Heels’ by World Series both came out last year, and were both incredible releases. It feels like the two ‘In the Red’ records go hand in hand with each other, and the World Series release adds another element to your Brit funk collection. Can we expect more awesome Brit Funk releases from you?
I think that In The Red came to an end when we finished the series with the CD version etc… But for sure, I’d love to get more Brit funk material on the label. Now it’s a bit harder because everyone is realising British Jazz-Funk music is so good! I’m happy we were able to contribute a little bit in our own way to this! They deserve it so much! But we have some surprises coming up...
What does the future hold for Chuwanaga? Any future releases we can get the inside track on?
Yes! You should hear from Koji Ono again, working as producer and composer for an exclusive collaboration with Atmosfear. This is 100% fresh and new material, recorded in a studio in Paris. Can’t wait for this one.
There is also another project coming up as Latitude, which is basically a studio disco project with lot of great musicians based on compositions by yours truly.
And of course our next release due to early September, Ishkero - Brume, an amazing jazz EP/mini-album, getting into a lot of territories with actually of the best Parisian band!
We would like to thank Saint-James for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out Chuwanaga’s discography on their Bandcamp;
You can pre-order their up coming release, ‘Brume’ by Ishkero, here, and trust us, its a good un!
Find below video links for 'So High' by Koji Ono, and 'In The Red' by Equa, two of our absolute favourites from the label!
(This one is absolute pure energy! keep the fire burnin'!)