Interview with Ganjaman
05/18/2016 by Gardy Stein
He is a gentle force, but nonetheless one to be reckoned with. His voice has been persistent in its call for peace and justice, and the amount of love he is able to spread during his live shows is only imaginable if you've ever experienced it. Steve "Jan Magan" aka Ganjaman presents his new album Sinnphonie to a world that is in urgent need of his healing. In my longest interview yet, the artist reasoned with Reggaeville about the power of each individual, global injustice and, of course, his music:
Your album is just about to be released. Are you excited?
Yes, very! Specially because the release date was delayed twice and many things happened… actually almost everything went wrong that could go wrong.
What for instance, if you don't mind sharing?
For instance the mastering, which is the technical finishing touches before such a record is pressed or released. We had difficulties because the wrong files had been used in the studio, but it was Easter Weekend, and the audio engineer who did it was on holidays. It was a complete chaos because they had been given different files. I myself did a master because mastering is what I do a lot, but with your own productions it's always better to let someone else do it. Me myself I'm not objective, and as mastering technician you should always have a certain distance. But this was the problem, the wrong files were used and we wondered why it didn't sound as it should. And because of Easter and the holidays, two weeks passed before they could fix it. Other little details, with the graphics… you send the files in, they are processed chronologically, and they do a check-up. We got the results that something doesn't fit with the files just before office closed on a Friday afternoon. And then you send a corrected file on Monday and it takes two more days before they process these changes… so, many small technical things that were going wrong and delayed the whole process.
Well… but now it's there! Was Friday 13th a conscious choice of date?
No, not at all! The original release date was the 8th of April, then we had to change it to May 6th. The funny thing is that I then got the info from the distributor that the delivery is going to be a problem, and before I could even react and make a post or press release or something, Amazon already sent out a computerized Email to everyone in which they said there is going to be a delay… and they were all like 'What's going on?' So, the date wasn't really my choice, but later I thought: 'Mhm, Friday 13th used to be a lucky day, then was turned to its opposite…' I don't know, but everything has its sense. In this case it just so happened.
And will there be a release-party? You'll be at the Hemp-Parade in Vienna this weekend, right?
Yes, I'm going to perform at the yearly Hemp-Days that take place in Vienna. It's a great festival, last year they had like 10.000 visitors, whereas similar events like the Global Marihuana March in Berlin had officially 250 people… Hamburg I don't remember, but Cologne was about 600, relatively small groups, that is. So, no, there is no real release party because at some point we didn't know what will happen when. With the last album we had a delivery delay and we ourselves pressed 200 copies in Berlin only to have it ready for the release party. And it was a lot of money, to let a 16-page-booklet printed overnight and all… so yeah, we won't do it this time.
Somehow that matches the album. Both title and artwork suggest a certain sincerity, a calm occupation with things of importance, not a wild party mood. Where was the cover picture taken?
It was shot at Grabowsee in Berlin, at a former lung-healing clinic, a sanatorium. It was the most modern clinic for Tuberculosis at that time, they had healing rates which were extremely high. After the world war the Russians were in there for some time, and then it fell apart. It is fascinating to see how these rooms were built, especially this amazing room with a stage. George Clooney did a movie called Monument Men there, it really has this spirit… it is very impressing and I enjoyed looking at it.
This old piano is actually standing on that stage and it's really in this state in which we found it. The picture was taken by a very good friend from Stuttgart, Kai from Blattkunst, and it consists of many single pictures because there was no objective that could capture the whole perspective. From an artistic point of view it is a great picture, but then again the room has so many stories to tell, so it adds to that… and it's empty and leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Coincidentally, on that day I had taken this ruby jacket, and it fitted so perfectly. It's a very special location.
We took the picture in January 2015 and then, a few months later, Martin Jondo asked me if I would appear as a guest in his video Pink Flowers, and he shot it right there!
Was it there that you conceived of the title, Sinnphonie?
No, actually the name of the album came into existence after the cover was shot. It happened accidentally. Some people said 'You look like Mozart!' and the funny thing is that I did an orchestral remix of my last release, with a lot of strings and piano but also drum and bass, so it's a complete remix, no Reggae, no Dancehall, something completely different. So I was already at the classical elements, which I like also in modern productions, strings for instance. We were sitting with friends, discussing… the idea actually came from my girlfriend and Kimoe and it developed just like that.
