Last year he blew us away on our Tedx stage in Maastricht, now 23 year old Jeangu Macrooy from Suriname is conquering the world with 120 shows in the past year, his very first club tour this year and performances at Lowlands, Festival Mundial and North Sea Jazz. But, as he told in an interview with De Volkskrant last week, his future didn’t always look as bright as it does at this moment.
Three years ago, Jeangu Macrooy decided to try his luck in the Netherlands, because his music didn’t get him anywhere in Suriname. “If you step out of the ordinary and make something else than popular, danceable music like they’re used to in the Caribbean, you won’t really stand a chance”, says Jeangu. He played in a band with his brother Xillan for two years and studied at the conservatory of Paramaribo, but according to the young musician it was too confined for him to make his dreams come true.
In the Netherlands he went to the Artez conservatory in Enschede. As a singer-songwriter, he wanted nothing more than to become famous. Artez offers the profession of singer-songwriter as one of their main subjects, so it seemed the best place to go for Jeangu. That doesn’t mean it was easy. “Especially during my first year, I had to do everything completely on my own. There was no one to back me up, which made me run into my own constraints.” But constraints are essential in order to grow as a musician, so Jeangu kept on going.
Right now he’s about to start with his fourth and last year at Artez, but he’s still in doubt whether or not he wants to finish his studies. “One of my main goals during my studies was to make an album. Well, I did that. After making an EP and an album I know what works best for me, and because I’m already a performing musician too, I know what works best for me on stage as well.”
His album High on You, which was released earlier this year, is full of personal, intimate songs in soul, rhythm-and-blues and folk, with subtile arrangements for the horn section and for strings. His brother Xillan also made a beautiful contribution to the album, which is somewhat less dark than his first EP Brave Enough. Gold was one of the singles of Brave Enough, which is about the slavery past of his family: “It was written in the black clay soil with the blood of our sisters and brothers and mothers and fathers. Unholy sacrifices for coffee, sugar and gold.”
Just like Nina Simone, who serves as an example for the young singer-songwriter, Jeangu supports the creed that sees it as the artist’s duty to reflect the age in which he or she lives. “You won’t be able to connect with your audience until you’re able to expose yourself to a vulnerable position. That’s the only way to make people recognize the way you actually feel.” That’s the main reason Jeangu’s songs are always personal.
Talk about personal. Last year Jeangu decided to come out in a newspaper in Suriname. “Only a few people in Suriname knew about my sexual orientation. Despite the fact that I never really felt free to tell everybody, I didn’t get any negative reactions at all.” Jeangu finds it important to be open about being gay because it’s still quite a tabou subject in Suriname. “Gay people are weird. If people talk about it, it’s always negative. That results in the fact that most gay guys and girls in Suriname keep a low profile, which causes people to only know the extravagant types. That creates a very stereotype image of gay people”, says Jeangu. “I’ve got a stage to trigger change. I hope I can be meaningful for all those young people in Suriname who discover their sexuality and discover that they’re different.”
On the other hand, Jeangu emphasizes you don’t always have to convey a message. First and foremost he’s an artist, though one with a certain degree of engagement. “It doesn’t always have to be sad and dark. I loved it when I noticed that someone was moved by a song I played about lovesickness. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone. But now I fell in love, I started writing songs about the good side of love, with the result that people now sing and dance along to my music. I truly love it when someone comes up to me after the show to tell me that I made his day a good one when it wasn’t. That might even be better than moving someone to tears with a sad song.”
Curious to hear and see Jeangu Macrooy play? This autumn he’ll embark on his second clubtour in The Netherlands!
Ninih Vang – Communications Team