The album is full of Ganjaman. I mean, apart from writing and singing the songs, you even played instruments and were part of the arrangements as well. Can you say something about the production process?
With great pleasure. These things are hardly asked in interviews at all, and for me, this is one of the most interesting questions when I read other interviews… how are the tracks created? Back in the days, I used to play all instruments by myself. I started to play drums when I was 6, learned saxophone and the basics of all other instruments. In this case it was a combination of many things I developed with Sam Gilly from House Of Riddim. He had some digital riddim layouts which I revised, just adding stuff in constant exchange or developing ideas together. It was exciting, I haven't played saxophone for the longest time, and on this release I play sax again and it really makes me happy. It was such a pleasure to do that! I also layouted a lot, for instance in the last song Der Grund. The basic idea I played it all by myself, but then the bass for instance was recorded by Rene Flächsenhaar, with whom I also work live. He plays for Namika, he is a great guy and an amazing musician. So I played it to him and this is what I love about working with musicians, to capture what they feel when you play them a new tune. You see, it's almost like when we talk to each other, we answer and react and interact. That's why I never did combinations where you pay an artist to do a song with you, it was always things that developed naturally because all sides wanted to do just that.
Is this a reason why there are no features on this release, because it didn't happen naturally?
Well, in my other releases I did quite a lot of features. The "problem" that I have as an artist is that I'm rather one-sided when it comes to the subjects I sing about, the choice is quite narrow. It's not so versatile, but my wish is to stick to certain issues, give certain stimuli, and this time I thought it'll be my concept to make no feature, because… this is the problem, actually I do a repetition of the repetition. I already said everything I want to say, and the biggest challenge for me is to frame something I already said in a different language or in another way. You see, I don't have the possibility to break out and say "Alright, today I'm going to do a poppy Dancehall-Album which is meant for the feet!", this wouldn't work. I did a lot of combinations with the people who really mean a lot to me and with whom I worked for a long time, so I don't have to repeat everything. I don't need an Uwe Banton feature or a Jr. Randy feature on every album, just because we are such a familiar circle of people who know and like each other.
But Randy wrote some of the lyrics as well, right?
Randy is a very important instigator for me. He writes unbelievable amounts of lyrics, covering a wide range of subjects, but he himself doesn't publish anything at the moment. And everyone who writes lyrics knows the situation: you might have an idea for a chorus, but the chorus, being the dramaturgic climax of a song, is like the sum of the verses. The verse leaves room for elaboration, but the chorus is a condensed… it's like the essence of what the song is about. Sometimes as a songwriter you have the feeling 'Cool, I wrote two sentences and I've said everything!' and the song is kind of finished for you. And sometimes you sit long and brood about it to find the right words, and then it's helpful when people come along with an outside view and say 'Look at it from this angle, try that.' And Randy is someone with whom I'm very close, with whom I can work very well. He is one of my best friends and we spend a lot of time together, but he is also an amazing capacity in lyrics. Basically, our views are very similar and I can completely rely on him expressing the feeling that I might not be able to capture in that moment because we know each other so well.
Let's stay with the lyrics. As you say, there are some subjects that you always come back to, and one of these is empowerment. Every voice counts, power to the people, as in Nur Mit Uns. Is this something that you think everybody should be aware of, a responsibility to act everybody has?
Basically yes, this is a wish I have. First of all you have to realize that every single person out there thinks 'Me on my own, I can't make a difference.' That's the one thing. But when I look around in my room (moves the Skype-cam around), there is technical stuff everywhere, chaos (laughs). Everything that's built in here… these things for instance, they are compressors from the year 1958, legendary compressors, a little over a thousand pieces have been built by the company Urei, it's called 1176 Blue Stripe. And it's on many Reggae productions from the 60ies and 70ies. Anyway, I wanted to stress that all these things have been created by us, by humans. There are people who have the idea to build something and who believe in doing that. And the most crucial incentive is the idea. The Kabala says: 'Be mindful of your thoughts because they become your words, be mindful of your words because they become your actions, be mindful of your actions because they become your habits, be mindful of your habits because they will be your destiny.' The bible says: 'In the beginning there was the word.' But the word of course symbolizes the thought, so it actually means in the beginning there was the idea.
We also say inspiration which comes from Latin 'inspirare', in the spirit. So it is something that is introduced into our spirit. It's very important for me to make people know that every single one of us has the power to change the world, completely. It is fatal that 7 billion people suffer from a state of ignorance… you have to imagine, 1% of the world's population control 99% of the world's resources. That means, 100% of the suffering masses have 99% of the total voting power! How can it be that the world is as it is? That's crazy, it doesn't make any sense! And it only works because of this old Roman principle of divide and rule, so that every single one thinks 'I'm not able to do anything on my own anyway.' Now what happens if you think that you cannot achieve something? You won't do it because you won't even try. When you tell yourself 'I don't believe that it's possible.' then you will not try and thus you will not do it. And we are in this state of mind, even though every single one of us would be able to change the world.
It was individuals who were responsible for the fact that we are now able to communicate with each other. It was Bell, for instance, who invented the phone. It was people like Nikola Tesla who invented the three-phase or alternating current, the AC. Individuals who discovered radio waves, X-Ray, microwaves, who are responsible that today anywhere in the world escalators work or automatic doors open and close. It was a single guy who invented the computer in Berlin-Kreuzberg, individuals who built and destroyed the world. Single leaders and single thinkers, individuals! Individuals who were able to modify the world according to their imagination, and the idea is the decisive factor in this whole thing. So, my intention is to remind every single person and empower everybody to realize that you are very well able to change something, and if only a few people come together because they suffer from the same problems…
You see, this is the bizarre thing, last week at the Global Marihuana March, you have on the one side 200, 300 policemen and on the other side 200, 300 citizens who stand up for their right to smoke, for the legalization of Cannabis. They oppose each other, the ones are the so-called representatives, the others are the populace. Representatives insofar as they represent the politicians who make the laws, for whom they go out into the streets, fully armed. The politicians now, they don't live with us, they don't share our food, they don't live next door to us, they don't pay taxes, they don't sit in the same boat. Funny enough, the policemen who are becoming more and more militant in their appearance, who carry weapons, they are our neighbours! It's the same people like you and me, they pay the same fucking taxes and suffer from the same problems, the same laws that we try to modify. The moment you realize that you are only a handyman of those in power and protect them from people who have every right to be upset and protest against them must be tough. We are in a strange state of attacking each other and we don't understand that we all suffer from the same problems. And the originators of these problems are only a few.
This is the problem we have here in Germany, I'll stick to our country for now. We have a problem with the growing right-wing movement and Pegida and all that, yes. But check it out, since 2001 we have continuous anti-Islamic news coverage. The Islam and Moslems are stigmatized, they polarize and spread fear the whole time, making people afraid of the Islam. Now, people react to that, they take to the streets and say 'We are afraid of an Islamicisation!' and actually, when you dig into causality, it's logic! When you are told the whole time to be afraid of something, the people will react to it. The same media now jumps on these people and says 'Look, this is the new right-wing movement, these bad people, the bad AfD!' The problem is, the left-wing and the right-wing are busy attacking each other and are trying to scrape the butter off the other one's bread, even though there is no butter left. We all suffer from the same problems! We as humans have the exact same chain or pyramid of needs, and money doesn't come first. When you abstain from breathing air for 5 minutes, you have a serious problem, except if you're an apnea-diver maybe. When you abstain from water for 5 days, you also have a serious problem. 15 days without food are a serious problem, and so are 50 days without social interaction, be it physical touch, talking, recognition… you are either in the desert meditating because you are a monk or you will wither like a flower. In our chain of needs, money doesn't exist! But, we are brainwashed and educated to function as efficiently as possible in this system ruled by money, and this is reflected by terms like 'consumer'. In the media, we are not humans, we are consumers. Your value comes from what you consume. If you don't consume in this country, you don't have any value, you won't even show up in the statistics. And these are problems that are home-made and they are consciously created exactly because of our history.
Imagine the times of Egypt - they had slaves who had to be forced to work. The slaves had to be supervised, someone who stands behind them and cracks the whip or whatever. That's not efficient, because slaves who have to be forced to work are not productive. That's the first thing the rulers learned. They understood 'Ok, we have to give our slaves a certain amount of freedom, because the more free they feel, the more productive they will become.' So they started to turn slavery into peonage, then peonage into a tenure system, they gave people land. And it worked, the more freedom the slaves were given, the more productive they became. At some point they didn't force the slaves to work on their fields, but they let the lieges work on their own land and demanded taxes at the end of the year. From everything harvested, you had to give away a big part, and that is the same system still operating today. Nobody has a big account to stack away money, nobody owns a big yarn to stack away goods. That's not how the system works. And that's why we are at a point today where we think we are free, but at the end of the day we all work, and work means to use your life time and energy in turn for a trade-off. That's how it should be, you put something in and get something of equal value back. But what we get back is not commensurate, so you work the whole time and the money you earn is already taxed with an illegal income tax. Ok? Because, from the money that you have left, you will pay taxes again! Do you know, personally, what happens to the income tax? If you ask the average person on the street, most people will say 'Well, they will build schools and hospitals with it.' No no no, for all this there is an extra tax. The income tax, and now hold on tight, that's a fact, is used to cover the State's debt! Every single one of us works 4 or 5 months a year only for a bank! This money goes directly to a bank. Bam! In the USA, and that's real, this law has never been ratified, that's why they can't do you a thing if you refuse to pay income tax. It's only that most people don't know. Here in Germany it's a bit different, but there is a difference between a direct and an indirect tax. If you go and buy tobacco, you'll pay tobacco tax. If you go and buy gasoline, you'll pay gas tax. But the money from which you buy this has already been taxed, so it's a double taxing, that's not right! We live in an Injustice State, something that could be called a Democratorship, a mixture of democracy and dictatorship because we neither have a real opposition nor a populace that's ready to stand up for their own rights, and we have a whole heap of economists who sit in the Bundestag and don't know what they are talking about. They are only actors of a legislative period show that can be dumped in case something goes wrong. Did anybody ever take responsibility? Did George Bush take responsibility for the hundreds of thousands dead people that Afghanistan or Iraq war caused? Have these people ever been held accountable? No, they just came up with Barack Obama. 'Wow, a black president… sorry, an Afro-American president!' (cynical voice). Me myself, I was sitting in front of the TV and thought 'Yes, a change is coming!', but these people have never been held accountable, they are just substituted with someone else who becomes a poster child and the rest is forgotten. Just imagine, if Merkel would have been there right after Hitler… this popular lady with a decent background suddenly shows up and everything else is forgotten. Concentration camps, millions of dead people, forced labourers, everything forgotten and hunky dory. And that's what happened in the US!
For me, that's an insult of my intelligence, and I'm not the brightest person around. What is hard for me to realize is that it's only academics who get things into a mess, people who have studied! So, what's going on? I don't have an exam but I have eyes to see and ears to hear, and those who have studied and are so well educated and whatever, they don't realize a thing?! When Barack Obama stands up saying "Europe has to commit to the Nato goals." it means that we have to put 2% of our economic performance straight into the Nato. Every member country has to do that! 2%, straight into weapons! Damn, I mean we live in such a well-informed world that you have to really close your eyes tight to not notice these things. I mean, I understand it, because if you really think about it, you'd become sad or angry or whatever… but looking at the intelligence we have as a collective, it's not understandable that they do all this and we comply. To come back to your question, it really is about making every single one realize that every single voice counts and every single one is able to do something. I'd love to speak to everyone in person and tell him 'You are worth it!'
But you say it! You say it a lot in your lyrics!
Yes, that's why I say 'Your heart is heavy because it's made of pure gold.' I don't speak about material gold, we say that having a heart of gold is a great trait of character, and that's why your heart is heavy, that's why you are sad, because you are a good person! And that's what I'm trying to say in Sternenstaub too. I thought a lot about these questions. For a very long time I wrote on the walls "Nazis raus!" (Nazis out). They wrote "Turks out!" and I crossed it out and overwrote it with 'Nazis out!'. But then at some point I though 'Wait a minute. We talk about people here, about humans. Where should the Turks go and where should the Nazis go?' I have to start to understand where all this is coming from, that's why I wrote the song Aus Deinen Augen. I often ride the subway or the bus or whatever, and I look at people and think 'What would it be like to be this person?' And I really try to imagine it, because a life is such a complex construct of words, thoughts, decisions and effects, so our world is nothing else than an idea, everything is inspiration. I have this curiosity to see life from a different perspective. When you think about it you come to the conclusion that every decision is based on something, is a reaction to something that has been there before. Causality! Nothing happens without a reason. And if people start to be afraid of or hate other people, the question is, why? It would be a wise choice that I, being the one who has the pockets full of love, give it to those who don't have it. You can only command what you have at your disposal! When you have a hundred Euros, you can only give a hundred, you can't give 110 or 120. When we are not ready to give and to have an understanding for those who don't have an understanding, we cannot expect it from them, we don't have the right to blame them! When I say that my way of seeing things is the right way and I'm ready to forgive, then I can't exclude those who have never experienced it or are not ready to do likewise. That's why it should be 'Mercy for those who don't know mercy. And love the loveless.' Because they need it, urgently! So, when we deal with the question to look at life from another one's perspective we'll realize that the fear of something unknown doesn't just exist without a cause. The fear of something unknown means that there are deficits on a human level that we as a society are not willing to look into and solve! Because when I look at the chain of needs which I was talking about before, it becomes clear that we all have the same basic needs. And as long as there are people who don't get these needs fulfilled, it is perfectly clear that at some point there'll be a dissonance, no matter if it's extreme left or extreme right or extreme silent or extreme loud. When we are not ready to recognize and name these deficits and do something about them, when we don't understand that the people who live in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen in tower blocks and hardly have enough to eat, to survive, to send their children to school… it is logic that from despair comes anger and from anger comes fear and from fear comes hate. That's a logic consequence! If we don't understand that there are basic needs that everyone has, and as long as these are not fulfilled, we mustn't be surprised that people go crazy. And I don't want to excuse or relativize anything, I only want to make sure that we should be aware of the fact that everyone has an evolution in life, be it physical or mental or spiritual, and everyone deserves, everyone has a right to being loved. Everyone! Especially when things go wrong. We say 'Love me when I least deserve it, because then I need it most!' You understand, that's the point! And if we manage to get this understanding into our children, I think we are a big step forward. So yes, I feel responsible for what happens around me and I feel responsible for what my neighbours do.
But those in power don't want us to reach that understanding. They don't want us to find that common denominator, they want us to have a common separator. It's always 'But you are or think different!' I don't give a damn at the end of the day if I'm right or wrong. I only want everybody to be able to have access to the things that I have access to and that I'd like to share. What I can share of course is limited, but every person has this right, and once we realize that we have much more in common than things that separate us like gender, age, ethnicity, eye colour, skin colour, education, status, whatever… we have so many things in common, and my interest is to find these common things and become one. And when we reach this point, then we will become a danger, because then we won't make a difference between police or left or right. I believe in finding the common ground and not argue what we believe in or not. I might be one of the last liberal, unpolitical politicians. I don't want to deal with politics, it annoys me. And I refuse the voting system, because you should lift your voice and not bury it in a ballot box which we call urn in German, and urns are for dead things only. If you put your vote in the box, theoretically you give your voice away and you are not allowed to say 'That sucks!' because you gave your vote to those who use it for whatever they want. They don't care! This whole political play is a game, and if we are not ready to acknowledge the rules that those who were before us made, if we are not ready to play along, then we are not allowed to influence the course of the game or complain about it. That's the other side to it… (laughs) Sorry, I'm talking a blue streak.
That's great, you say so many important things! And from what you say, in my opinion, this empathy is essential, to understand others. I think that's missing! We have to have empathy and stop generalizing, whether it's refugees or police. Not all cops are bastards!
You know, I grew up in the eighties in an occupied house in Berlin. I experienced weekly searches, dispossessions and house clearings, for me and my sister they had a woman come especially because they regularly woke us up at night. Police made my mum and others undress in the yard, search them, they cut our energy lines, so… I have enough reason to hate police, believe me, really. But this is exactly the point, what you just said. I really think a lot of people who have the investigative wish to make the world a better place go to the police to work there.
It's really great and it honours me that you paid attention and listened. I hope that people get what I want to say, but often it goes in one ear and out the other, it doesn't always fall on fertile soil. But this is my wish, and some sentences were just there to be put out. 'The distance between us is only a hand's breath, and that's why it doesn't matter how deep the divide is.' It doesn't matter how deep! Me myself I'm having aha-effects, as with this one, I sit down and scribble along and then I read it and think 'Damn, why are we so… why do we have it so close in front of our eyes and we still don't see it?' I wish that we would learn to admit our own mistakes and correct them through our actions, and this we can only do if we learn to and are ready to take responsibility. So that was a moment where I thought 'We are so close to each other, no matter if we are left, right, stranger, whatever, we are so close and connected that the distance between us becomes negligible.' These are the moments I sit and hope that somebody will understand me.
I'm sure many people will. Thank you so much for this mind-blowing interview!